A Dark Windby Andy Davis / 06.08.2009
A few years ago I did a series of interviews with Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa, perhaps South Africa’s most revered Sangoma. It was the height of Mbeki’s arc of power. Zimbabwe was imploding. Dr Beetroot was in charge of the Aids. The ANC had visibly shifted from principled leadership to a partisan dealership. Things have changed since, shifted ever so slightly. Zuma has replaced Mbeki, Obama has swapped seats with Bush, Africa’s longest self-serving dictator Omar Bongo, of Gabon, is dead… and yet through it all Mugabe, again, has managed to cling on.
“The thing is, no one really knows anything in this modern world.” Says Credo Mutwa, “You don’t know what links there are between who and who. All I do know, sir,”
He always calls you sir, this time-wizened Sangoma, a high Sanusi, so polite and erudite. We’re sitting in his living room on a small holding in the Magaliesberg, outside Johannesburg. He has subsequently moved to Kuruman in the Northern Cape. My friend, Nikhil Singh, the musician and artist, came with me on this assignment, he is drawing a portrait of the man while we talk. Credo continues:
“All I do know, sir, is that earthly power is like a baboon falling upon the back of a leopard. If you have become a man of power and you treated people very badly at one time, as Mugabe did, you can’t get off the leopard of power. You do not dare. So what Mugabe is doing, is something that any cruel person would do. He dare not get off power. Because the moment he climbs down the relatives of the people he killed would take vengeance. Especially now that there are courts which try people who commit genocide. He can’t get off, he dare not get off – and his people are going to suffer until death closes his eyes.”
“Why do you think the South African government is supporting him?” I ask.
“I don’t know sir. Who knows what politicians think? Who knows what strange things go on behind the scenes. I don’t know why Mugabe is being supported, quite frankly sir, I don’t want to know. We have got Aids sweeping through the land and we know that Aids is pushed by the dark wind of hunger. I don’t understand why our leaders are acting this way. You would think that they would all fight to create as much food for South Africa as they can. They don’t. There are African foodstuffs which grow, even when the land is dry. Our mothers used to feed us on those foodstuffs when we were children. Now I see our people’s hands are tied. This at a very very critical time in our country’s history. I just can’t understand why our leaders are acting in this un-African way. Who is behind all of this? Who pulls the strings behind the scenery that we see? It’s incredible, it’s amazing. It’s shocking.”
He looks away, as if the interview’s subject matter is causing him acute physical pain.
Illustration by Nikhil Singh
“When I look at the Middle East, I cry.” He continues after a while. “When I look at what Bush has done, I cry. When I look at what the Jews are doing to the Palestinians and the Palestinians are doing to the Jews, I cry. I do not see any reason why these things should be going on. Really, a man in Africa should not concern himself about what is going on in Palestine or Israel or Iraq or Iran – but there is one terrible thing. Whenever the Christian nations of this world and the Muslim nations of this planet draw swords against each other, it is Africa who sheds tears of blood. It is our people who die. It has been so since the days of the Crusades, right up to now. Since time immemorial Africa has been the bloodied scapegoat.”
Again he pauses. The air is a thick, theatrical silence.
“This is why I hate myself so much.” He continues. “Why does God show me all this, if it is God. Why can’t he give me the power to stop this holocaust. Why? Why don’t people listen. You know what one newspaper called me? A doom prophet. I am no doom prophet, I am just a man who sees. I am told, ‘stop this thing,’ but how the hell can I stop it. Who am I anyway? Nobody listens to me. And I see my country marching slowly towards the end. Anyone sir, who cares for South Africa and her people. Anyone who realises what we are, where we are standing in history now, can tell you that we need peace in South Africa. South Africa needs to guide herself and guide the whole of Africa along the road of peace. We need peace in Southern Africa because we are standing on the edge of a precipice.”