By Pinky Khoabane
Jazz vocalist and composer Sathima Bea Benjamin pays tribute to Winnie Mandela
MUSIC has always been a part of the struggle against apartheid and colonialism. In an interview I did with legendary actor John Kani on the role of music against apartheid some time back, he would break into song in the middle of our conversation, recalling the various songs sung at any given time of our struggle for emancipation.
Each era in the struggle for liberation had its particular brand of liberation songs but it is the apartheid era which got composers like the activist Vuyisile Mini, and other poets, to compose songs which were cheeky and confronted the oppressors head on. “Africans sing. When we are happy we sing. When we are sad we sing. During harvest we sing. Africans have been singing as part of their protest since the coloniser arrived here,” Kani said at the time.
Charged in 1963 with 17 counts of sabotage and the murder of a police informer, Mini, together with Zinakile Mkaba and Wilson Khayingo, was convicted and hanged in Pretoria Central Prison on November 6th, 1964. He had become too powerful, his songs uniting a people. His songs were to be taken up nationally as part of the struggle. Even as he marched to the gallows, Mini sang songs he had composed. When the jailer asked him if he would be singing right up-to the gallows, he responded by singing his most famous song.
‘Nanzi Indoda Emnyama Verwoerd, Passopa Nanzi Indoda Emnyama Verwoerd‘ Beware, Verwoerd, the black man will get you. Beware, Verwoerd, the black man is coming. Mini sang right up to the gallows. Legendary singer the late Mirriam Makeba would later sing it.
There was Sophiatown, Meadowland, Khauleza, each sung in response to one brutality or another; pass laws and forced removals. Not even the guns and the arrests of leaders would silence the songs of protest. After the Sharpeville massacre the people asked about their land.
“Thina sizwe, thina sizwe esintsundu,
Sikhalela izwe lethu
Mabayeke umhlaba wethu
Mabayeke umhlaba wethu”
Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Letta Mbulu and others, continued the struggle. Masekela with Sharpeville, Stimela:
“There is a train that comes from Namibia and Malawi
there is a train that comes from Zambia and Zimbabwe,
There is a train that comes from Angola and Mozambique,
From Lesotho, from Botswana, from Swaziland,
From all the hinterland of Southern and Central Africa.
This train carries young and old, African men
Who are conscripted to come and work on contract
In the golden mineral mines of Johannesburg
And its surrounding metropolis, sixteen hours or more a day
For almost no pay.
Deep, deep, deep down in the belly of the earth
When they are digging and drilling that shiny mighty evasive stone,
Or when they dish that mish mesh mush food
into their iron plates with the iron shank.
Or when they sit in their stinking, funky, filthy,
Flea-ridden barracks and hostels.
They think about the loved ones they may never see again
Because they might have already been forcibly removed
From where they last left them…”