The White Revolutionary As Missionary

Below is the text of ‘The WHITE REVOLUTIONARY AS MISSIONARY”. It was carried in New Frank Talk, critical essays on the Black condition, No 5, January 2010. A comment by Andile Mngxitama and poem by Aryan Kaganof follow after the main text.

The White Revolutionary As Missionary


Contemporary Travels and Researches in Caffraria


 “Your Missionaries have dived into that mine from which we were told no valuable ore or precious stones could be extracted; and they have brought up the gem of an immortal spirit, flashing with the light of intellect, and glowing with the hue of Christian graces”

So reads Reverend Richard Watson’s inscription opposite the frontispiece to Stephen Kay’s 1834 tome, Travels and Researches in Caffraria, describing the character, customs and moral condition of the tribes inhabiting that portion of Southern Africa. (Harper Bros, New York)

This book is a lump of treasure.  Small and thick with a worn, green spine carrying raised letters, it feels weightier to the hands than its dimensions suggest.  Inside, the volume has 444 foxed, moist pages as well as five plates depicting regal black women and ox-wagons fording rivers.  It contains a foldout map of an oddly shaped South African shoreline petering out into an interior vaguely containing drinking holes, slave markets and Koranna and Bushmen “wandering thinly”.  The prose itself is packed into long paragraphs, pages long, that warrant, as if possessed of a long gray beard, that whatever tales they tell, whether wisdom or folly, these tales stand on their content and seek no indulgence by being friendly with an easy reader.  (more…)


originally in Botsotso, no. 16

Velislav Milov started his own religion on the first day of March. Of course he never planned such a preposterous thing. It happened in a fit of pique.  Nevertheless, the signs were there to see. A stomach bug two days earlier all but forced a fast upon Milov. The night before that, there’d been a truly terrible storm, his dogs pissing themselves as thunder banged and rolled.

Sitting on his balcony on the first day of March, the wood still soggy after the deluge, Milov pondered the state of his life. He was sixty-six and the first year of his retirement was a disappointment. His health was failing. All the fantasies he had stored up, hoping to act upon at this stage of life, fantasies cherished, taken out from time to time during a working day, like a matchbox car still in its cellophane covering, excitedly considered from all angles, these fantasies were slipping beyond his reach.  He was stuck in a decaying city living a disintegrating life. (more…)

The Life And Times Of Tsietsi (Part 1)

A Portrait of Greatness

Beginnings and Antecedents

Was Tsietsi born in 1954 as tradition has it, or in 1963 as contemporary scholars maintain? Howard Missy, his most recent biographer, suggests 1954.  The fact is Tsietsi must have increased his age by a few years, either from vanity or to add to his prestige.  It is certain he was born at Zeerust, the son of Sese kaModise and his wife, Cecilia; that from his earliest childhood he showed a leaning towards politics and that, at the age of eight, he was sent with his older brother Tefo to an uncle, to receive political education from a Sharpeville veteran.

The two brothers started with John Gumede, an Africanist, who afterwards sent them on to the cell of Reggie Khumalo.  But Tsietsi had little enthusiasm for Khumalo’s “stiff and laboured” style.  He had already singled out the right man for himself: Zacharia Hlatswayo, at whose side he worked on the Roodepoort beerhall boycotts in 1976. In 1979 he was in Rustenburg to compose a pass-book protest as Hlatswayo’s deputy; 1981 saw his formal investment with clandestine political work.  In this tumultuous decade in the history of his native land began his connections with liberation movements in exile. (more…)


He had impeccable credentials.  Impeccable even though he missed Seattle but that was for meningitis.  He was in the front ranks at Genoa shedding blood with a hundred militants, deported with a bandage still seeping.  In the camps in the forests preparing for Berlin he fashioned affinities with twenty-four other comrades.  They came up with an anti-authoritarian tactic that was Gandhi 2.0.  With arms taped to their sides, they threw their bodies at the police and Black Bloc equally, receiving rather bluer bruises from the latter.  In between these excitements he traipsed between squats, lent money to teenage hackers, wrote pamphlets misleading the cops, cooked collectively and had sex unpossessively on all the northern continents.

But it was in the South where he really made his name.  His first visit to the camp-sites of Porto Allegre gave rise in him to an indignation at the luminaries that swanned around so self-importantly.  How was another world possible when it was being theorized in such an elitist way, he heckled to cheers?  The following year, he was invited to sit on a panel.  In his paper, he repeated his criticisms and found only celebration and not an ounce of resentment from those he called-out.  He made a pilgrimage to Chiapas but it rained the whole time, the incessant wood smoke gave him asthma and he didn’t get to meet Marcos.  Still. He’d been among the Zapatistas.  When he spoke politics back in the North, Southern facts like these came in handy.  He was able to pepper his point of view with anecdotes that wowed and cowed in just the right measure, such as getting asthma waiting for Marcos.

His time in South Africa was the most productive of all.  He got a grant to study north-south struggle linkages.  A University outside Cape Town hosted him.  The poverty, the suffering, the disrepair of the shack settlements was not the worst he’d seen.  Not by a long shot.  But the shanties bristled with grievance and the provocatively lush suburbs nearby rubbed the face of the 99% in four centuries of uninterrupted indignity.  Promisingly, in this land, even youngsters had memories of the methods of insurrection that the fight against apartheid had taught.  Most evenings, after a visit to a black township, he blogged about new social movements: organisations demanding more than just the vote but economic equality too.  He blogged about their inspirational leaders, the democratic nature of their agitations and the promise of a new humanism their praxis held out. He used the word volatile and dignity a lot.


Limits to managerial prerogative

numsa - oupa nkosi
Photo Credits: Oupa Nkosi, M&G.

You are a union organiser preparing for a strike at a tyre manufacturer.  The employer has unilaterally changed the workers’ shift patterns.  Although the total number of hours worked each week remains the same, the difference between the old and new rosters is significant.  Workers who never worked weekends must now do Saturday and Sunday shifts every so often.  The beneficial, four-day long weekend that came up during the old shift cycle is also gone.  The way workers have organised their family and social lives for years is overturned.  Church, sport and the long-weekend visits to the rural areas are disrupted. They are angry.

The Benefits and Technique of Fence Line Weaning

weaning photoCalves are optimally weaned from between four to six months after birth. If this does not happen, a calf will suckle until deep into its first year, negatively affecting the condition and fertility of the cow. Farmers with large properties accomplish the separation simply by moving weaners to camps away from their dams.

This is not an option for small scale farmers. They might then sell calves out of hand after weaning with the downside that the animals have not yet put on weight and fetch a poor price. Alternatively, they resort to nose-rings or isolate calves in kraals for weeks on end. These are stressful, drawn-out and visually cruel processes for both generations of animal. (more…)

Liquidation, A Stilfontein Story (2005)

A documentary about the devastating economic ripple effected by the closure of the DRD gold mine in the town of Stilfontein in South Africa. Abandoned by their employers and the government, the unions and local residents came together to avert a food crisis.

Produced by Heinrich Böhmke of Xalanga Peak Productions.
Co directed by Aoibheann O’Sullivan and Heinrich Böhmke.

“Skeleton Coast” courtesy of Nibs Van der Spuy,
from the album “Lines of my Face” © 1999 Greenhouse Music
“Hoekom” courtesy of Disselblom, from the album “Goud en Marog” © 2004 Geblikte Afrikaans.
Additional Stills:
Reint Dykema
Links on youtube:
Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3: