Patrice Lumumba – “A Man of the People”

PL color“Africa will write its own history, and it will be, to the north and to the south of the Sahara, a history of glory and dignity.”

 

Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of the independent nation of the Congo, was born July 2, 1925 in Onalua in Kasai province of the Belgian Congo. With just a primary education, Lumumba emerged to become one of Africa’s most vocal critics of colonialism. Early in life, he developed interests in grassroots union activities and joined the Postal Union. As secretary-general of the union, Lumumba began publishing essays critical of Belgian colonial rule, and advocating independence and a unified centralized Congo. His writings appealed beyond ethnic and regional loyalties to a national constituency.

 

In 1955, Lumumba became regional leader of the Circle of Stanleyville and joined the Belgian Liberal Party. In 1956, he was arrested and charged with embezzling union funds and sentenced to two years imprisonment. Released after twelve months, Lumumba became sales director of a brewery in Leopoldville. To solidify his political base, in 1957 Lumumba helped found a broad-based organization that appealed beyond ethnic and regional loyalties—Movement National Congolais (MNC). The following year, he represented the MNC at the Pan-African conference in Accra, Ghana.

His relentless attacks on Belgian rule soon fractured the MNC, resulting in leadership split in July 1959. Undaunted, Lumumba insisted on complete dismantling of Belgian rule. In October 1959, he was arrested for allegedly inciting anti-colonial riots and sentenced to six months. Shortly thereafter, the Belgian government summoned a conference in Brussels to discuss the future of the Congo. Confronted by MNC threat of boycott, the government released Lumumba. At Brussels, Lumumba boldly condemned Belgian rule and advocated immediate independence. Convinced of the imminence of Congolese freedom, Belgium set aside June 30, 1960 as Independence Day.

 

The Movement National Congolais won the majority in the general election held in May, 1960, and Lumumba became Prime Minister of the Congo, with his political rival Joseph Kasavubu as President. Lumumba’s scathing denunciation of colonialism ruffled feathers not only in Belgium but also in the United States and Great Britain. Unfortunately, his tenure was brief and marred in crises. It began with the army revolt and secession in Katanga and Southern Kasai.

 

When the United Nations ignored his repeated appeals for intervention, Lumumba turned to the Soviet Union. This move only strengthened western opposition to his regime. Using the crises as an excuse, Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba as Prime Minister. Though reinstated by the National Assembly, Lumumba was subsequently overthrown by Col. Joseph (later Sese Seko) Mobutu, and placed under house arrest. He made the fateful attempt to escape to Stanleyville where his supporter had gained control. He was apprehended by secessionist rebels and assassinated on January 18, 1961.

 

This heinous crime was a culmination of two inter-related assassination plots by American and Belgian governments, which used Congolese accomplices and a Belgian execution squad to carry out the deed. Ludo De Witte, the Belgian author of the best book on this crime, qualifies it as “the most important assassination of the 20th century”. The assassination’s historical importance lies in a multitude of factors, the most pertinent being the global context in which it took place, its impact on Congolese politics since then and Lumumba’s overall legacy as a nationalist leader.

 

For 130 years, the US and Belgium have played key roles in shaping Congo’s destiny. In April 1884, seven months before the Berlin Congress, the US became the first country in the world to recognise the claims of King Leopold II of the Belgians to the territories of the Congo Basin.

 

When the atrocities related to brutal economic exploitation in Leopold’s Congo Free State resulted in millions of fatalities, the US joined other world powers to force Belgium to take over the country as a regular colony. And it was during the colonial period that the US acquired a strategic stake in the enormous natural wealth of the Congo, following its use of the uranium from Congolese mines to manufacture the first atomic weapons, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.

 

 

In Congo, Lumumba’s assassination is rightly viewed as the country’s original sin. Coming less than seven months after independence (on 30 June, 1960), it was a stumbling block to the ideals of national unity, economic independence and pan-African solidarity that Lumumba had championed, as well as a shattering blow to the hopes of millions of Congolese for freedom and material prosperity.patrice-lumumba-bet

The assassination took place at a time when the country had fallen under four separate governments: the central government in Kinshasa (then Léopoldville); a rival central government by Lumumba’s followers in Kisangani (then Stanleyville); and the secessionist regimes in the mineral-rich provinces of Katanga and South Kasai. Since Lumumba’s physical elimination had removed what the west saw as the major threat to their interests in the Congo, internationally-led efforts were undertaken to restore the authority of the moderate and pro-western regime in Kinshasa over the entire country. These resulted in ending the Lumumbist regime in Kisangani in August 1961, the secession of South Kasai in September 1962, and the Katanga secession in January 1963.

 

Lumumba became a martyr and symbol of Congolese and African freedom. He is remembered today as one of only a handful of African leaders truly dedicated to national unity and genuine independence. In February 2002, responding to a Belgian Commission’s Report that implicated Belgium in Lumumba’s death, the Belgian government acknowledged “moral responsibility” and officially apologized. Lumumba remains an inspiration to African politicians. Several of the major political parties in the 2006 Presidential election in the Congo invoked Lumumba’s legacy.

 

Pimp: The Story of My Life by Iceberg Slim

“Always remember whether you be sucker or hustler in the world out there, you’ve got that vital edge if you can iron- clad your feelings. I picture the human mind as a movie screen. If you’re a dopey sucker, you’ll just sit and watch all kinds of mindwrecking, damn fool movies on that screen.

After all, we are the absolute bosses of that whole theatre and show in our minds. We even write the script. So always write positive, dynamic scripts and show only the best movies for you on that screen whether you are pimp or priest.”

Iceberg Slim, or Robert Beck as he would become, was born Robert Lee Maupin, in Chicago on 4 August 1918. Much of his childhood was spent in Milwaukee’s poor North Side and the industrial town of Rockford, Illinois – consistently ranked as one of America’s most blighted cities – before he returned to Chicago as a teenager. His father left, and his mother supported the family by working as a domestic and running a beauty shop. He later – somewhat uncharitably – credited her with having prepared him for the pimp lifestyle by pampering him during his childhood. As a teenager in the mid 30s, Robert briefly attended the Tuskegee Institute, at the same time as Ralph Ellison, the author of Invisible Man, though the two moved in different circles, each oblivious to the presence of the other.

In his book Pimp: The Story of My Life, Iceberg Slim recounts his personal autobiography as an intellectually-gifted teenager growing up in the world before desegregation. Through various events in his life, he ultimately becomes a pimp in between jail stints.

As soon as Slim is born, he has problems. As an infant, his father becomes enraged and slams his body against a wall, walking out on the family. From then on, his mother tries to raise him on her own, but since there is only one parent and she is responsible for supporting them both, Slim is often left alone as a child. He is left alone with a babysitter named Maude who sexually abuses him when he is only 3 years old.

Slim and his mother move to Indianapolis afterwards and a man visiting his relatives, Henry Upshaw, immediately falls in love with Slim’s mother. Henry is the only father figure Iceberg has in his lifetime and is the best person in his life. Henry reciprocates the affection and loves Iceberg and his mother immensely. Slim’s mother, however, falls in love with a scoundrel named Steve. Giving Henry a weak excuse that they will return again soon, Slim’s mother packs up Iceberg and meets up with Steve. Iceberg is destroyed by leaving Henry and cries as hard as he can. He misses Henry for the rest of his life. Henry dies a year after Slim and his mother leave him.

Slim meets a hustler named Party Time. Together, Party Time and Slim work a small-time con with Slim dressing up as a woman and pretending to be a black hooker to entice white men to meet “her” down an alley. They pay Party Time to meet the mysterious hooker, but by the time they walk down the alley, Slim takes off through the alleyways. Eventually, Party Time is busted and goes to jail for a year, though he never reveals Slim’s name to the police.

By this time, Slim is 15 years old and graduates high school with a near-perfect 98.1 grade point average. He is recruited to go to Tuskegee University, but drops out after getting into a scandal with the local college girls. He has a relationship with a girl and asks her to turn a trick for him. They are eventually busted and this setup sends Slim to jail for the first time at age 17. He is released and meets a woman at his mother’s beauty salon named Pepper. Pepper teaches Slim many of his “freaky” sexual tricks he will use on women in future years. Through a con of her own, Pepper sends Slim to jail for the second time.

Slim is released from his second stint in jail just months from his twentieth birthday. He listens and learns from former pimps in jail and wants to start pimping on his own. He scores his first hooker Runt shortly after leaving jail. Runt eventually sends him to another stint in jail through a betrayal of her own.

Slim grows in popularity and has a growing number of hookers working for him over the years. After Runt and Ophelia send Slim to jail, he is reduced to nothing and has to again start from scratch. He tries to regain his glory, but is quickly sent to jail again, shortly after his release, for robbing a drug dealer. He escapes from jail while serving this sentence.

Slim gets busted for being in a hotel room with an unmarried woman in Montana and they discover the escape charge on him. They send him back to prison. There, he finally decides to give up pimping and drugs for good. He studies the law and gets an early release. He hurries back to see Mama who lives only 6 more months before dying.

Pimp, described as an “autobiographical novel”, was published in 1969 by Holloway House. The New York Times decided the subject matter was too rich and refused to print an advert for it, but the book was soon being shelved alongside the works of other black authors of the 60s and 70s, such as Eldridge Cleaver‘s Soul on Ice, Bobby Seale‘s Seize the Time and Malcolm X‘s autobiography. As the more militant black movements established a foothold in African-American communities, Slim met Huey P Newton and other members of the Black Panther party, whom he regarded as kindred spirits. Either through political naivety or hustler’s self-justification, he considered his success as a pimp as having struck a blow against white oppression. The Black Panthers, however, had little regard for him, considering his former profession to be little more than the exploitation of his own people for personal gain.

Yet Slim’s books were successful, and immediately attracted widespread attention among black youth. Even Hollywood got interested: following the success of The Godfather, gangster chic was in vogue. Trick Baby made it on to the screen in 1973, directed by Larry Yust. Universal Pictures snapped up the film rights to Pimp, only for the project to be thought too contentious and put on indefinite hold. For many years rumours have abounded that a film of the book is about to be produced, with the rival Slim-inspired “Ices”, T and Cube, vying for the lead role.

One of Slim’s most endearing features was that he never made any excuses for the life he had led. His writing is characterised by a scrupulous honesty about both the social reality and the hyperreal theatricality of street life – the template for the hip-hoppers and rappers who followed him. Slim admitted that one reason he stopped pimping and became a writer was his fear of being exploited by younger prostitutes. In his works, the hookers are seldom simply victims of the pimps but more often fellow ghetto strugglers with the same grifter sensibility.

The works of Robert Beck, aka Iceberg Slim, have made a powerful impact on our global cultural landscape and should be essential reading. We have to get beyond his life as a pimp, and accept him as one of the most influential writers of our age.

Warning: Contains explicit language

Mother of George – “Marriage and Infertility”

This movie opens during a lavish and colourful wedding party, but even in the middle of that jubilant occasion, it is obvious that we are heading towards tragedy in a Shakespearean proportion. As soon as the couple, Ayodele and Adenike, get married, Ade is pulled aside by her mother in law, perhaps the only villain in the film, and told that she must have a baby, a son, evidently, and that his name must be George.

 

Andrew Dosunmu, film director, portrays a world that many would judge straightforward. The premise of the story is an African couple living in Brooklyn and having trouble conceiving a child – a problem that defies cultural expectations and leads Adenike to make an outrageous decision that could either save or ruin her family.

The stereotypical notions that many have regarding the role of women in African societies are constantly challenged in this movie. Elusive but distressing in its intimacy, “Mother of George” focuses rather in the global, all inclusive, clash of traditional and modern beliefs.

Dosunmu’s colours in “Mother of George” are nothing short of stunning, as if in every shot, we are given its own resolute consideration – from the traditional clothing the characters wear, to the home decor to the unadorned contrast of New York’s streets.

 

Ade’s desperate attempts give birth brings the drama to a head, and it’s a credit to the clear-cut work of writer Darci Picoult and director Andrew Dosunmu.

During the film, we are able to recognize the conflicting choices everyone needs to make, but my empathy with Ade’s remains resilient until the end. Danai Gurira, who plays Adenike, carries the movie with a  stoical majesty. She’s out of focus at the beginning and ending of the shot, but for a brief moment, her face comes into focus as she stares right at us. In a way it is like we are been told that the answer is intangible as the dilemma she is embroiled. Mother of George is dazzling!The main actors and director need to be highly praised for bringing to life this distressing but yet unpretentious tale.

Steve Biko – “Anti-Apartheid Martyr”

“The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”

 

 

 

 

 

Stephen Bantu Biko was a giant in the struggle against South Africa’s white minority rule and one of its most well-known martyrs.

Born in Tylden, in the Eastern Province (now Eastern Cape), on 18 December 1946, he was a prodigious student in a system with designed policies to curtailed any kind of black emancipation. From a very early age he rebelled against this repressive apparatus. He was briefly expelled from school due to “a strong resentment toward white authority”. At university Biko formed the South African Students Organisation, raising awareness of how black students suffered compared to their white counterparts.

 

Biko’s Black Consciousness movement deeply concentrated in making people responsible of their own liberation. He define it as “the first step therefore is to make the black man come to himself; to pump back life into his empty shell; to infuse him with pride and dignity, to remind him of his complicity in the crime of allowing himself to be misused and therefore letting evil reign supreme in the country of his birth … This is the definition of black consciousness.”

In August 1977 Biko was arrested at a roadblock and detained in prison. His brutal treatment, culminating in being driven naked in the back of a police van over a huge distance, led to his death on 12 September. Jimmy Kruger, the police minister, said: “I am not pleased nor am I sorry. Biko’s death leaves me cold.”

Biko’s tragic death, at tender age of 30, had a great impact on the people of South Africa and stunned the world. His funeral was attended by more than 15,000 mourners.

 

Steve Biko’s Interview:

Sorry for the poor quality of the audio but please listen to them carefully, especially part 3.

 

 

 

Lastly, I would like to leave with an extract written by Biko a few days before his imprisonment and eventual death:

“You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and when you are dead, you can’t care anyway. And your method of death can itself be a politicizing thing. So you die in the riots. For a hell of a lot of them, in fact, there’s really nothing to lose – almost literally, given the kind of situations that they come from. So if you can overcome the personal fear for death, which is a highly irrational thing, you know, then you’re on the way.

 And in interrogation the same sort of thing applies. I was talking to this policeman, and I told him, ‘If you want us to make any progress, the best thing is for us to talk. Don’t try any form of rough stuff, because it just won’t work.’ And this is absolutely true also. For I just couldn’t see what they could do to me which would make me all of a sudden soften to them. If they talk to me, well I’m bound to be affected by them as human beings. But the moment they adopt rough stuff, they are imprinting in my mind that they are police. And I only understand one form of dealing with police, and that’s to be as unhelpful as possible. So I button up. And I told them this: ‘ Its up to you.’ We had a boxing match the first day I was arrested. Some guy tried to clout me with a club. I went into him like a bull. I think he was under instructions to take it so far and no further, and using open hands so that he doesn’t leave any marks on the face. And of course he said exactly what you are saying just now: ‘ I will kill you.’ He meant to intimidate. And my answer was: ‘How long is it going to take you?’ Now of course they were observing my reaction. And they could see that I was completely unbothered. If they beat me up, it’s to my advantage. I can use it. They just killed somebody in jail – a friend of mine- about ten days before I was arrested. Now it would have been bloody useful evidence for them to assault me. At least it would indicate what kinds of possibilities were there, leading to this guy’s death. So, I wanted them to go ahead and do what they could do, so that I could use it. I wasn’t really afraid that their violence might lead me to make revelations I didn’t want to make, because I had nothing to reveal on this particular issue.

I was operating from a very good position, and they were in a very weak position. My attitude is, I’m not going to allow them to carry out their program faithfully. If they want to beat me five times, they can only do so on condition that I allow them to beat me five times. If I react sharply, equally and oppositely, to the first clap, they are not going to systematically count the next four claps, you see.

It’s a fight. So if they had meant to give me so much of a beating, and not more, my idea is to make them go beyond what they wanted to give me and give back as much as I can give so that it becomes an uncontrollable thing.

 

You see the one problem this guy had with me: he couldn’t really fight with me because it meant he must hit back, like a man. But he was given instructions, you see, on how to hit, and now these instructions were no longer applying because it was a fight. So he had to withdraw and get more instructions.

So I said to them, ‘Listen, if you guys want to do this your way, you have got to handcuff me and bind my feet together so I can’t respond. If you allow me to respond, I’m certainly going to respond. And I’m afraid you may have to kill me in the process even if it’s not your intention.”

 

 

 

 

Nina Simone – “High Priestess Of Soul”

Nina Simone died in 2003, at age of 70. Unquestionably, she was one of the most compelling and ground-breaking musical figures coming from the United States. Nina highly believed that music had a strong political purpose. When we listen to Nina Simone, we cannot but notice her proud voice, engraved with the authority of an high priestess. In almost every song she is able to take us to the dimmer reaches of emotions, wandering from a bitter imperiousness to private torments.

She was born Eunice Kathleen Wymon at Tryon, North Carolina, on February 21 1933, the sixth of eight children who grew up in poverty; their father was a handyman. By the age of three she could play the piano by ear; it is said that she was discovered playing, note-perfect, “God be with you till we meet again“, in the key of F, on the family’s organ.

nina_simone-293x307 egyptNina Simone was not an instant success, but in 1959 her first album, “My Baby Just Cares For Me”, produced a gigantic hit in her version of Gershwin’s I Loves You Porgy. The triumph of albums such as “Wild Is The Wind” allowed her to assume a prominent position within the civil rights movement and she developed close relations with eminent figures of the time, such as Lorraine Hansberry, who she dedicated the song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” and Stokely Carmichael, later known as Kwame Touré. During this turbulent period, Nina Simone is recalled to say that “America was my Daddy and he got under my skin.” Gradually her sound deliberately assimilated a gospel edge and famous work of black, notably Langston Hughes’s “Backlash Blues”.

She felt that black politics accounted for circumstances she had partially understood since childhood – the different worlds, for instance, when she had crossed the tracks to visit her white piano teacher. She declared then, that while love songs had been her principal inspiration, there was a love that superseded it, the one that could bring her people together to secure their rights. “Mississippi Goddam” was an enraged reaction to the deaths of four children in the bombing of a Sunday school in Birmingham, Alabama, in September 1963.

Through the civil rights movement, Simone grew increasingly absorbed with African-American history, and a longstanding interest in Africa began, culminating in a close association with Liberia in West Africa. However by the mid-1970s the movement was reaching a crisis point. Many of its leaders had been killed, and the growth of a grassroots movement rooted in the working class failed to mature.

 

Despite eight best-selling albums, Nina Simone, as many other black artists, had lingering money problems due to unpaid royalties. Increasingly disillusioned with American politics, she drew inspiration from  Third World struggles, left the US, and lived in Barbados, Liberia and Guinea-Conakry before settling in France.

In the late 80s, Nina Simone took exception to the agreed distribution of the royalties from “My Baby Just Cares For Me”, which had become a belated pop hit. An infamous incident Nina allegedly chased a record executive from a restaurant with a knife. Moving to Aix-en-Provence in 1995, she received a suspended sentence for wounding an unruly teenage neighbour with a shotgun.

Nina Simone left a wonderful legacy of music and song, and led an inspirational and political life, showing that great music comes from political commitment, not in spite of it.