A Shared Heritage Icon

sunflowerSeptember is the beginning of my favourite season: spring! It also happens to be heritage month in South Africa, where I currently reside. For me, the two add up to a month of musical appreciation—or at least, this is also why I believe the birds sing in spring time.

To join the birds in their singing, I think it is only fitting to show my appreciation by singing praises to my musical icon: Frank Mooki Leepa.

Frankly speaking, when it comes to heritage icons to be celebrated in South Africa—and indeed in Lesotho, but this goes without saying—Frank Leepa’s name should come up. This is an opinion, however, one that I hope to (continuously) defend with fervour.

My age says I more likely to have experienced in a tangible manner Bhudaza in his early days than I could have Frank Leepa. This being the case, perhaps a good place to begin my defence (in this blog piece) is to throw Bhudaza in the mix—for indeed, I experienced his blossoming into a celebrated musician from his days in Talima, a band with his late brother Mochoko, which also featured his late nephew Lekoane on bass guitar at a tender age of about ten, playing better than many adult guitarists.

The Talima days I remember very vividly. They were the prime days of my youth, beauty and free expression of my opinions about all and sundry. In those days, as a budding artist, Bhudaza was more recognisable by the soil that nurtured and allowed him to flourish. Here, I am referring directly to the influence of his brother Mochoko, who died in August 2001.

It took Google to get the year, but the month was etched in my mind. When the sad news reached many in Lesotho, I was actually with ‘mangoane Mpotla celebrating her birthday. The weather that evening was particularly nasty for mid August—it was cold, windy and sleeting—yet after our dining at Lancers Inn, we remained undeterred about ending our night at Victoria hotel with Bhudaza’s performance, alas…the night didn’t end as we planned!

That September, I called it the spring of Bhudaza’s career. He performed like I had never seen before. He was like a man possessed, a thorn bird even, playing each note to levels of unbelievable perfection. And we, the fans, loyal to the memory of Mochoko, allowed those notes to spring us to a level where spirits and beings commune with each other. We were mourning but also celebrating. And yes, while this may sound warped, it really was rooted in knowing Mochoko, who, for the record, I never did call ntate. A mere 10 minute conversation with Mochoko, when he talked music and/or the need for a music school for Basotho children, was to know him at some intimate level. A level that was inspiring and full of what some may refer to as ‘radical hope’ for the industry and the role it can play in transforming society. In a nutshell, you would understand why the show must always go on!

I have digressed; but not long the summer of Bhudaza’s career followed. He was in the studio recording his first album, which was super explosive.

Can we guess who was the man in the background assisting with production and arrangement of this album? It was none other than Frank Mooki Leepa. Sadly he died a few months before its release, but, in my opinion, his touch remained. For me, that touch was in how the spirit of Mochoko was infused into the album—I can’t really explain it, but I had this sense that the album had the same feel as one that Talima had hoped to record with the Germans, if life’s complexities and death had not gotten in the way.

Yes, life does suck and things never go according to plan, but again I digress. This post is about why I celebrate Frank Mooki Leepa and why I believe it is important to remember that his name deservedly should be counted among the heritage icons in South Africa during heritage month.

For me, it is worth mentioning that it is ultimately the words or lyrics that determine whether my connection to a song is superficial or not—unless, of course, we are talking about a pure instrumental. I can happily dance, for example, to Bhudaza’s song khera—a name for a potent Sesotho brew—but it doesn’t mean the song connects with my being. Contained in the broad message to caution us all of the dangers of alcohol (khera) is a gendered part that sits uneasily with me, captured by the following two lines:

Hey brother, life is yours, you better look after it.
Hey sister, come on let me change your life.

At first listen (or even read), the two lines can easily be dismissed, particularly because towards the end of the song, both sexes are called on with the same offer to be lead on to a path that will change their lives. Yeah … exalt to an end that recognises equality. But wait! What of the existence of the above seemingly innocent lines found in the beginning of the song? Surely they cannot be ignored. They perpetuate the notion that women lack their own agency: they need a man (like Bhudaza) to walk them to a path of redemption. In contrast, men simply need to be reminded of their own agency.

These two lines, without even getting into the politics of their positioning, sever any emotional connection I could have to the song. The idea that Bhudaza and Frank Leepa can be at the same conscience levels immediately becomes unimaginable to me. To just ward off the idea, my first urge is to listen to vukani— wake up. I am not talking about Sipho Hotstix Mabuse’s version, for his immediately turns the hot in his name to lukewarm. I am talking about Sankomota’s version with Frank Leepa leading the vocals (and, of course, involved in other background activities).

Vukani is a must listen to song for all who may have doubts about counting Frank Leepa among the heritage icons in South Africa. Every line in that song is conscience-raising and modelled around the necessity to end apartheid and all other forms of oppression.

My favourite lines, by far, are the ones that point out the contradictions of the struggle, which unfortunately, continue to exist to this day, almost 30 years of the recording of the song. We have people that talk about freedom yet have no problems killing their own brothers. Just as we have people ready to shout “right on” but later refuse to move on with the agenda of building a just society.

The one line that absolutely takes the cake for me, which I shall not dare paraphrase is:

you go around screaming equality, but you paddle your own sister and destroy morality….no no no no no no no … vukani madoda …

For me, a proud feminist, this enhances by leaps and bounds Frank Leepa’s call for intersectionality. A call to recognise all forms of oppression. There is no denying or sweeping under the carpet the problem of patriarchal violence. A direct question is posed to the men fighting for a supposed life of dignity: how do you fight for freedom and equality when you see nothing wrong with beating or oppressing your women?

This question, I imagine, is asked in the spirit of “monna o tentsoa ts’ea ke bang”, a man is helped into his loin garment by other men. As such, I believe the intention was to actively initiate a dialogue that reminds and will continue to remind the men that equality is not a one narrow dimensional concept—otherwise why, for example, were the women willing to pledge their solidarity and support in the “struggle”?

For me, there is no doubt, therefore, that vukani embodies the kind of activism/politics that we should all align ourselves to. Singing or performing this song in the 80s was an obvious punishable political act. More so, because it was inevitably accompanied by a repertoire that included songs like woza, uhuru and house on fire.

Let’s pause for a moment. Can you possibly see why ordinary people would want to spring into action to bring about (positive) change in their lives from such a repertoire? If you can, then I hope you can also see why Frank Leepa qualifies as a musical heritage icon. With music as his medium, he made an effort to inspire people to blossom into being extraordinary: his lyrics encouraged them to act and deal with the contradictions that exist in their everyday struggles so that ours can begin to be a better world.

What is more, beyond the grave his work continues to inspire. It springs one from the doldrums when winter makes a sudden appearance in the emotional side of life. Or, at least, it does for me. Hence, my willingness to spring in celebration of his memory, heritage and the vukani or awakening season itself, where singing comes all so naturally to creation!

Right to Space

A disclaimer: I am not particularly interested in what happens in space. I am a grassroots type of a woman with strong views against projects like the Square kilometre Array (SKA), which, in my mind, divert, in the midst of economies collapsing, funds that could be used to improve lives of the ordinary women and men, deprived of living a life of dignity; a life where one can walk tall and just be.

Disclaimer aside, today being Human Rights Day, I thought I should allow myself to drift a bit into space. Not so much to have a holiday from grassroots matters, but to just take time to note the transcending nature of sexism that goes beyond our planet right into space.

Two days ago, this link was forwarded to me about some British woman, Kate Arkless Gray’s fight to go into space. Central to her fight is a disturbing advert that she challenges, which actually suggests that only men can qualify in a competition to go into space. One may argue, once they have read the article or seen the advert, that the company behind the competition had no (malicious) intentions to exclude women–given their product is male-specific. But surely someone in their midst should have detected (blatant) sexism just in the language used to lure the would-be entrants of the competition: “Lynx is scouring the world to recruit a few brave men for the opportunity of a lifetime”. An opportunity where you, “Leave a man, return a hero.

I mean really?! Can we believe whatever explanation that this company is willing to offer? What about the actual content of advert itself? In 2013, couldn’t they spend more of their money to find creative people capable of promoting different views to masculinity and femininity?

In my non-humble opinion, to believe this company is to accept that not even the sky is the limit for sexism. For this reason, I offer my solidarity to all women who have entered the competition and hope they get voted into space.

Now speaking generally (to all humanity), may we be granted the space to be. May we each recognise that we need this space to self-actualise and live a life of dignity. As such, moving beyond Human Rights day, may we embrace the right to space as a human right—a basic and fundamental right to be.

A Stand Against Rape

For a holiday, I had a very productive morning: taking a moral stand. I joined an anti-rape march, organised in solidarity with community members of Grahamstown East, as part of an ongoing quest for justice for the two siblings, aged 6 and 7, raped by their school teacher.

We marched declaring proudly that rape was not part of our culture and necessarily not part of the curricula! What was troubling to me was how few men were actually present at the march.

I believe only a few men are rapists. I also believe in order to paint this reality we need to see more men taking a visible stand against rape. The question then is: how can we get more men to be visibly involved in activities that will allow positive construction of masculinity?

Men — speaking only on my behalf — I need to see more of you lest I start thinking what I see in marches, like one we had today, is representative of some reality. Please don’t wait until it is your blood relative or your partner to take a visible stand against rape, sexual violence and all other forms of patriarchy. Stand now to prevent false construction of masculinity; and more importantly, to help stop the war on women and children’s bodies!


Recently when I was preparing for yet another scholarship application, I was reminded of a story my mother shared with me a little over a decade ago. At that time, she was working predominately with TB patients.

The story goes as follows: When an elderly man was asked why he had stopped taking his TB medication i.e. defaulted, he responded with a chuckle. A chuckle filled with a touch of sorrow, gentility and genuineness, all fused together by a healthy dose of amusement to remove any traces of malice. Then he went on to say: “ngoanaka, u botsa hobane u sa tsebe sekoboto“!

Pretty much, that was the sum total of the man’s response. Unfortunately for me, when I heard the story, I failed to realise how profound a response it was. I laughed for I found the re-enactment of the chuckle really funny. And, to a small degree, because (as a Mosotho child) I have been raised to believe that laughter is greater than death itself, “lefu-leholo ke lits’eho“. This said, the bottomline is: I failed to move beyond laughter by failing to engage in any substantive manner with the vocalised part of his response, which translates to: “my child, you ask because you don’t know what sekoboto is!”

Now, allow me to redeem myself by explaining first what sekoboto is and then what I believe the elderly man was saying. Sekoboto, in a nutshell, refers to famine,”tlala ea boja-likata”. But there is slightly more to this famine; assuming of course, that famine was something ordinary. Sekoboto refers to an extreme kind of famine that corrodes the body and the soul with intensity that cannot be described fully in words.

So, notwithstanding the implication that words may not be adequate to express what the elderly man said, I shall nevertheless make an effort to unpack his statement. In my opinion, I think this is what he was trying to communicate:

A stomach that knows not sekoboto, laments on having “meal X” yet again; for it understands not the panic of not knowing where the next meal is coming from. It laments because choice is not a word that exist only in theory: choice is a right embedded in its existence. And indeed, while that choice may be limited, it is not as dire as having to choose between aggravated pain of starvation and a speedy escape from starvation granted by death!1

Personally, I haven’t experienced the sekoboto that the elderly man was referring to. But, I certainly do relate. For this, I thank some of the questions that have been included in my scholarship application(s), particularly those that required me to articulate the invisible barriers as a black woman in science, with an urban middle-class background.2 For many of these questions, I truly felt like providing a loaded response akin to the one the elderly man gave; but of course lacking the wisdom that comes with age, I couldn’t!

  1. TB medication increases appetite and if you already struggle with what to eat on a daily basis this becomes an aggravation. Not just any kind of aggravation: a painful one that may ultimately cause you to rethink what quality of life means!
  2. This possibly explains why I haven’t been successful with my applications :-(. Perhaps, I couldn’t explain that middle-class can simply translate to not being in a sekoboto situation, where sleeping on an empty stomach for days is a norm. Or may be I couldn’t (adequately) explain that subordination of women from “committed parties” is the same, be it you are an urban or rural dweller, black or white, in science or humanities, etc. Who knows?

A Tribute to African Rocks

As you may know, today is women’s day. It is a day we remember and celebrate the courage and the role played by women in building the new South Africa. Specifically, it is a day we remember the birth of an inspiring song for all women: “wathint’ abafazi, wathint’imbokodo”! Translated in context: “you strike a woman, you strike a rock”!

This song is an apt reminder that women, like rocks, are impenetrable and cannot be moved easily once geared for action. Their intimate knowledge of oppression, pain and joy fuels their inner strength, creating a bond which enables them to be rooted in their action.

With the above said, allow me to specifically pay homage to the ordinary women of Africa. I believe they are absolutely amazing beings 😉

I salute you, ordinary women of Africa! You are the rocks, the heart and soul of our continent. When hope ceases to exist, you become the embodiment of hope. You dig deep within you to find the strength to overcome the challenges and struggles of life. Through your actions, I know that the extraordinary comes from the ordinary. And through you, I know the African dream is realisable. African women, you rock!

Heart’s Desire

August being women’s month in South Africa, I decided to (re)engage with the question: am I a woman? In the biologically sense, I am a woman; there is no doubt about the matter! However, from the cultural perspective this is debatable. In my mind, it seems marriage and/or motherhood are the only determinants of womanhood. And since I am neither, I am making the most of my situation with a healthy degree of disdain (to bring just an ounce of envy into my life 🙂 ). This is indeed what inspired the poem below:

Ba re: ke lefetoa,
Ke lehana puso.
Ha ke tsoa ka lehlafi,
Ha ke arabe lipotso.
Ke ea ha pelo-ea-rata.
Ha ke khutla,
Ha ke tenoe ka lipotso.
Hoba moo ke tsoang,
Ke ha pelo-ea-rata!

‘Na ke re: ebang balekane,
Eseng ba salang!
Hoba ha pelo-ea-rata,
‘Musi ke pelo;
‘Moloki oa thabo le khotso!

A close to literal ranslation of the above is as follows:

They say: I am one passed over 1
For I refuse governance.
When I walk out of the door,
I answer no questions,
I go to where my heart desires.
When I come back,
I am bothered by no questions.
Because where I come from,
Is where my heart desires!

My response is: be partners,
As opposed to those left behind!2
Because where the heart desires,
The governor is the heart;
The protector of hapiness and peace!

  1. As in: I have been passed over for marriage
  2. To unpack this statement, one needs to briefly explain the construction of the words ‘molekane’ (partner) and ‘mosali’ (woman) in Sesotho. Molekane is derived from the word ‘lekana’, which means equal. ‘Mosali’, controversial as this may be, is derived from the word ‘sala’, which means remain (or be left). I know some may argue why ‘mosali’ as opposed to ‘mosala’? For this, my response is: Sesotho is a language that operates in the subtle and overt modes. In the former mode, guided by reasons that range from respect to diplomacy, construction of words is based on the art of distortion. Of course, there are instances where the distortion might have been purely motivated by a sense of economics (i.e. to shorten things a bit); for example, it is much more economical to refer to maja-a-ikana (those who plead their allegiance as/before they eat i.e. “pray”) as majakane just to quickly convey a message. This said, the simple point I am trying to make is that the word ‘mosali’ embodies a degree of distortion but one that was intended to show respect for the role of the traditional woman in staying behind to look after the children.

Make up or veil

The French parliament has banned the face covering veil. My question is why not also ban the use of make up? I ask simply because I fail to appreciate the merits of the argument. Frankly, I think to believe that women are oppressed when they follow their traditions is not a determination that can be made based on perceptions that are possibly driven by fear or lack of understanding on the true symbolism of why the tradition exists.

A few years ago, I was told a story of a very influential Mosotho woman who was for banning ‘thapo’ (black attire worn for months to symbolise that a woman is mourning for her husband). As the story goes, when the said woman lost her husband, she insisted on wearing thapo! Why? Well because she recognised its symbolism! So what is the moral of this story? If you haven’t walked in the shoes, don’t be presumptuous….

Hence, in this case, I think it is not for non-Muslims to determine whether a face veil should or shouldn’t be worn by those who choose to. Further, if truly we feel women should be comfortable in showing off their pretty faces, then we should ban make up… (and risk the collapse of the ever growing beauty industry).

Just so it is clear, even though I am suggesting that make up should be banned, I am all for its use! I am making the suggestion merely to point out that many women on a daily basis have their faces covered up with either make up or veil. Hence, the French should ban them both or allow them both!

On Being a Black Liberal Feminist

I am one of those people who has an appreciation for music. Not just any music! I am talking good old music which embodies so much depth in it that a song you have listened to before can in one moment become so profound that you wonder to yourself if you really ever got the meaning before.

Today, as I listened to Guilty by Gladys Knight. I thought to myself: I can relate, Amen to that! Then I proceeded to Google for the lyrics but was unlucky with my search 🙁 . My motivation for Googling for the lyrics was that I finally found the words that describe me being a black liberal feminist. That is, I duly accept that I shall remain black and female. Therefore, all that I can ever do is to challenge myself to lead a life that is liberated in thought. A life where if I can think it then I can do it with God’s help and those that believe in me. And a life where I need not feel apologetic for declaring myself as a feminist because indeed I am!

Below are the stanzas that talked to my heart:

Yes, I am guilty of so many things. I have been desperate for the love and joy that I know life should bring.

I am guilty, yes I am guilty! Guilty of doing without social acceptance, proper respect and the essence of what life is all about.
I am guilty of being at war in a world where riches determine your worth not the measure of ones character, as it should be down here on earth.

So go on and sentence me and set me free because I know you cannot see that I am guilty for just being me. I am guilty of love and hating, just the same as anyone else. …

Its two strikes against me when I come out to bat; one strike for being female and one strike for being black. So I stand tall through it all! My Helper [this] because I know I will be female and black till the day I die! ….

As you can see from the last quoted stanza, being a black liberal feminist means I literally have a single shot otherwise its game over for me – or as they say: “strike three and I am out” !