Relwa ntwa ya kokwana took ya Corona
Together We fighting the sickness of Coronavirus
Relwa ntwa ya kokwana took ya Corona
(From sePedi: "Together We are fighting the sickness of Coronavirus")
Charcoal, acrylic and pastels on fabiano paper.
The Lockdown Collection (TLC): Extension Collection (South Africa). May 2020.
Commentaries by Pamela Allara, David Coplan, and Mark Auslander
Overview: The image is dominated by a large, front- facing male figure, a miner, clad in a protective mask, mining ear protection, glovs, boots, and work uniform. In the left background, we see a large mining shaft, its wheels in red. Behind the figure we see houses and several smaller figures, one with his back turned to us, pushing a wheelbarrow To the right, roughly balanced with the mine shaft we see the outlines of a lone tree in full foliage, as well as a streetlight, and a distant cityscape. Above the horizon, flanking the figure, we see drawn lines in red and black, perhaps evocative of energy or even of angels' wings.
Significantly, the artist's linguistic and ethnic heritage is grounded in the Bapedi community. Trees are of great medicinal and spiritual importance for Bapedi healers and ritual specialists, and are at times intimately associated with the protective embrace of the ancestral shades. It would appear that the great tree that touches the miner's left arm helps infuse him with the strength needed to wage the coming struggle.
Makoba implies an analogy between this tree to the miner's left and the mine shaft to this right. The artist has written that the most meaningful people in one's life are those who are like the roots of a tree, and here one senses that the miner in front of us, like the mine and the tree themselves, has foundations and roots that sink deep underground. (Like Pam, I'm reminded of William Kentridge's 1991 film "Mine," in which we descend from the minelord Soko Eckstein's desk through the shaft into the mysteries of the underworld and psychic underground of the protagonist.)
Among the Bapedi people, there is a long history of miners being engaged in the defense of the community, In the 1800s, young men who had undergone initiation together and formed age regiments (mephato) traveled together to the mines around Kimberly; the resources they remitted home, including firearms, allowed the Pedi sovereigns Sekwati and Sekhukhune I for a time to defend the realm against the Transvaal Republic and the South African Republic (Delius 1984: Paulin 2002). More recently, Bapedi migrant miners have provided vital financial and logistical support to the revivatilziation of the institution of BaPedi chieftancy (Oomen 2016).
The analogy between going to work in the mines and heading out to battle is well developed in South African popular culture, especially in the word music or difela of the Basotho people, most famously analyzed in David Coplan's 1994 monograph and in the 1988 film by Gei Zantzinger "Songs of the Adventurers," based on Coplan's research. (Basotho men, Coplan notes, were the fabled "shaft sinkers" on the Rand, who justly boast to this day that "we dug the mines.")
In the complex poetic imagery of difela, a reworking of the classical poetics of precolonial war songs and male ritual initiation language, the miner enters into a highly transformative field of conflict underground, which is mirrored in the poetic duels undertaken among male miners within mining compounds. Danger lurks in the mines, but so does a chance for glory and mastery, in an assertive masculine idiom. It would appear that such is also the case for the national struggle against Covid-19: for all the terrible dangers that confront the nation, the collectivity just might emerge from the battle transformed and re-empowered.
David B. Coplan, 1994. In the Time of Cannibals. The Word Music of South Africa's Basotho Migrants. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Peter Delius. 1984. The Land Belongs to Us: The Pedi Polity, the Boers and the British in the Nineteenth-Century Transvaal. Heinemann
Barbara Oomen, 2016. McTradition in the New South Africa: Commodified Custom and Rights Talk with the Bafokeng and the BaPedi, in Mobile People, Mobile Law: Expanding Legal Relations in a Contracting World. Franz von Benda-Beckmann, Keebet von Benda,eds. Routledge.
Christopher Paulin. 2002 White Men's Dreams, Black Men's Blood: African Labor and British Expansionism in Southern Africa, 1877-1895. Africa World Press.
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