Thursday, 11 September 2014

Nokuthela Mdima

Earlier tonight I attended the annual John Langalibalele Dube Memorial Lecture. It was organised by the College of Humanities (one of three colleges at the University of KwaZulu-Natal) and co-hosted by the School of Education, the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics and the LJ Dube Chair in Rural Education.

This year the lecture was delivered by Dr Gcina Mhlophe. She spoke about Nokuthula Mdima, the wife of John Langalibalele Dube. Dube was an important freedom fighter and the founding president of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC), which later became the African National Congress in 1923.

But tonight it was all about his wife: Nokuthela Mdima. A leader, an educator and indeed a freedom fighter in her own right. She was, together with her husband, the author of a  book titled Amagama Abantu (A Zulu Song Book) in 1911. This book stands as a landmark in the development of Zulu Choral music.

In the programme and on posters it was written Nokuthela Dube, but the guest speaker changed this to Nokuthela Mdima, thus using her family name. As a way of saying, that her greatness was not connected to her marriage but was her own.

Dr Gcina Mhlope is also a remarkable person. An author, poet, director, performer and storyteller. Her lecture was not an academic one. She held it in both isiZulu and English (hence I only understood half of it). It didn’t matter. So much energy.

I especially remember two things. She mentioned a number of important women in the history of South Africa. Then she asked the audience if there were names that she had forgotten to mention. People started to shout names like: Albertina Sisulu, Winnie Madikizela Mandela etc. I also shouted:
Helen Suzman
Another thing I noted was something she said about stories:
As a nation we are as week or as powerful as the stories we chose to tell to one another.
So true! One can meditate on that sentence for a long time.

Everyone wants to take a picture of the powerful.
And sometimes you also see how eager people are to
be part of the photo. I am not too enthusiastic.
But at least the quest speaker was one of the
persons in this photo. She is the lady with the head gear.
I am happy that I attended this lecture. There are only a few things I never will get used to. In every lecture that is privileging the poor and the marginalised (as the speakers say) there is another discourse and that is the discourse of upholding the successful and those in power. Two examples:
Every important person has to be acknowledged in every speech, welcome or introduction. It is so formal. Why not just say:
Another thing is the traditional photo. Also the celebrities! And the photo will end up on the website of the University. What about all the hard working students and ordinary staff members who try their best? 

Next week I will meet with one of the students I supervise. She is writing about infertility. One inspiration is the life of Nokuthula Mdima. She could not bear children. Maybe that was a reason why she ended up in an unmarked grave in Johannesburg for almost a century.  On August 11, 2012, her family and friends unveiled a temporary marker on her grave. Today’s lecture was also a form of restitution of her legacy.

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