Saturday, November 13, 2021

Zanele Mashinini Ndodana in memory of Malume Delane Daylight Mashinini and MaMloyi

Zanele Peter Mashinini - ZanMah


Ndodana in memory of Malume Delane Daylight Mashinini and MaMloyi

Ngikhumbula ngihlangana naye Orlando East e-Circleni duze nakwa Kopane Funeral Parlour, kulama-shops are opposite. Ngikhumbula my twin cousin brothers u-Bra Sam no Zakes bebevule (Hair salon) indawo yoku lungisa izinwele ye-fashion during the period ye popular S-Curl elokshini which was first promoted by Felicia Mabuza Suttle from the the USA. U-ZanMash wafika kune-Free promotion ehamba ne-group yama friends akhe. Waba nenhlanhla wathola ke naye S-Curl treatment yezinwele zakhe ngoba bezizinkulu futhi zizinhle. [kanti i-family nje inezinwele ezinhle]

Ukumbona kwami wangikhumbuza amazingly u-Malume wami owashona ngisemncane u-Adam Mashinini [structuraly or i-Physic yakhe i-comical and cartoonish njengawe ZanMash] e-Bloemfontein – nangempela ngathola ukuthi usiyihlobo sami ngo-Mama wami u-Nomaseko Mashinini. U-Adam uye owangi introdusa eku-understandeni ukufa because ngangicala ukubona abantu abadala bekhala and I was confused as umntwana. Later from time to time sasihlangana njalo mangise Orlando East. Ngaze ngaya nasekhaya ukuyohlangana no-Malume uDelane Daylight Mashinini no-Malumekazi uma-Mloyi. Bajabula kakhulu ukuthi sazane nokubonana.

Ekuhambeni kwesikhathi sabuye sahlangana - u-ZanMash seka interested ku-Art ne-Poetry kanye ne-Theatre nothando lo-Music kanye ne-Photography futhi besi jwayele ukuhlangana kwezom-Mzabalazo. Later wangitshela ngomfowabo u-Minus owayese-exile, ebased e-Swaziland. Owahamba ngo-1976. Saze sahamba komunye unyaka sayohlangana naye ekhaya kwa-Mahlanya eLobamba. Lapho owahlanga nobaba u-Malizandla Nhlabatsi kanye nomndeni wasekhaya. U-ZanMash kanye nomfowabo u-Nuwe be-b busy bebhala nomfowabo omdala yena u-Minus osewashona ngenxa yezoMzabalazo – ngiyathemba izopublishwa kungekudala ezoba isikhumbuzo.

Ekuhambeni kwesikhathi lapha eMzansi nami ngangi busy ngoku-pruducer ama-artworks for Raven Press eyayi publisher i-Staffrider imagazine eyayi supporter umphakathi owawuthanda ukubhala i-Protest poerty kanye nemibhalo yoMzabalazo. Ama-editor kwakungu-Jaki Seroke kanye no-Mothobi Moutloase kanye ne Director uMike Kirkwood. Nami kelapho ngahlangana no Kevin Humprey owasuggester ukuthi siqale i-Graphic Studio eyoku-producer izincwadi ezazishiqilelwa yiyo Raven Press. Sayiqalake sayibiza ngokuthi i-Graphic Equaliser lapho esa–sebenzisana no-Andy Mason a cartoonist, Reedwaan Vally owaba yi-Typesetter kanye Caroline Cullinan. Ezinye iznhlanganiso ebesisebenzisana nazo yilezi [The Release Mandela Campaign, SACC, New Nation, SACHED Trust, Learn & Teach, various Workers Unions, Student Organistions, Black Conciousnes Movements, Africanist organisations and Weekly Mail to name just a few grassroots organisations].

Ngenxa yokuqina kwezamaPhoyisa e-Apartheid bekunzima ukwenza imali engasilingana sonke, babesibheke njalo ngehlo-loKhozi. 

Ekuhambeni kwesikhathi sayishintsha iGraphic Equaler sayenza indawo yokufundisa ama-up and coming artists amancane nge Graphic design. Umfundi wethu wokuqala kwaba uMpikayipheli Figlan, kwalandela uZanele Mashinini kanye no-Jasper Galela. Ekuhambeni kwesikhathi ngabuyela e-SACHED Trust lapho engagisembenza khona kudala. Ekuqedeni ukufunda uMpikayipheli Figlan wathola umsebenzi e-SABC then laba-ababili bangilandela baya e-SACHED Trust. Lapha ke wathola indlela yoku-supporter ifamily yakhe encane ngoba ubese eshadile.

U-Zanele e-SACHED Trust waye muntu osiza kakhulu kwezo-sebenzi kanti waye thumeka kalula – ahands on. Ngangimcela ezikhathini eziningi eziningi ukuthi ayongilandela abantwana bami ababe funda e-Morning Side e-Red Hill. Indodana yami encane yayifanele iyothwasa Lusikisiki e-Eastern Cape bude budeze nase Magwa falls [not far from the Eastern sea Coast [Wild Coast Region]. Indawo yakhona ayinama Taxi therefore kuhanjwa ngezinyawo for roughly two and half hours and having to cross two rocky rivers – wehla intaba uhamba phakathi ehlathini [icellphone network ayikho]. 

Abafana namantombazane bakhona kuba yibo ama-porter abathwala izimpahla zakho bakukhaphe ukuya nokubuya. Kulaba abathanda insango yindawo abangayijabulela ngoba imila yonke indawo nasemahlathini. Namaphoyisa awazihluphi ngokuyobabopha ngoba angalahleka emahlathini. U-Zanele ukhaphe indodana yami three times ukuyakhona. Mina ngiye kanye kuphela ngoba ukuhamba ama-hours angaka kunzima. Laphaya mawuzo-Lobola izinxoxo sezi hambe kahle – nibuyela emuva banipha isaka lonke lensango. Ngikhumbula i-Commander ye-SANDF [South African National Defence Force] yayiyoLobola yazi thola isekingeni ngaleso simo ngoba bamupha isaka leNsango waxakeka ukuthi uzolenza njani mayebuyele khaya kuma Roadblocks.

Ngenxa yesimo seze Politiki kwafika [ama-negotiations] isikhathi la amakhehla ayevalelwe e-Robben Island akhululwa njengo Rolihlahla Mandela kanye no Walter Sisulu nabanye kwaba ne-CODESA emva kwalokho. Abatshala izimali ama-funding partners ba-overseas base-bayanciphisa ukusiza ngezimali kuma NGO ngoba bethi inkululeko seyifikile. Ngalokho I-Sached Trust yavalwa sehlukana lapho mina ngaya Maskew Miller Longman yena waya eDepartment of Health kwi-AIDS Unit lapho asebenza ngokuzimisela okukhulu. Ekuhambeni kwesikhathi sabuye sahlanga masengisebenza e-Gauteng Premiers Office kwi-period ka-President Thabo Mbeki kanye no-Sam Shilowa lapho esasebenzisana futhi kahle kakhulu.

U-Zanele esikhathini esiningi waye ngumuntu onokunyamalala. Uma umbuza ukuthi bowukuphi athi bengise-Mozambique or a Cape Town or bengise-Zimbabwe ngiyo Thwasela ubungoma. Anyamalale futhi athi yayi ngise Siluma View nakhona ngisaqhubeka nezinto zedlozi. Maye nginikile i-address ngiye ngiyomhlola. Wabaluncedo kakhulu kumfothu omncane owaye phuma ukuyofunda e-Kenya enezinkinga zoMzabalazo. Kwesinye isikhathi athule du ungazi ukuthi uyomfunela laphi.

Ngakwezenhlala kahle waye umuntu enezonkinga zomoya njengawo wonke umuntu ezimenza ukuthi abe umuntu ongathi uthanda ukuzula nokunyamalala. Emva kokushona kwadadewabo uKhosi wanyamalala waya Durban lapho aye sebenzisana nabathandi bezama-Museums kanye nezihambelana ne-Art ababizwa ngokuthi Phansi Museum Trust. Kulapho ke ukugula kuyekwamfica khona kwaze kwa thatha impilo yakhe sisa linde lukhulu kuye.


Thursday, April 1, 2021

Africa South 
Art Initiative

Broadening the ‘Black Consciousness Aesthetic’: Muziwakhe Nhlabatsi’s illustrations for Staffrider, 1979-1981


Posted on:
 January 25, 2021


By Deirdre Pretorius 


Muziwakhe Nhlabatsi, born in April of 1954, contributed illustrations to the anti-apartheid literary magazine Staffrider, from 1979 to 1987, under the shortened name “Mzwakhe”. [1] His illustrations appeared from the first issue of the second volume in 1979, until the fourth issue of the sixth volume in 1987. During this time, his illustrations graced three covers and he contributed over seventy images to accompany short stories, extracts from books, poems, plays and other texts by well-known authors such as Es’kia Mphahlele, Njabulo Ndebele, Mothobi Mutloatse, Chris van Wyk, Mongane Wally Serote and Andries Oliphant.  

However, the one author whose work he illustrated most frequently was Mtutuzeli Matshoba, a “mainstay prose writer” during the first few years of Staffrider’s existence, contributing virtually uninterrupted from the second issue of the first volume in 1978, until the second issue of the fourth volume in 1981. [2] Like Nhlabatsi, Matshoba was born in Soweto. He says:

“(I) reflect through my works life on my side of the fence, the black side … so that I may say: “These were the events which shaped the Steve Biko’s and the Solomon Mahlangus, and the many others…”’ [3]

Cover Illustration
Mtutuzeli Matshoba, Call Me Not a Man, (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1979).

In January 1979, a collection of seven short stories by Matshoba was published under the title Call Me Not a Man, containing some of the stories which had appeared in Staffrider during the previous year. Nhlabatsi illustrated the cover of Call Me Not a Man, and over the next two years, his illustrations accompanied extracts from these short stories, as well as other writings by Matshoba, which appeared in Staffrider.

With the exception of one, all the images illustrating Matshoba’s work are executed in a similar style, which Nhlabatsi ceased to use in Staffrider when Matshoba no longer contributed to the magazine. The Call Me Not a Man cover is the prototype of this style, and is characterised by solid, clearly delineated figurative forms, modelled with dense line work and cross hatching, generally in pen and ink. This creates a strong interplay of shadows and highlights, set against areas of flat, white negative space. Further characteristics of the style demonstrated by this cover include the focus on a centrally placed portrait of an inscrutable black man, the inclusion of graphic arrow elements, and the extreme contrast in scale between figurative objects. In this case, an enormous fist is placed behind the portrait. Nhlabatsi commented to me that he “illustrated the raised fist of protest holding a pen and paintbrush, to depict Mtutuzeli’s form of protest through his artistic writing style.” [4] The presence of the black fist is an overt and distinct reference to Black Consciousness, and such references appear to varying degrees in his illustrations for Matshoba. This is not surprising given Mike Vaughan’s observation that “Black Consciousness finds a pervasive cultural assertion” in Matshoba’s stories, [5] and Rob Gaylard’s view that the stories in Call Me Not a Man “have an obvious politicising and conscientising function, and clearly reflect a Black Consciousness ethos.” [6] Nhlabatsi himself was also influenced by Black Consciousness ideas.

Black Consciousness 

Judy Seidman and Andy Mason have commented on the influence of Black Consciousness on Nhlabatsi, [7] with Mason asserting that his illustrations “effortlessly exuded the ethos of Black Consciousness.” [8] Black Consciousness within the South African context refers to a political ideology which encourages black people, considered to include everyone racialised under apartheid, to become conscious of their shared oppression, with the aim of creating solidarity, conceiving ideas collectively, and taking action independently, without the contribution of whites. [9] It emerged from the ranks of black university students during the late 1960s, under the leadership of Steve Biko, of the South African Students’ Organization (SASO), which was founded in 1969. [10] These students were inspired by liberation movements, and anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles, which were occurring worldwide. They were also inspired by their reading of banned material, particularly by Amilcar Cabral and Frantz Fanon, with Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton’s Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America being extremely influential too. [11]

Nhlabatsi’s thinking was shaped by furious reading and discussion of books, which he also did in his working environment at Ravan Press – the publishers of Staffrider. Ravan’s offices in Johannesburg served as a meeting place for nascent writers, poets, photographers, illustrators and fine artists, who brought their work for possible selection in the publication. He bought and exchanged books, and read circulating banned books, building up a large collection, which included many works by the Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, as well as by South African novelists. He also read Biko’s writing and at Ravan, met musician and poet Eugene Skeef, who had been a close friend of Biko’s, and who frequently spoke about him. He was also friendly with the visual and graphic artist Thami Mnyele, who he knew as part of a group of young artists from all over South Africa, who met at Ravan or at events such as jazz festivals and art exhibitions, to exchange ideas.

In an article written for Staffrider, Nhlabatsi expressed concern about the absence of contact between the artist and the black community and the pressure on artists to earn money. [12] However, he did laud the emerging practice at the time of having art exhibitions, sometimes accompanied by poetry readings, “deep in the heart of the black communities, not in town where it becomes something irrelevant to the environment.” In this article, his criticism of the structural inequalities in South Africa, emphasis on contact between the community and the artist, expression of the need for art education, and search for historical reference material about black art in South Africa, all point towards his alignment to Black Consciousness. His working approach from the late 1970s, is largely congruent with the broad principles of Black Consciousness in the arts, as identified by Seidman. She lists these as the need for: self-expression, to produce work about one’s own experiences and interests, and those of one’s community, to employ the styles and artistic vocabulary of one’s community, and to define the audience for one’s message. [13]

Shannen Hill identifies the cultural components of Black Consciousness in South Africa as revolving around “the pride, beauty, strength, and humanity of black cultures,” and these aspects are expressed by Nhlabatsi through the illustration style which he developed for Matshoba’s writing. [14] Nhlabatsi’s illustrations contribute to an understanding of the formal diversity in visual expressions of Black Consciousness during the late 1970s and early 1980s. His work moves beyond more typical expressions like formalised visual art or repetitive protest graphics. It instead includes illustration and comics influenced by popular culture.

This contribution is demonstrated through a close reading of a selection of Nhlabatsi’s Staffrider illustrations for Matshoba’s writing, starting with the single illustration that is not executed in his previously described typical style. This is the illustration which accompanies an excerpt from the story To Kill a Man’s Pride

Untitled (etching)
Mtutuzeli Matshoba, “To Kill a Man’s Pride”, In Staffrider 3:1, (1980), 4.

The extract from To Kill a Man’s Pride is narrated in the first person, and relays the time-consuming, tedious and humiliating experience of the author, at the hands of callous apartheid bureaucrats at the central pass office in Johannesburg. While the image illustrating this story was not created specifically for it, the desolate, tortured and alienating atmosphere it conveys is well-suited to the tone of the narrative. 

The image is a reprint of a work by Nhlabatsi from his student days at the Evangelical Lutheran Church Art and Craft Centre at Rorke’s Drift, which he attended from 1976 to 1977. Before this, he received art training from the Jubilee Art Centre from 1969 to 1972, and the Mofolo Art Centre from 1970 to 1971. [15] Nhlabatsi acknowledged this image as being influenced by the surrealist Salvador Dali, particularly in his merging of a clock and man’s face. Philippa Hobbs and Elizabeth Rankin have interpreted this image as suggesting social dysfunction in which “the grotesque vista seems to threaten the norms of civil society,” and commented that it has “a surrealist quality reminiscent of the works of Fikile.” [16] Hill considers Fikile Magadlela (1954–2003) as the epitome of Black Consciousness art of the 1970s, expressing Black Consciousness ideals through superbly drawn poetic and political works. [17]

Hill takes issue with the interpretation of the work of early Black Consciousness artists as ‘African surrealists’ arguing that “these artists actually visualized Black Consciousness — they re-presented it for our contemplation.” [18] The honoring of origins is visualized in their work through figures growing from landscapes or free floating, shown in dignified poses, “often in communal groupings.” [19]

Hill identifies the development of a ‘Black Consciousness aesthetic’ in the work of black artists working between Johannesburg and Pretoria during the early 1970s. [20] She views the work of Nhlabatsi’s contemporaries Thami Mnyele and Fikile Magadlela, who both also contributed to Staffrider, and Motlhabane Mashiangwako and Lefifi Tladi as exemplary of this style. [21] These artists’ work during the 1970s, were characterised by depictions of their subjects in transitory states, where human figures blend with their backgrounds, prompting the comparisons of their work to surrealism. [22]

Nhlabatsi interacted frequently with Mnyele, Fikile and Matsemela Manaka during the 1970s, and although he appreciated their work, he had a different focus:

“… you come to art with your own mood – my focus was on illustration … Black people cannot afford art, the only way to reach them is through graphics, publications. With skills that you learn in graphics, you can go back to art and make things that people can afford. I could reach a larger audience – speak to a community audience.” [23]

He also explained, “I liked graphics, so when I did a thing I wanted it to work and it must illustrate a thought … other guys like Thami and Fikile were more ‘arty.’”

His preference for graphics and need to earn an income, lead him to move from mainly being active as a visual artist and art teacher during the late 1970s, to practicing as a graphic artist – his preferred way of describing himself. He learned from Mnyele that he was leaving his position at the South African Committee for Higher Education (Sached) and consequently applied to the organisation, where he was employed first from 1979 to 1981, and then again, from 1986 to 1993. At Sached he had the opportunity to develop his comic and cartooning style.

Educational comics

Sached was a Johannesburg-based nongovernmental organisation, which was initially established in 1959 to offer London University courses by correspondence, but later shifted to focus on secondary education and upgrading black teachers. [24] It was funded by local and European charities and businesses, and offered alternatives to state education. [25]

At Sached, Nhlabatsi created illustrations for educational publications, including Upbeat magazine, a monthly magazine for school children, which provided opportunities for comic strip work. [26] His serialised monthly comic strip for UpbeatDown Second Avenue, based on Es’kia Mphahlele’s autobiographical novel, was published in 1988, as the first title in Sached’s People’s College Comics series. [27] He also illustrated Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s Weep Not Child and Romance at Riverside High by Chris van Wyk, which were serialised in Upbeat as well. [28] According to Seidman, his aim was to use comics to “consciously build African culture, making Mphahlele’s writing available to children and less literate people.” [29] Seidman quotes Nhlabatsi as saying that “Sached was just a job, but whatever we were doing was for the people.” [30]

Cartooning was not taught at Rorke’s Drift and Nhlabatsi acquired his cartooning and comic skills “along the way.” He bought American comics as a child and read the comics printed in the back of the Sunday Times. Nhlabatsi met comic artist and cartoonist Andy Mason at Ravan and they exchanged resources, ideas and techniques on creating comics. Mason identifies the cross-hatched black and white ‘underground’ comix style as being characteristic of Sached’s Upbeat and People’s College Comics[31] While underground comix are associated with taboo themes of the ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll’ kind, some examples did explore political and socio-economic issues and “deeply personal and autobiographical themes.” [32] The pen and ink drawing style that Nhlabatsi developed for Matshoba shows similarities to the style he used in the comic Down Second Avenue, which he created for Sached.

Visualising Matshoba’s Voice

Illustration
Mtutuzeli Matshoba,”A Pilgrimage to the Isle of Makana”, In Staffrider 2:2, (1979), 10. 

Unlike the style of the To Kill a Man’s Pride image, the illustrations for A Pilgrimage to the Isle of Makana show the densely hatched, solid and powerful style Nhlabatsi developed for Matshoba’s writing. The story opens with an illustration spanning the width of the page, representing the first lines of the story:

The day it arrived, the brown official envelope with a red Prisons (sic) Department stamp had set my heart at a gallop, and my hands shook like an alcoholic’s as I started to open it … It was addressed by hand, an arrogant seeming scrawl which probably reflected the writer’s indifference as to whether the missive reached its destination or not. [33]

While the illustration accurately reflects some aspects of the narrative, certain elements show a degree of artistic license. This includes the presence of tears on the protagonist’s cheek, and the writing on the envelope, which can hardly be called a scrawl, and evidences attention to lettering – a skill taught at Rorke’s Drift from 1974. [34]

The use of pencil line here shows some affinity to the pencil drawings of Ezrom Legae, particularly his Copulation of 1970, in its dark shading of parallel lines, and crosshatching contained within the outlines of the shapes. [35] Legae had taught at Jubilee Centre from 1958, and in 1969, moved to Mofolo Art Centre, where he was replaced by Dan Rakgoathe when he resigned. [36]

Nhlabatsi explained his working process for the Staffrider illustrations as starting with him reading the story, followed by formulating the idea, and then creating the drawing “out of my head.” He would focus on the theme of the story and try to express what the “author is talking about”. Sometimes it was necessary to gather reference material from the Johannesburg Public Library to ensure, for example, the historical accuracy of a specific detail. He also developed friendships with many of the Staffrider writers. In the case of Matshoba, the friendship would be lifelong. These friendships gave Nhlabatsi insight into the writers’ work and “greater intuition, regarding the illustrations and cover art that would suit the text.” Once the illustration was completed, he would present it to the commissioning editors for approval and publication. He confirmed that he was allowed a great deal of freedom in this process. This is evident in the Matshoba illustrations, which tend to not be a literal reflection of the story content, but rather imaginative constructions, which use the story as a starting point.

Illustration
Mtutuzeli Matshoba,”A Pilgrimage to the Isle of Makana”, In Staffrider 2:2, (1979), 14.

A Pilgrimage to the Isle of Makana tells the story of a man who receives permission to visit a political prisoner on Robben Island. The extract from the story chronicles his journey by train from Johannesburg to Cape Town, and his eventual arrival. This journey is represented in the above image, not in the literal way in which Matshoba describes it, but as a contemplation on time, through the multiple portraits which are layered one over the other. A prisoner holding onto jail bars is superimposed onto a Janus-like head, which in turn is placed over a train, upon which is written “time runs”, along with directional arrows. A bird in flight symbolises freedom. This interpretation was possibly inspired by the following lines from the story:

“There is no turning back for fear that the ghosts who lie on the roadside behind may rise in retribution. To reverse things is to bring the ghosts back to life, for it is like reversing time to a time before they died at my hands, my chains and my guns.” [37]

Illustration
Mtutuzeli Matshoba,”A Pilgrimage to the Isle of Makana”, In Staffrider 2:2, (1979), 18.

The next illustration is also composed as a portrait within a portrait, and repeats the image of a prisoner, here placed within a cell formed by the head of, presumably, a prison warder. The foreground is occupied by three kneeling figures, and the background is divided horizontally by a city skyline. This image appears to reference the prisoner, physically locked away on Robben Island, but possibly also the mental imprisonment of the warder guarding him. It resonates with the famous Steve Biko quote “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” The double portraits also bring to mind W.E.B Du Bois’s concept of ‘double-consciousness’ that describes the “conundrums and complexities of what it means to be black in a white-dominated world,” to always feel a sense of “two-ness.” [38] The figure of the prisoner represents the real, physical control and constraints exerted by the apartheid regime, but can be interpreted as a metaphor for psychological control by the state. Images of incarceration also appear prominently in the illustrations created for Towards Limbo and The Betrayal.

Illustration
Mtutuzeli Matshoba,”Towards Limbo”, In Staffrider 2:4, (1979), 45.

Towards Limbo relates the experience of a man who moves to the city as it “offered the only hopeful alternative to limbo.” [39] He is arrested for not having a pass, and is ordered to leave the city within seventy-two hours. Initially he ignores the order, but eventually does move to ‘limbo’, an outlying border area, to escape the constant threat of arrest. The narrative focuses on the inhumane conditions in jail and court, which is equated to treating humans as dogs, and this is referenced in the illustration by attaching a broad dog’s collar with spikes and a chain around the subject’s neck. This thick chain iconography, frequently drawn on by the Black Consciousness Movement, also references histories of slavery.

Nhlabatsi interprets the narrative in a commanding image consisting of a close-up portrait of a prisoner that fills the picture frame. The prisoner wears a pair of round glasses constructed from handcuffs, expressing, according to Nhlabatsi, the prisoner’s thoughts. These thoughts appear to reflect a nightmare vision of the only two options available to him: jail or limbo. The anguish of his position is repeatedly emphasised through the body language of a number of smaller figures surrounding and overlapping the portrait. Despite the direness of his situation, the facial expression of the central character is unreadable. The portrait resembles an untitled image created by Fikile Magadlela, circa 1974, in which a head, impaled on a sharp rock and dripping blood, is positioned against a celestial orb, resembling a halo. [40] Hill’s interpretation of Magadlela’s image as a portrait of a liberation martyr, can equally be applied to this Nhlabatsi’s image. [41] Here we do not see the depiction of a specific, individualised person, but the embodiment of all the people who sacrificed their freedom in the liberation struggle.

Fikile Magadlela, Untitled, circa 1974.
Shannen Hill,  Biko’s Ghost: The Iconography of Black Consciousness (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015), 20.

This interpretation aligns with Vaughan’s argument that Matshoba’s writing is not concerned with characterisation in terms of reflecting individual interiority, individual specificity and separateness, and focuses instead on exemplary situations, which show an element of common experience. [42] That the illustration reflects a common, rather than specific experience, is evident in the fact that it was also used in 1982, on the book cover for The Children of Soweto by Mbulelo Mzamane, which deals with the Soweto Uprising. Similarly, the illustration for The Betrayal deals with another deplorable situation under apartheid – that of the death of anti-apartheid activists in detention. It is an appalling fact that, at the time of Steve Biko’s death in police custody in September 1977, forty-five South Africans had already died in detention, since the introduction of detention without trial in 1963. [43]

Illustration
Mtutuzeli Matshoba,”The Betrayal”, In Staffrider 3:3, (1980), 32.

The Betrayal relates the experience of a defiant woman called Nonkululeko (Freedom) who is in solitary confinement for her activism. In an effort to break her resistance, she is told that her partner Langa, who was also imprisoned, has died in an ‘accident’. Highly distressed, she signs a statement, which she did not write or read, to secure her release. The illustration depicts Langa in the foreground as a prostrate figure, the blood flowing from his head in a dark stream, indicating a violent death. This graphic representation links to the harrowing autopsy and funeral photographs of Steve Biko’s corpse, which became “an emblem of state abuse and forceful resistance to it.” [44] These photographs were reproduced widely, including in Drum magazine, and Nhlabatsi confirmed to me that he did see the pictures, and that they signalled what would happen to you “if they got you.” [45] Hill argues that “Biko in death stood for the ongoing life of Black Consciousness … the living embodiment of individual will and honor, a martyr for causes that are humanist.” [46] It appears that Langa’s corpse fulfills the same function, becoming, like Biko’s corpse, “a symbol of strength because he was seen to have paid the ultimate sacrifice for a higher purpose.” [47]

Nonkululeko is depicted three times. First, as a large, disconsolate portrait with tears running down her cheek, with a small black arrow dangling from her earring. A second representation of her appears further back, and to the left of the large portrait. Thirdly, she is depicted in the background, sitting up in her bed in anguish, hands covering her face, inconsolable after the news of Langa’s death. Nhlabatsi creates a composition in which the viewer’s eye is endlessly led in a circular motion around Langa’s body, aided by the use of graphic arrows, which perhaps also reflect Nonkululeko’s continuous and tormenting thoughts.

A notable feature of these portraits and others created by Nhlabatsi, is their beauty and humanity, which gives visual expression to the Black Consciousness slogan “Black Is Beautiful.” [48] In their depiction of beauty, Nhlabatsi’s illustrations correspond to Magadlela’s view that “if you draw a black man, he must be beautiful, handsome; the woman must be heavenly.” [49] The main character depicted in the illustration for Three Days in the land of the Dying Illusion likewise expresses a sculptural beauty.

Illustration
Mtutuzeli Matshoba,”Three Days in the Land of the Dying Illusion”, In Staffrider 2:3, (1979), 17.

The portrait of the protagonist, a traveller from the city, who makes a journey by train and bus to visit the homeland of Transkei, is meticulously crosshatched, and appears sculptural. As in the previous illustrations, the close-up portrait forms the focal point of the illustration, but uniquely, here, eye contact is established through a steady gaze.

Nhlabatsi visualises what Vaughan refers to as the “counsel-giving friend”, the narrator, who in Matshoba’s stories, often takes on the form of the traveler, providing “counsel about some of the exemplary situations” in the life of black South Africans. Vaughan considers the journey – whether literal or as “an attitude of mind” – central to Matshoba’s narratives, and to the lives of black workers, who are constantly in transit between their place of work and home. The journey offers “a context for storytelling and counsel,” and Nhlabatsi visually relates one such moment in a tableau positioned to the right in the illustration. [50]

Nhlabatsi depicts an incident on the bus journey, when a discussion about women by a group of men, is interrupted by a woman, her indignation on their views clearly reflected in her posture. This assertive and fashionably-dressed woman from the city, is contrasted with the woman in traditional dress shown on the left, who balances a bundle of firewood on her head while walking over a field with livestock grazing in the background. This contrast of the rural with the urban is a visualisation of the binary distinction between tradition and modernity, an issue addressed by Biko in his use of the concept “the modern African culture.” [51]

Gaylard criticizes Matshoba’s stereotypical representation of rural women from the Transkei as “the object of a male gaze … made to serve what is essentially a conservative, Africanist and patriarchal ideology. She is as fixed and timeless as the traditional Africa she is supposed to embody.” [52] This criticism does not extend to Nhlabatsi’s depiction of women. They are depicted with humanity and appear self-assured and strong.

Conclusion

The illustrations which Nhlabatsi created for Matshoba’s writing are executed in a recognisable, bespoke style. His portraits are infused with humanity, beauty and dignity, and the solidity of his tightly shaded figures creates a powerful impression. He gives visual form to Black Consciousness in a way that is distinct from the work of other visual artists who were influenced by this ideology, thereby broadening our understanding of the visual culture which emerged around Black Consciousness in South Africa.

By drawing on the language of comics, Nhlabatsi created illustrations with popular appeal which, he believes, contributed to affecting change in South Africa. His enduring belief in the power of art to affect societal change is reflected in a quote on his blog, which states:

“Art is the greatest weapon against any tyrant regime. Arts talks to the heartbeat of a shackled nation and has a power to liberate.”

Deirdre Pretorius is an Associate Professor in Graphic Design at the University of Johannesburg.

Notes

[1] Staffrider was published between 1978 and 1993.
[2] Michael Gardiner, South African Literary Magazines 1956-1978, (Johannesburg: Warren Siebrits Modern and Contemporary Art, 2005).
[3] Mtutuzeli Matshoba, “Autobiographical notes,” In Staffrider 2:3, (1979): 20.
[4] In addition to secondary sources, I conducted an interview with Muziwakhe Nhlabatsi on 4 March 2020 and followed up with email correspondence on 6 July 2020. All unreferenced quotes and biographical information are derived from the interview and subsequent correspondence.
[5] Mike Vaughan, “The Stories of Mtutuzeli Matshoba; A Critique”, In Staffrider 4:3, (1981): 45-47.
[6] Rob Gaylard, Writing Black: The South African Short Story by Black Writers, (DLit., University of Stellenbosch, 2008), 218.
[7] Judy Seidman, “Finding Community Voice; The Visual arts of the South African Cultural Workers Movement.” In Visual Century Volume 3: 1973-1992, ed. Mario Pissarra (Johannesburg: WITS University Press, 2011), 105
[8] Andy Mason, What’s So Funny? Under the Skin of South African Cartooning,  (Cape Town: Double Storey, 2011), 105.
[9] DSAE, Black Consciousness, accessed July 19, 2020. https://dsae.co.za/entry/black-consciousness/e00801.
[10] Shannen Hill,  Biko’s Ghost: The Iconography of Black Consciousness,  (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015), 2.
[11] Hill, Biko’s Ghost, 1-2.
[12] Muziwakhe Nhlabatsi, “Eye: Mzwakhe Nhlabatsi on Visual Arts”, In  Staffrider 2:2, (1979): 54-55.
[13] Seidman, Red on Black, 49.
[14] Hill, Biko’s Ghost, xviii.
[15] ASAI, Muziwakhe Nhlabatsi, accessed July 19, 2020, https://asai.co.za/artist/muziwakhe-nhlabatsi-2/. 
[16] Philippa Hobbs and Elizabeth Rankin,  Rorke’s Drift; Empowering Prints,  (Cape Town: Double Storey, 2003), 197.
[17] Hill, Biko’s Ghost, 18-19.
[18] Hill, Biko’s Ghost, 18.
[19] Hill, Biko’s Ghost, 18.
[20]  Shannen Hill, “Creating Consciousness: Black Art in 1970s South Africa”, In  NKA Journal of Contemporary African Art 42–43, (2018), 201.
[21] Hill, Creating Consciousness.
[22] Hill, Creating Consciousness, 198.
[23]  Judy Seidman, Red on Black: The Story of the South African Poster Movement,  (Johannesburg: STE Publishers, 2007), 95.
[24] Diana Wylie,  Art+Revolution: The Life and Death of Thami Mnyele,  South African Artist (Auckland Park: Jacana, 2008)., 54.
[25] Wylie, Art+Revolution, 54.
[26] Mason, What’s So Funny?, 105.
[27] Mason, What’s So Funny?, 105.
[28] Mason, What’s So Funny?, 105-106.
[29] Seidman, Red on Black, 95.
[30] Seidman, Red on Black, 60.
[31] Andrew John Mason, Black and White in Ink: Discourses of Resistance in South African Cartooning, 1985-1994. (MA diss., University of KwaZulu-Natal, 2004). 154.
[32] Mason, Black and White in Ink, 84.
[33] Mtutuzeli Matshoba, “A Pilgrimage to the Isle of Makana”, In Staffrider 2:2, (1979): 10.
[34] Wylie, Art+Revolution, 64.
[35] Elza Miles,  Polly Street: The Story of an Art Centre,  (Johannesburg: The Ampersand Foundation, 2004), 122.
[36] Miles, Polly Street, 136.
[37] Matshoba, A Pilgrimage to the Isle of Makana, 15.
[38] Reiland Rabaka, “Double-Consciousness.” In Keywords for African American Studies, ed. by Erica R. Edwards, (New York: New York University Press, 2018), 75-76.
[39] Mtutuzeli Matshoba, “Towards Limbo”, In  Staffrider 2:4 (1979): 44.
[40] Hill, Biko’s Ghost, 20.
[41] Hill, Biko’s Ghost, 19.
[42] Vaughan, The Stories of Mtutuzeli Matshoba, 45-46.
[43] Hill, Biko’s Ghost, 48, 52.
[44] Hill, Biko’s Ghost, 48, 52.
[45] Hill, Biko’s Ghost, 68.
[46] Hill, Biko’s Ghost, 59.
[47] Hill, Biko’s Ghost, 68.
[48] Hill, Biko’s Ghost, 4.
[49] Fikile quoted in Hill, Biko’s Ghost, 18
[50] Vaughan, The Stories of Mtutuzeli Matshoba, 46.
[51] Steve Biko, Some African Cultural Concepts, accessed July 19, 2020, http://chimurengachronic.co.za/some-african-cultural-concepts-by-steve-biko/.
[52] Gaylard, Writing Black, 244-245.