"The world changes Revolutionaries die and the children forget the ghetto is our first love and our dreams are drenched in gold We don't even cry... We don't even cry about it [anymore]. Are the beautiful ones really dead?"
There is a reason why Thandiswa Mazwai holds a special place in the minds and hearts of many South Africans. Her intellect, and deep affinity with black consciousness, osmose into her artistic work and stream out in sensual melodic harmonies. By virtue of the consciousness she asserts, one can be almost certain that she is not one to be sipping on Black Coffee in (Tel Aviv) Israel.
On the contrary, her work shows that is she is an activist who is inclined to endorse altruism over self-interest. At a time when we hold music, and musicians, to certain political standards the justified outrage around Black Coffee's performances and Kanye West's utterances were never just going to be ignored.
Musicians have the ability to interpret the lived experience, the subconsciousness and convictions of the masses. In this epic ode to Mam'Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Mazwai proclaimed her a stalwart of the liberation at a time when it was not fashionable to do so.
Thandiswa Mazwai paid great tribute to #WinnieMandela with the song #NizalwaNgobani while she was still alive & saw her perform it live. Look at #Winnie's reaction as she sings "we'll never forget you. We'll never forget what you've done" #Qhawepic.twitter.com/7YL9KopmY9— #IAmWinnieMandela 🇿🇦 (@KatlehoMK) April 13, 2018
The song of course was sung at the time when Mam'Winnie's was very much alive.
On the April 3 2018, the world changed and a revolutionary died. The children of the ghetto had not forgotten who she was, and never will. They repelled the Stratcom narrative that tried to impugn her character. Instead, they reinforced her role in history as a fluid human revolutionary social worker, a liberation struggle icon, ever present in the lives, minds and hearts of the downtrodden in the ghetto. And they did so in her personal capacity, not as the former president's wife. An unsung heroine.
Her passing created a new and old debate on how best we deepen the legacy of our liberation stalwarts. Is it enough to rename landmarks and streets after them?
Put it this way, should Cape Town be renamed Chris Hani International Airport as previously called for by the South African Communist Party or Winnie Madikizela-Mandela International Airport as suggested by former ANC Youth League President, what does this actually mean for the working-class communities these stalwarts sought to liberate?
Youth now more than ever must continue the unfinished legacies of inequality, unemployment and poverty.
While one concedes that the renaming of landmarks or streets is a fundamental part of decolonisation, and reconstructing our national identity, it will mean nothing if the poverty-stricken community of Nyanga does not experience a tangible change in their lived experience. Our efforts to honour the sacrifices of great stalwarts should be more than an antecedent cosmetic exercise, otherwise, we run the risk of reaffirming Mama Winnie's concern:
"Instead of a dealing with these realities, we have succumbed to the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. This is a manifestation of the political crisis", Mam'Winnie said during the May Day rally in Atteridgeville, Pretoria (2011).
It was quite evident that the revolution envisioned by Mama Winnie has not come to fruition as yet.
To this end, Angela Davis, a sage of the liberation diaspora, made a similar observation at the 17th Annual Steve Bantu Biko Lecture. In her keynote address titled Legacies and Unfinished Activisms. Davis contends: "We are called upon to celebrate those whose dreams and whose activisms made it possible for us to inhabit this presence... and as dissatisfied as we may be with and in fact, we should be with the present. This a present that was ushered into being by the transformative impact of the past revolutionary struggles."
It is imperative for us to acknowledge that whilst the revolution was foremost amongst our forebears, the revolution they sought did not come to full fruition. As such it is now incumbent on a new generation to re-examine the lost battles, and look at what can be done differently.
As we stand on the empathically broad shoulders of Mama Albertina Sisulu, and now Mama Winnie Mandela, we must immerse ourselves in the politics these great women offered us. In their honour, we need to continue reconstructing society in a manner that leads to the fulfilment of a National Democratic Revolution. Part of the struggle is to broaden our consciousness and music, and the memoirs of landmarks and streets, are the vanguards of consciousness and as such, should be our lived experience.
Youth, now more than ever, must continue the unfinished legacies of inequality, unemployment and poverty, and the unfinished activism against patriarchy/misogyny, homophobia, Afrophobia and corruption. We are the ones we have been waiting for.
Chrispin Phiri is a trained lawyer with competition law experience and writes in his personal capacity.