Wealth Of Our Country And Owning Its Riches.
A talk given by Sibongile Khumalo at the 2nd Hugh Masekela Annual Lecture,
University of Johannesburg, Soweto Campus, 9 September 2015

Vice – Chancellor and Principal, Prof Ihron Rensburg,
Council member and Deputy Vice Chancellor Mr Jaco van Schoor,
Deputy Vice Chancellor Mrs Mpho Letlape and Dr Kgosi Letlape,
Council member Mr Frans Baleni and Mrs Phindile Baleni,
Council member Mr Joel Dikgole,
Council and Executive Leadership Group member Dr Joe Manyaka,
Executive Dean Prof Alex Broadbent and Mrs Nicole Broadbent,
Executive Dean Prof Federico Freschi,
Executive Directors Dr Rookaya Bawa and Mr Milcho Damianov,

Our honoured guest Dr Hugh Masekela, Ms Barbara Masekela,
the respondents Dr Don Mattera and Mr Sipho Mabuse and the facilitator Ms
Brenda Sisane,
the Cuban Ambassador Mr Carlos Fernandes Casio, and the the Managing
Director of writeAssociates Mr Morakabe Seakhoa,
staff of the University present here tonight, colleagues and members of the
arts and culture fraternity, friends, family, ladies and gentlemen, good

I feel privileged to have been asked to give the 2nd Hugh Masekela Lecture,
to ponder on matters that impact our cultural sensibilities and heritage, and
hopefully to offer suggestions as to what can be done to make our lives
better. I would like to thank the musician and the man that is Hugh Masekela
for inspiring this platform, for charting the way and constantly fine tuning his
artistic vision. By simply observing him, one finds oneself challenged to do
better and to think beyond what is apparent because of how he practices his
art and what he does for others, and with his life. Makwande babʼ Masekela.

I was given an open ended brief regarding what to talk about tonight. This
presented a challenge, as there are so many issues of concern to me as a
cultural worker and arts practitioner. I am glad that I have two of my seniors
who will help me unpack my thinking tonight, in bra Zinga Don Mattera and
Sipho Hotstix Mabuse.

We are said to be a country rich in mineral resources, and boast considerable
mineral wealth. Yet we have a high poverty index, a poor education system
and generally a dearth in our societyʼs never-say-die attitude. What happened
Ma Afrika?

Some months ago I came across a statement that read:
“The planet does not need more successful people. The planet needs more
peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds”
This was in a popular site where the writer was not acknowledged, so I donʼt
know who wrote these words, however the idealist in me resonated with this
sentiment and I have been pondering the question since, that is this not
where the wealth of this country really lies? Are these not the people who will
help provide the answers to some of the vexing questions that are visited on

In our preoccupation with finding practical solutions for the myriad challenges
facing us as a nation, where do we find the riches that can propel us from
poverty to prosperity? How do we shift our minds from the mentality of lack
gripping so much of society, to prosperity thoughts and outlook? How can we
tap into the knowledge that is all around us, and empower ourselves with
wisdom from the ground up, as we navigate a milieu that has the potential to
undermine our ability to dream and imagine?

The Lebanese born author, poet, artist and essayist Kahlil Gibran
(1883-1931) asks the question this way:

”How can I lose faith in the justice of life, when the dreams of those who
sleep upon feathers are not more beautiful than the dreams of those who
sleep upon the earth?” (From Sand and Foam, An Illustrated Anthology,
edited by Ayman A El-Desouky, Octopus Publishing, 2010)

How can we lose faith in a philosophy that assures us all a sense of dignity
and respect across and within the organisation of society?

We are a society that has given the world Ubuntu. A philosophy and
worldview that should continuously infuse all facets of our lives…culturally, in
religion, politics, business, society, the economy. A worldview that empowers
and fosters an enabling mindset and outlook, centred on the interactions of
community. It is a lived experience that engenders a value system that is not
exploitative, but it seeks to uplift and empower across hierarchies.
It is incomprehensible that we have the kinds of poverty levels that we speak
about..boast about, even…when we have such a worldview. Ubuntu bethu
does not have a sell-by-date. It is a constant that should keep us aware of
how we are evolving, both individually and collectively.

Many years ago, I was introduced to the idea of re-languaging, by a good
friend Dr Nobs Mwanda, a medical doctor by profession, who became a
social entrepreneur. She proposed that, given the power of language, and
how our thoughts infuse powerful energy into the words we speak, words that
have an impact on our reality and experience, was it not time to start
changing our narrative by being conscious of the words we speak? Changing
to a narrative that would empower and embolden us to engage in uplifting
language and discourse? I started paying attention, and I noticed how much
we throw words around and get surprised when we experience certain
realities that do not go with what we intended in what we said.
Words start as thoughts, they have feelings and energy and often we
visualise how we want them to manifest. By the time we string them into
sentences, we have invested significantly on the words we articulate.

Letʼs consider this – Poverty alleviation versus wealth creation; the fight
against the abuse of and violence against women and children versus safety
and security of the very women and children that we are so concerned about;
the fight against HIV and AIDS versus health or even basic hygiene and
related prevention strategies.

Mostly, we talk about being AGAINST things, rather than being FOR
something. And it seems we attract the negative energy that is replicated in
how we attempt to find solutions. Perhaps we need to stop and consider how
the elders and the ancients did it.

Ubuntu tells us that we are links in a circle, and that the circle is as strong as
the links that keep it connected. Communities are as strong as the individuals
who are part of it. Strong and healthy links keep the circle tightly knit.
And so, for our times, the communities we find ourselves in, whether by
kinship, fellowship or work related fraternities, are the circles we need to keep
in as healthy a state as possible. They are the circles that we need to
empower with knowledge so that we keep the broader community
knowledgeable and informed about local and broader issues for its
development and prosperity.

When, as communities, we engage in a debate about a 30% matriculation
pass rate, I believe we should also have a conversation about what
constitutes that 30%. What are our children learning, or not? 30% tells me
that a child does not know 70% of what they should know, which is a worrying
Over and above this, what content shapes the 30% of what this child is
learning? What is the quality of education are our children getting?
Are we populating our childrenʼs minds with content that keeps them curious
and inquisitive and wanting to explore their world?
Are we equipping them with skills that enable them to communicate
effectively with others?
What values do our children leave school with?
Are they equipped with high levels of tolerance and openness, and an ability
to engage in critical thinking and problem solving?
Do they see themselves as part of a larger universe to which they belong, or
do they see themselves as individuals who must take care of their own
needs, without concern for whether they make a difference to others?

To take us beyond our current condition, I believe we need to reclaim our
ability to dream again. To transcend a limiting mindset that has stunted our
idealism. To dare to dream and imagine that we can excel, that we can
prosper. We need to restore our ability to respond positively and powerfully in
making right our circumstances, and move beyond the desolation,
hopelessness and despair that even the education system seems to promote.

We are a caring, compassionate and empathetic people. We have a strong
sense of situatedness and respect, for self and for others. These are
important attributes that underpin our quest for being, for dignity. These are
some of the riches that we own, that make us a wealthy people. Ownership of
ubuntu bethu is not an accident of nature. It is something we have been
bequeathed by the ancients. A philosophical worldview that engenders pride
in being a member of a community so one can take their place with
confidence, and fully experience life, as best as one knows how.

We are losing this wealth in our quest to be global citizens. We happily offer
ourselves to others. Or we let others offer us up, in a misguided sense of
patriotism and loyalty. Ubuntu bethu has been compromised, when it should
take precedence over everything. Imbongi could tell a Ruler where he or she
was going astray. When a community was struggling with how it was being
presided over, it was expected that imbongi must raise those issues with the
Ruler. This was wisdom that emanated from the ground up. This is wisdom
we must reclaim for the restoration of our being, and not censor it.

Our native languages, our arts and crafts, the foods and herbs that are
yielded by the soil we till, are repositories of valuable lessons and insights.
We need to listen more attentively to what the ground is giving up to us. We
need to pay attention to what the earth is withholding from us. We have much
to be proud of. Much to offer.

In his book LET AFRICA LEAD, Reuel J Khoza points out that
“Many cultural influences have overlaid whatever was originally African, yet
beneath it all remains our trust in human relationships and our reliance on the
bonds of community. That is what we offer to the world.” ( African
Transformational Leadership for 21st Century Business, Vezubuntu
Publishing, 2006, p 127)

Our collective memory guides us constantly to that which is valuable to us,
despite ourselves. Let us be the vanguard that protects and promotes our
heritage with pride. The community must stay strong and resolute as the
individuals within it continue to claim their space in a contradictory world,
emboldened by the knowledge that, we come from those who enriched the
We are not the first, we will not be the last. We will continue to be the
peacemakers, the healers, the restorers and storytellers, and lovers that keep
our our circles strong.

Mazisi Kunene in his poem, Todayʼs Wish implores

“Let the great gates open
And all the beautiful ones appear hand in hand
Let the morning embrace their feet with dew
Let all the simple joys sing the song of the dove
May we forgive those who have caused us pain;
For today only
So that we may begin a new era
Riding high on the shoulders of the hill.
May we, as a final gift of life,
Hear voices shouting our poems
May we hear our children humming our anthems
For it is said: a parent deserted by her children
Never finds the great gate to the earth”

Ngiyabonga. Makwande. Thank you.