Connect with us

Insight

The night hides with a knife: Conclusion

Published

on

The blurb to Nduka Otiono’s short story collection includes Wumi Raji’s comment that the author “Is at his best when exploiting the techniques of oral performance.” Otiono carried out fieldwork on this in Nigeria in the 1980s and his absorption in the craft is still apparent, as evident in his edited collection of essays on the subject, which I mentioned at the end of last week’s column.

Not that this is apparent from the opening cluster of stories in The Night Hides. The first two are vignettes, just a few pages long—verbal snapshots with virtually no narrative development. Like the volume as a whole, these are stories of the dispossessed, of those for whom even marginalisation would be a comfortable condition.

The texture of these pieces is in some places extremely (one could say excessively) literary, with a wide-ranging vocabulary and a piling-up of qualifiers, as in the following ear-stopper: “That day, the cold harmattan wind was a blunt knife cutting benumbed bodies busy hustling for tickets or some other articles at a mass transit terminus in the city.”

Mostly, though, the writing is pared down to something much more lithe and conversational. The account of prison life, including the dialogue of inmates, in the longest piece (“Crossfire”) is so convincing it gives the alarming impression that the author himself has done time in jail.

This story, like the two that precede it, explores the lower depths but it is structurally quite different, much longer and with retroversions or flashbacks that build up a solid plot. Especially convincing, and very engaging, are the prisoners’ and warders’ reflections and comments on their way of talking.

These are people from cultures where the spoken word is still a matter of fascination and concern. And so to orality, or to orature, to employ the invaluable term coined by the Ugandan scholar Pio Zirimu.

In the opening section of the fourth story, “Jubilant Flames”, one can virtually hear the performer and see his gestures as he performs: “Bodies! Everywhere, bodies! This trampling, that crumpling. This elbowing, that cursing.” This is followed by the focalizer giving in to his friend’s plea to tell her the tale, as when a member of a live audience begs for a particular item from the performer’s repertoire.

The next story, and the most remarkable, “Wings of Rebellion”, opens with an epigraph from Zimbabwean poet Chenjerai Hove—“We live here for the most in an oral world whose daily organisation is ruled by the written word.”

The story itself begins “Ah, Nduka, I know those lines . . . I’m sure you’ve chosen them to remind me yet again of the tale that you’ve been bothering me to tell you.” What follows is quite surreal: a debate on the writer’s craft to which Wole Soyinka, Dambudzo Marechera and T.S. Eliot all chip in.

Only then comes the tale, interspersed with further discussion, including a diatribe on “our age of technological wizardry, which has left us with the memory of pigs!” Altogether, this is a challenging and hilarious piece of work that upholds the virtues of orality through a schema that is thoroughly postmodernist.

It is slightly disappointing to turn to the next story, “Escapade”, a conventional tale of erotic entanglements. The final piece, “One Day in the Life of an Applicant” (the title tells it all) is in conventional urban realist mode, in the well-worn Lagos-as-hellhole tradition. (I’m sure that footsore Basotho readers would be able to reimagine it set in the offices of Kingsway, Maseru, and thereabouts).

Finally an excellent Afterword by Frank Uche Mowah provides an account of the work of master performer Nweke Momah from Otiono’s own Delta State, Nigeria, and of the ways in which it impacted on Otiono’s craft, especially in its foregrounding of the role of women.

Writing about recent Nigerian novels, I have previously described Nigeria as the powerhouse of contemporary African literature, going on to say that this has partly to do with the sheer size of the place, and with its dynamism, complexity, and host of unresolved problems, all of which are grist to the writer’s mill. ‘The Night Hides with a Knife’ is an outstanding product from that powerhouse.

Chris Dunton

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Insight

Satire: Part Two

Published

on

I am turning now to Juvenalian satire—dark, angry, bitter humour—and with examples that have to do with world politics. I’ll start with the British satirical fortnightly magazine, Private Eye, which was edited for many years by the brilliant humourist Peter Cook. This carries plenty of examples of Horatian satire (tolerant and gently amused), such as a regular item titled “Great Sporting Insights”, which picks up idiotic remarks made by sports commentators.

I’ve written on this before in a piece I called “Football and me”, but here are two recent clangers, on the Winter Olympics.

“After yesterday’s drama, today is the turn of the men in the women’s snowboard event.” And (and this one leaves one puzzling, what on earth did the commentator mean to say?) “I think athletes are like people.” But a lot of Private Eye is much darker.

For example, as we come out of Covid (more-or-less) but with the ghastly, the brutal invasion of Ukraine then in its early stages, there was a cartoon showing the four horsemen of the apocalypse—skeletal figures on skeleton horses—peering down at Planet Earth.

One of them is slumped forward in his saddle and the team leader is saying: “Look, Pestilence is exhausted. War, why don’t you pop down there and have a go?” That’s a fine example of Juvenalian satire—dark, bitter and angry. It made me laugh and then shiver.

Private Eye is famous for its covers. There is even a book reproducing over a hundred of these. The cover of each issue features a real-life photo depicting some topical event, with a made-up headline and/or thought or speech balloons.

My all-time favourite appeared during the apartheid era in South Africa. The photo showed two Zulu warriors, dressed in leopard skins and carrying spears and shields, leaping high in the air in absolute joy. The headline read: “President Verwoerd assassinated. A nation mourns.”

These covers work through the juxtaposition of the headline and/or speech balloons with the photo. In the above example there is a disjunction between the photo and the words. Turning to the present and the atrocious attacks carried out by Russia on Ukraine, Private Eye devoted the bulk of a whole issue to that event, and here the cover works in a different way, with the words giving a twist to the image in the photo.

Here was the monstrous Putin consulting with two of his generals. As always, Putin is sitting at the head of a gigantic desk (I’d estimate around six metres long) and the generals are just visible sitting at the other end.

There are speech balloons: from one general “Victory is as near as he is” and from the other “Oh no! It’s Vlad the Insaner” (Putin’s first name is Vladimir and the comment refers to Vlad the Impaler, ruler of Wallachia, Roumania, in the fifteenth century, who was the inspiration for the fictional character Dracula).

Putin’s speech bubble reads: “If anyone calls me a mad mass-murderer, I’ll blow up the world.” The headline reads: “Ukraine War: Is Putin losing it?” which works on a double meaning, losing the war and/or losing his mind. The cover as a whole brilliantly sums up the insanity and brutality of what Russia has been doing.

Before I return (next week) to the subject of satire, I’d like to pick up on my reference to Vlad the Impaler and to say something about the novel Dracula and the various films made of this. The novel, published in 1897, is by the Irish author Bram Stoker, who was a theatre manager as well as a writer, and it’s a kind of hybrid between serious fiction and a popular horror story.

There have been numerous film versions from the USA and the UK, as well as a German film loosely based on it and titled Nosferatu, which is one of the masterpieces of early (silent) cinema.

The American and British films are more-or-less enjoyable as horror flicks, but pretty silly. One of them includes one of my favourite ludicrous film moments. At a point, when the community is being terrorised by a vampire, the police enter Dracula’s house and interrogate his servant, who lives in a state of constant dread of his master.

They ask him “Does the name Dracula mean anything to you?” and he practically jumps in the air, shudders, covers his face and moans pitifully and then says “No, never heard the name before.” They don’t make them like that anymore.
To be concluded

Chris Dunton

Continue Reading

Insight

South Africa: How did Ramaphosa get so rich?

Published

on

Once upon a time (about four years ago) Cyril Ramaphosa was seen as South Africa’s last, best hope. Since the end of apartheid in 1994, the leadership of the country’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) had passed from the wise and heroic Nelson Mandela to the intellectual but ineffectual Thabo Mbeki and then to the corrupt and ignorant Jacob Zuma.

But in 2018 the fractured and demoralised ANC pulled itself together, remembered its purpose, and replaced Zuma as president with Ramaphosa. Hope soared: Ramaphosa had a long record of activism in the struggle against apartheid, he was a former trade union leader, and he was so rich that he didn’t need to be corrupt.

He was the ideal candidate. For a while it went well. The economy didn’t grow much and unemployment stayed very high, but Zuma’s chief cronies fled abroad, others were charged with various crimes, and even Zuma wound up in jail.

Ramaphosa was at least trying to clean up the mess — but then, two years ago, there was a burglary at his wildlife game farm in the Limpopo province. Nobody heard about it at the time, because Ramaphosa didn’t mention it publicly.

That’s understandable, because the burglars allegedly found US$4 million (M64 million) in cash hidden in cushions on his sofa. That’s not a good look for a president whose USP (unique selling point) is fighting corruption, so no report was made to the police. Ramaphosa just swallowed the loss.

That’s not as crazy as it sounds: Ramaphosa is one of the richest men in South Africa, and US$4 million is less than one percent of his wealth. He could just be trying not to draw attention to it — but then, early this month, Arthur Fraser, former head of South Africa’s intelligence agency, lodged a criminal complaint with the police about the affair.

Fraser said that Ramaphosa’s “presidential protection unit” (bodyguards) had tracked down the burglars, kidnapped and interrogated them, and then bribed them to keep quiet about the cash. Maybe Ramaphosa was just trying to protect his reputation as a man of the people, but even so he would have been breaking the law. And then Fraser outed him.

The news is now out all over town, and by this week Ramaphosa was under attack from all sides.

“Criminals do not report crimes when the proceeds of their crimes are stolen,” as Julius Malema, leader of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, put it, and a great many other people in Parliament and in the street took the same view.

This comes at just the wrong time for Ramaphosa, who faces a leadership challenge in the ANC in December. His anti-corruption campaign within the party has not prospered, and Zuma’s supporters staged riots that killed hundreds when he was jailed.

Now Zuma’s out of jail, and Ramaphosa is tarred with the same corruption brush himself. There’s a lot that’s wrong with this story. Arthur Fraser, the former spy chief who brought the complaint against Ramaphosa, is a close ally of Zuma’s.

The South African president does hold regular cash auctions of his prized Ankole cattle and various game animals at his farm, but why would he hide the cash in pillows? Tax avoidance? This is a man who has sat on literally dozens of boards and is allegedly worth US$450 million (M7.2 billion).

If he wants to avoid taxes, he has lawyers aplenty; he doesn’t need sofa cushions. The whole “burglary” operation, and especially the source and the timing of the “complaint”, smells like a political sting.

Nevertheless, Ramaphosa is in deep trouble. The real object of the sting would have been to highlight Ramaphosa’s great and unexplained wealth.

He probably didn’t break the law to get it, like Zuma did, but he didn’t inherit it and he didn’t earn it by hard work. He just got paid huge sums to sit on boards, and invested the proceeds wisely.

Ramaphosa got on those boards as part of the ANC-sponsored “Black Economic Empowerment (BEE)” programme, one of whose purposes was to provide a reliable, low-profile income stream for its political work. Most of its supporters were very poor, but the chosen “BEE” appointees were expected to donate much of their large incomes to the ANC.

It’s less lurid than Zuma’s route to great wealth via partnership with Indian “entrepreneurs” in a project of “state capture”, but both men’s riches come from their ties to the ANC. To the average voter in Alexandra township, the two men will look exactly the same.

That is why the ANC will probably lose its majority in Parliament in the 2024 election, after 30 years in power. High time, really, even though nobody knows what’s coming out of the box next.

• Gwynne Dyer is a historian and independent journalist, has published several books and has had his articles widely syndicated for many years. He is also available for university and corporate speaking engagements.

Gwynne Dyer

Continue Reading

Insight

Send LMPS to Ukraine

Published

on

Lesotho is currently experiencing an increase in the cases of police brutality. More than 80 cases of police criminal offences have been reported in the past four years. Unfortunately, the police bosses are not doing enough to address these challenges or this has given the public an impression that they are not doing anything about these cases.

I understand we come from background of military rule. But after 29 years of democratic rule, we are still struggling to ensure that we have a police service that upholds democratic tenets. We have been forced to accept that what we have is not a police service but an army that should be sent to Mozambique or Ukraine to fight.

Soldiers kill each other in war and that is normal. In war people count dead bodies. Our parliament must resolve to send the police to Ukraine since they are very good at killing people. We have been counting dead bodies in police custody for the past five years. It appears to me that the police are simply above the law.

Lesotho has been very inconsistent on matters that affect citizens. We have a police service that does not hesitate to pull the trigger and mow down citizens. The police were ruthless when they were called to intervene in the students protest at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) on June 16, 2022. Their barbaric behaviour saw one student killed in cold blood.

The students were protesting over a decision to slash their stipends. What I cannot understand, though, is why matters were allowed to get to that level by the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS).
There is something clearly wrong with that institution.

There was absolutely no need for the NMDS to breach their contract with students. Moreover, there was no need for police to resort to brutal force to put down the students’ demonstration.

I still cannot understand how our blood-thirsty police operate. I cannot understand what could possess them to use so much force against unarmed students. In all this, I stand with students. The police should stop shooting our children. The NMDS must give students their full package.

Last Friday, a day after their callous murder of a student, the thugs reported for duty as if nothing had happened. Under the leadership of Holomo Molibeli chances are these rogue police officers will get away with murder! But that should not be allowed to happen. These rogue police officers must be held responsible.

Before Molibeli became the Commissioner of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), the police already had certain powers over civilians. They could arrest civilians, stop them in the streets and search them. They are still allowed to retain some of our personal information on their own computer databases – and they can still access details held by other organisations on request.

They can access details of our phone records and our phone calls and emails may be intercepted. Sometimes, the police are permitted to detain us in custody – for up to 48 hours. They can determine the length and conditions of bail while they carry out an investigation; and in some cases, they can caution or charge us with a criminal offence.

In addition to all that, officers have equipment – handcuffs, batons, CS spray, Tasers, firearms – that can be deployed with deadly effect, when they deem it necessary to do so. I therefore do not understand why Commissioner Molibeli allowed these police officers to carry live ammunition to a students’ protest. That is why I am saying they should be taken to war.

It would be surprising, despite the numerous safeguards that are in place to prevent abuse, if, on occasion at Roma, the police officers did not overstep their powers. In my opinion the police are employed to stop crime and make citizens feel safe but when police officers become perpetrators of the same crimes they are supposed to prevent, they become no better than rapists, robbers, murderers and other miscreants that society has ejected and locked away.

Suspects often experience extreme violence and cruelty, including being suffocated, when under police investigations. A plastic bag might be put over his or her head, restricting his or her breathing, and a tube down the throat or a strangulation may also be used.

Suspects are brutally beaten even when they were not resisting arrest and the level of force used by the police appears to be disproportional to the circumstances in which suspects have to be restrained.

The use of violence by the police has implications not just in terms of an individuals’ pain and suffering or the workings of the criminal justice system, but it also causes a social problem that ripples throughout society. The other day we witnessed two men being burned alive on a video at Ha Matala.

The use of force has become a ritual within the police because it is accepted as an effective strategy to solve problems and the victim’s suffering and pain run the risk of becoming irrelevant to the law, as the victim becomes isolated at a time when he/she is in need of the law’s protection.

It appears that there is something wrong with the police training programme. I was shocked when the training recruits at the PTC who came out a few months ago during the festive season were caught on camera beating poor civilians.

I strongly feel that the perpetuation of police brutality is rooted in the lack of comprehensive training to equip members of the LMPS with skills and strategies in dealing with challenges such as suspects’ lack of compliance and dealing with riots.

Police training is lacking in two areas, namely interviewing skills and a legal approach to restraining a suspect. I am convinced that the trainings that the police get do not speak to the challenges that they encounter when executing their duties on the street.

In conclusion, the scourge of police brutality that still plagues our communities is clearly not an old or new phenomenon, as it appears to be firmly embedded in a police culture that persists in embracing force and violence as its operational tools.

We must do away with the current police service and send them to a war situation, where they can practice force and violence. If we fail to send them to Ukraine then the Commissioner must be fired together with most senior officers in management and we must restructure and professionalise the LMPS.

Ramahooana Matlosa

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending