Asimbonanga uMandela, but we saw Johnny Clegg

Knowing that your chances of ever meeting the Great Nelson Mandela are gone forever can be quite devastating, especially when you see people, way younger than you are, posting images holding his hand or posing alongside him. Then you suddenly beat yourself up for not having tried harder to meet him. So, from myself and many other South Africans: ‘Asimbonanga’ uMandela, but we saw Johnny Clegg. And that for me is enough.

By Soka Mthembu

Earlier this year I was devastated to read in the papers that one of Africa’s greatest icons, Johnny Clegg, had been living with cancer, and that he was doing his final World Tour starting in Cape Town on 30th June. Upon hearing the news, I immediately contacted my mentor, Barry Leitch, a close friend of Johnny “Skeyi” Clegg, who confirmed that Johnny was indeed conducting his last world tour. From that moment, I made the decision to see him in action on the Durban leg of his tour. Little did I know, however, that my stay here in South East Asia – Vietnam to be precise, where I’m currently performing with my dance troupe ‘Beyond Zulu’, would be extended by another 6 months. That was the nail in the coffin for me.

Okay, let me tell you how I met Johnny Clegg, and why I’m inspired by him: When I was 14 years old in Zululand – in fact I was 14 years everywhere − I met Johnny Clegg, who had come to visit his old friend Barry “Mkhomazi” Leitch.  Barry, just like Johnny, is a white Zulu, whose love for Zulu people and their culture is inspiring. Coincidentally, Barry is also an anthropologist by profession, just like Mr Clegg.

It was during the time that I was a Zulu dancer at the beautiful and unique Simunye Zulu Lodge, a secluded lodge that was built on a cliff face, and attached to a cultural Zulu village (don’t Google it or attempt to go there…let’s just say it was one of the government’s Land Redistribution deals that fell into the wrong hands, and therefore was completely ruined).

Back to my story: It was a dark night in Zululand with stars winking at us, and the trees above us dimming them in jealousy. Had it not been for the yellow flames coming from the home-made hessian and paraffin lamps scattered around the Zulu dancing area, it would have been even darker. The Mfule River behind us created a soothing sound, and the frogs, without fail, added their voice to the drumbeat. Nduna Luthuli was a lead singer and dancer (igoso) on that day − one of the ablest and most creative dancers I have ever met. We took our turns after an Umzansi dance routine. Before we knew it, Johnny had risen unexpectedly like a Colossus in front of us. In a fraction of a second he was on the other side of the fireplace, dancing as he would have done for an audience of thousands of people, ignoring our off-beat drumbeat, the-not-so-professional singing, and the small crowd. Our jaws dropped, as did the tourists’, as we watched with great admiration and envy, forgetting to clap (which forms part of Zulu dancing). This mlungu had put all of us to shame in front of internationals and our fans from the nearby Njomelwane community, but we loved him for it: for his great and inspiring performance, his humility, and for being kind enough to give us pointers in respect of the Umzansi Dance. It was a treat for us − for me − for tourists − a place where no one famous, especially not Johnny Clegg, should have dared go. I would later learn that Johnny did the same in hostels, places that I, as a Zulu, am afraid of going to: they are so often associated with conflicts and violence.  I often wonder how he manages to dance and find peace in such places?

How tragic that someone who has played such a meaningful role in society, and is such a fearless man, should be assaulted by cancer. But Johnny can overcome.

Together with countless others the world over, I wish Johnny Clegg good health and many more years. And as ever go f**k yourself cancer!

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HAS UMABO REPLACED THE TRADITIONAL ZULU WEDDING AND ALL THE RITUALS THAT GO WITH IT?

HAS UMABO REPLACED THE TRADITIONAL ZULU WEDDING AND ALL THE RITUALS THAT GO WITH IT?

By Soka Mthembu

There’s a common trend by Africans, Zulu people, to be specific in this case, to conduct a traditional Zulu wedding as an afterthought – perhaps something to ease our conscience, as we have fully adopted the Western ways and abandoned our own. Or could it just be an honest, light-hearted celebration, without having to go deeper into unknown terrain? Hardcore, traditional wedding rituals, for instance, may be perceived as threatening, especially for the younger generation. Whatever the reason, it is rather alarming that, in a few years to come, many features and aspects that make a traditional wedding the sacred ceremony that it is, would have been totally eroded.

I should be the first to acknowledge that there is a transformation and some new ways of  uniting two people in marriage. If, however, that transformation and “civilization” makes us forget, even look down on our own traditions, we need to reflect on and question our identity.

Allow me to rant a bit: The new trend of events is that a couple holds a glamorous umabo (bringing of gifts to the groom’s family); and on a different date hold a white wedding – both of which cost exorbitant amounts of money. Umabo then becomes the substitute for a ceremony at which the ancestors would have been appeased, and asked to give their blessings on the event, protecting the newlyweds, ukuthethwa kwedlozi and ukubuzwa komthetho: this has all fallen by the wayside. Family praise poets are now hired acts who recite a few lines of izithakazelo, in some cases Shaka’s praise names. The point is − family doesn’t care or even notice whether the praise singer recites Mandela’s or Zuma’s praises.

It goes further: Expensive marquees have replaced isigcawu (an open field where the climax of the wedding ceremony takes place) accompanied by a sound system, caterers, and wedding coordinators hired to manage this spectacle. Then there’s a display of fancy contemporary costumes, expensive drinks dispensed from those expensive liquor cold rooms that we spend fortunes on hiring. Everything is hired, including some traditional Zulu dancers – something which should come naturally to us Zulus, and should be performed by family and neighbours. As the drumbeat draws one back to one’s roots, unknown to many, one has a sense that the spectators are thinking to themselves, “Where do these people (dancers) come from – the rocks?”

The role of elder women to the bride-to-be has become redundant. The bride’s guidance by the elder women has been outsourced to bride’s friends, who in most cases are young, and unmarried, and therefore not equipped to impart the marriage-life experiences and wisdom to the bride-to-be. And when the marriage does not turn out to be what was hoped for or expected (perhaps even before a year has passed; perhaps soon after), some of the bride’s friends become the first to urge “Shiya phansi mngani” – “friend, you have to walk away from this marriage”. Whereas the immediate reaction of an elder is to say: this marriage is not only about you and your husband  – wendele emndenini – “let us attempt to help the two of you resolve matters, because you married the entire family.” Friends cannot play this mediating role and shouldn’t be expected to.

The same applies to a man: The elders would usually sit him down and they are usually the first ones to say “ngeke ulande ingane yabantu le uzodlala ngayo la, lomfazi wathelwa ngenyongo layikhaya,” (you will not dare ill-treat this child (bride); you are the one who brought her here, and besides, she’s not only your wife.) They are quick to remind the bride-groom that, as much as she is his wife, she’s also the wife of the ancestors, and therefore enjoys the same protection and love.

Whilst some of these changes are exciting, reflect the times we live in, I believe that there are certain rituals that must still be performed even at the most glamorous of weddings: certainly there are specific duties which should never be outsourced. I have great respect for cultural entertainers − after all, I am one of them. However, I do not believe that a fellow Zulu must spend money hiring dancers, something community girls and boys should be able to do with relative ease or at least with a bit of coaching and training. And in planning this union we should never ever leave the elders out of the planning process – if anything, they should be in charge of planning.

NOW THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO WANT TO DO THINGS RIGHT BY THE ANCESTORS IN INVOLVING THEM IN THEIR MARRIAGE. HOWEVER, THEY MAY NOT KNOW WHERE TO START, BECAUSE OF THEIR UPBRINGING, RELIGION, OR FAMILY DYSFUNCTION, INTER ALIA. HERE IS MY ATTEMPT AT ASSISTING YOU TO FIND SOME LIGHT:

Go to an Isangoma (diviner) or Umthandazi (prophet) and find out about your life, or about that ancestor who has been your shining light all along. That is the person you should look to appease, not your hundred ancestors, some of whom may have been turned against you by witchcraft, performed by close relatives, in most cases.

In most cases those that look after us are from our mothers’ side, yet we tend to forget about these. Some problems could arise if by mistake you may be appeasing the wrong ancestors – take R100 or less and find out – even seek 2nd or 3rd opinions before you make that decision – just as you would do with a medical doctor. Avoid people that want to charge you thousands. For me, personally, it doesn’t make sense to keep slaughtering for the people who may have turned their back on you. When you burn impepho, ask that one person who is looking after you, appease him or her, and leave it up to that one person to decide with whom to share “the meat or umqombothi”. – He or she knows, but this is not reciprocated.

NB: Acknowledging and pleasing your ancestors does not always have to cost a cow or a goat – sometimes diviner or prophet would suggest that you make  “itiye” which is basically “biscuits, fruit, cold drinks, sweets, burning of impepho by your father on your behalf to thank and appreciate the ancestor/s for having your back against adversities. As a token of appreciation, you have brought him or her itiye to be shared with whomever is selected. For these things to be properly done, you do need a guidance of a sangoma or prophet, and there’s no shame in consulting a sangoma or a prophet, just as there’s no shame in seeking marriage counselling. Ancestors are the foundation of everything we do: let us involve them.

For me, these are some of the non-negotiables:

  1. Ukubikwa komsebenzi ngembuzi esayidini likamakoti. I believe that a bride must at least take a week off work, and have her father or uncle slaughter a goat. The male relative should inform ancestors of the bride’s upcoming wedding – at which time they should protect her and keep her strong. Umgonqo is important, because it gives the bride time to reflect. She should spend at least a week with elders who impart wisdom to her on how to carry herself as new bride, how to face challenges and shortfalls, amongst other valuable advice.
  2. Ukushiswa kwempepho at different stages, including when the bride leaves her home for the last time. It is always very important that the bride depart from the emakhaya la kulele khona okhokho bakhe (rural homestead where the ancestors lie buried), because then there’s usually a kraal to which her father or uncle leads her by the hand, before departing at dawn.
  3. Imvunulo (traditional costume) must be proper. I feel that the bride and groom should aim to buy instead of hiring, because of the sentimental value. Brides and grooms need to put more effort into the traditional attire for the wedding than we are currently seeing.
  4. During the ceremony – a bride should be able at least to sing her “inkondlo”, or perhaps start it before having someone take it over if she is not musically gifted. A bride may compose her own “inkondlo”; however, there are old ballads, such “Baba Nomama”, siya kwamama ongemama, wemathambo kababa, and many others – you just have to ask – even look on YouTube.

Your happiness is important, but that of ancestors is also greatly to be regarded. The rewards it brings to you and your family are unimaginable. Lets go back to our roots. Azibuye emasisweni.

 

 

 

 

Beyond Zulu Experience: A journey in pictures

Sanibonani, Molweni, Hello, Xin Chao!

Greeetings from Vietnam, this time:-)

Over the past few months I have been traveling in and outside Zululand doing storytelling and just admiring the beauty that is the Zulu Kingdom and its people. But what really got in the way of my blogging is my recent trips, with Zulu dancers, to Morocco in October, Vietnam in December 2015 and again Vietnam in February 2016. It has been a roller-coaster of excitement and I can’t wait to share the stories that I’m currently work on.

On before I forget, we are releasing a full-length music album (Beyond Zulu: Mkabayi kaJama) honoring the heroes and heroines such as Mkabayi kaJama. There are of course many other great songs such as Baba Nomama — a traditional Zulu wedding song (inkondlo) sung by a Zulu bride just before she says “I do” in a true Zulu tradition!

In the meantime enjoy the images from my recent trips in Zululand and outside of South Africa! For more images and videos; visit my company website Beyond Zulu Experience Check out Beyond Zulu YouTube channel

The incredible Zulu Kingdom awaits!

For the traveller seeking community-based cultural tourism, however, not contrived, not manufactured, not illusory … a mix of nature and a true taste of Zulu heritage in an untainted and unpolluted natural environment; join me as I guide you on your journey of discovering the beauty of Zulu Culture and Heritage!

….And for who appreciate spectacular and vibrant Zulu dancing … the powerplay between Zulu warriors and maidens through song and dance!

Zulu reed dance

Kirstin Kramer Zulu Experience

Community Experience 13 Community Experience 8 PSI Congress Day 4 - Zulu dancers 5 Zulu Rondavel - Kirstin Kramer  Zulu dancers 2Zulu dancers      PSI Congress Day 4 - Zulu dancers 1Zulu dancersSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Kirstin Kramer Kirstin Kramer 2

MY BOSS BARRY, THE BEST MENTOR I EVER HAD

Barry Leitch, known to the Zulus as uMkhomazi (Zulu Praises: Umkhomazi ogcwala ngomoya –“the Mkhomazi River that floods with wind”) is a renowned Zulu cultural expert and entrepreneur, who, together with Kingsley Holgate, created Shakaland, the cultural experience near Eshowe. Shakaland was originally created as a filmset for a movie series: Shaka Zulu…the movie documented the life of the Great King Shaka, the most influential leader of the Zulu empire, credited with uniting, through his military genius, many of the Northern Nguni people. Barry was a driving force behind the creation of that movie. His other interests, besides tourism, Zulu culture and heritage, included marketing & advertising, and Nguni cattle farming. He grew up with the Zulu people, learned to stick-fight, to Zulu dance, and about courtship at the river; just like a rural Zulu boy would do. There is nothing a rural Zulu boy did that he didn’t or couldn’t do. He ate, drank, and breathed Zulu culture.

Barry graduated from UCT with a degree in anthropology. I am told that, as a child, he had to repeat Grade One at school because he couldn’t speak proper English. Astonishing as it may sound for a white boy to be more fluent in Zulu than in his mother tongue, I’m afraid this is the truth. Barry is what I would call a living legend, a Zulu language and cultural expert who would at any time during a conversation surprise you with a Zulu proverb you’d never heard before. He did this often and without any effort. His Zulu is impeccable and he is a marvel to listen to. He is also the greatest marketer I’ve ever known —one insanely creative and funny; and he simply has a way with words. As a marketer, he never took consumers and clients for granted. One piece of marketing advice and consumer insight he shared with me when I worked at Simunye Zulu Lodge around 2007 was that guests were not there for the food, accommodation, Zulu cultural experience, etc. — all they bought and paid for was the “feeling”.

HOW I MET BARRY
In the months leading up to the democratisation of South Africa, Barry Leitch founded a lodge, building it right on a cliff face: Simunye Zulu Lodge. Simunye is tucked away in the magnificent Mfule River, deep in the heart of Zululand, in the area known as Melmoth. The lodge is coupled with a cultural village offering tourists the opportunity of spending the night with and amongst the Zulus; to partake in a cultural tour of the Zulu village, and to watch some traditional Zulu dancing. It is here that I was introduced to Barry when I was a boy, at the tender age of 11. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a long journey of mentoring.

It is in this very place that I was to meet famous people like Vanessa Williams and many others. Vanessa Williams taught me as a child, together with my fellow dancers, a song; “To Be Young, Gifted And Black” and she would sing this song every evening until she left the lodge. This was when she was at Simunye for the filming of “Woman Of Colour”. It is also here that the lotto slogan “Tata ma Chance Tata Ma Millions” originated, where Uthingo (the then lotto Management company) held their conference. I had great fun, from being a Zulu dancer to being a director of the very lodge where I had started as a dancer, earning R6 per show. In between, I had held the position of Front Office and Reservations Manager, General Manager, and Production Assistant for New York Times/Granada factual during the filming of “World Wedding Day”. Had I not met Barry or had the privilege of being mentored by him I would not have had all these opportunities and experiences.

Barry had an inexplicable faith in me. What he taught me has remained with me throughout my life. I remember working for him as a trainee at his below-the-line Communications Company, Ingwe Communications (which he later sold to FCB South Africa). Here I trained as receptionist; however, I was also involved in the exciting stuff. It was here that I learned “telephone etiquette”, to excel in typing, and how to use computers in general – I was a fast learner, although I made many mistakes in the process. I remember there were two gentlemen that used to call looking for Barry. Both of them were named Victor. When they asked to speak to Barry, my response would be something like this: “We have Victor from next door and we have Victor who is a Unilever client: which one are you?” That was my way of screening Barry’s calls: it was poor etiquette and rather rude. Barry didn’t shout at me – he found it funny. He allowed me to make those mistakes in the knowledge that I would learn from them. Luckily, the two Victors were not offended. There were many other mistakes that followed, which of course were forgiven.

It was also at Ingwe Communications that I met my “first” girlfriend, Nombuso. By any standards Nombuso was beautiful; there was nothing that gave me more joy than the feeling that she was beautiful and that she was mine. But I remember how Barry sat me down, (unexpectedly) to have that serious conversation, as a father would to his son. He called me in. The conversation went something like this: “I know that you’ve met a girl and that she’s a most beautiful girl; but my advice to you is to be careful not to let this distract you and destroy your life”. I came out of that “discussion” feeling worthless. However, that was tough love; it is a conversation along the same lines that I will have with my sons when the time is right!

Barry, throughout my career, was to play that fatherly role. Most of us referred to him as “ubaba”. Come to think of it, I never discussed father-son issues with my own father. The only serious discussion I remember having with my father was when I was about 24, a year before I was married. I was ready to pay ilobolo (a herd of cattle given to his parents-in-law by their son-in-law, as thanks for bearing him a wife, to cement the relationship between the two families. This is also, in paying for cattle, a way of proving that the man will be able to care for their daughter). When I told my father that I was preparing to pay ilobolo to the Biyelas, his first reaction was “Ungabe ulahla izinkomo njengobaba wakho omdala uDlawu” — loosely translated as: “I do hope you’re not wasting/ throwing away cattle like your uncle Dlawu did throughout his life”. That was the only serious conversation I remember having with my father; however, there were many conversations I had with Barry.

Another story about Barry that comes to mind is that he believed in people more than they believed in themselves. I remember his domestic worker, Manala, one of the most talented beaders I know. Manala couldn’t speak English at all, but one day Barry left his cellphone with her, requiring her to answer it for him. He told her what to say to people looking for him. The wording was quite simply: “Barry is sleeping in”. I happened to be the one calling. All I heard from Manala was “BARRY SLEEPING IN!”. As funny as it was at the time, it shows the confidence and the belief Barry had in people, taking them out of their comfort zone and making them see that they could do more!

Barry instilled humility amongst all his people. He is genuine; he is unassumingly engaging. During the construction of Sibaya Casino, a project in which he was very instrumental, I would accompany him to all his meetings, including those where the likes of Peter Bacon (ex CEO Sun International) would be present, as also many other important people. At no time did Barry ever introduce me as his PA. He always introduced me as his colleague. He never saw colour; he treated people the same, regardless of their age, colour of their skin, status, gender, etc. — come to think of it, I think he is also a feminist.

Barry is one of kindest, greatest mentors I’ve ever known. A force of nature who believes in people. I’m forever grateful for his guidance, and for using his resources in the advancement of my career, as he would have for his own son. Barry paid for my Business Management course, my Computer training, and my Marketing Management training. I have to add, however, that I didn’t copy his dress style:-).

I’m also grateful for his amazing and true stories, some of which formed part of my growing up. Right now, I’m chuckling as I remember “Ngema and the condom story”, in which Barry gave Ngema advice about wearing a condom to prevent STIs and HIV. Ngema wore the condom for 48 hours, only removing it to pee or to bath. On the third day Ngema came to tell Barry: “Mkhomazi, iyangilimaza lento — this thing you asked me to wear is hurting me”.

This is the man who understood the true meaning of mentorship, having mentored hundreds of other people from all backgrounds. He believed in transferring skills. This was his passion, and he offered his assistance without expecting anything in return. He is a legend and an absolute original who should be emulated by all…but whatever you do, do not copy his fashion style!

If this story about Barry’s great service to this country, particularly to rural communities fails to move and inspire you, it is not because Barry failed in changing lives, but because I have failed in the telling of his story.

By Soka Mthembu