TANURE OJAIDE is a poet who does not use words to hide – or even mystify – his anger towards those
abusing power, especially those entrusted to run government affairs. He was born in the “oil-rich but economically impoverished Niger Delta area of Nigeria” so he really does have a first-hand account of seeing the wealth his land is blessed with but has actually never tasted.
In the aftermath of the brutal shooting of at least 34 miners at the Marikana mine in South Africa last year, a haunting picture accompanying a Mail & Guardian business story on the striking workers not “caving in” spoke much to what all the mine strikes and indeed, every other working class strike across the world is all about – quest for tangible economic empowerment.
In the picture, a striking mineworker whose right leg appears plastered holds a placard that reads: ‘Equalization = Back-Pay + 12.500’ and then there is a double-arrow linking this text to a briefcase emblazoned ‘House, Car – BMW, Entertainment’. To the left of all the text, more notably, is the image of a bag of Dollars.
It is a profoundly intelligent placard that captures a message striking workers – it seems – keep failing to articulate properly or, perhaps, one that the media, deliberately choose to downplay by not actually giving a voice to the majority of striking workers.
It is a placard that also captures the hopes, dreams and aspirations of a people who, on a daily basis, see first-hand the wealth of their country, its dazzling potential and mighty gains in wealth. Yet, their daily reality is that they are the sacrificial lambs that risk their lives without the reward of neither adequate compensation nor any systematic advancement in life. Their duty is to feed the capitalist vultures who benefit from exploitation of workers, rewarding themselves with super-profits.
Ojaide has a poem that brings this point home in a very uncompromising way. Here’s an excerpt from ‘The Fate of Vultures’;
O Aridon, bring back my wealth
Legendary witness to comings and goings,
Memory god, my mentor,
Blaze an ash-trail to the hands
That buried memories in the bowel
Lifted creatures of cash into their closets
It’s an excerpt worth reading over and over again, especially in light of our own Malawian context, where we have seen those entrusted to run government affairs plunder the wealth of this country, stashing it in their ‘rogue vaults’.
Yet, beyond the wonder and amazement of who has stolen what billions and who will not be arrested because they are powerful, we need to pause for deep reflection as a nation. What is really going on? What has happened to us? What has happened to this great country? What has happened to Malawi’s soul?
While current issues require attention, we must not fall into the temptation of losing sight and forgetting that beyond some of these thieves – those who steal from the nation, kill national development and destroy people’s confidence in our systems of governance – Malawi is not going to go anywhere. Malawi will remain.
Hence, what Malawi needs right now are progressive thinkers who not only are brave enough to state what was going wrong with this country but are also eloquent enough to articulate those insights in a way that captures the sentiments of our people – certainly those who are fast becoming disillusioned with way this country is run.
It is also time for civil society organisations that are serious about capturing the voices of the voiceless to move away from meeting in plush hotel rooms, airport lounges and in-between workshops and get into the uncomfortable, dusty and mosquito-infested territories not as messiahs of the people, but as servants and as organisations committed to contributing to genuine and positive change in this country.
Discussing national issues requires brutal honesty and a little more vulnerability than most people are willing to give. Yet it is the only way we can move forward. It requires us to set aside emotions, to take off political hats, activist hats and just see Malawi for what it is – a country that has been repeatedly dealt harsh and severe blows since Independence. Surely, this is not our calling as a nation.
“Independence”, as Frantz Fanon once remarked, “is not a word which can be used as an exorcism, but an indispensible condition for the existence of men and women who are truly liberated, in other words who are truly masters of all the material means which make possible the radical transformation of society.”
Ojaide has the final word:
Pity the fate of flash millionaires
If they are not hurled into jail, they live
In the prison houses of their crimes and wives
And when they die, of course,
Only their kind shower praises on vultures.
Contribution by: @LeviKabwato
Image source: http://nathistoc.bio.uci.edu/birds/falconiformes/