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In Conversation: Lebogang Mashile (Part 3)

Armed with a sharp intellect and a fierce sense of social exploration through her creativity, Leboganag Mashile is a poet’s poet. She has won the respect of critics, her contemporaries and the hearts of ordinary South Africans.  In her own words, she explains why South Africa is intrinsic to her birth as a poet.

Read Part 1 of My Interview Here

Read Part 2 of My Interview Here

leboBelinda: When you look at our generation, what is it that you see which encourages you about us and the future?

Lebo: I see a lot of young black men, who are working hard to try to be different to their father’s generation and who are trying to be better men to women and better fathers to their children and right now, that really inspires me. Especially living in a country like South Africa where rape is so high and violence against children is so high. Our president is a polygamist and you have got a better chance of being raped than of learning how to read. So I am making it my business now to affirm good black men when I see good black them because I think they don’t get the credit that they deserve a lot of the time and we channel our energy towards affirming the dysfunctional kinds of men. I am excited about the new professions I see and young black people getting into all these new professions that I see around the world. I am inspired by the storytellers. All of us in some way are growing up and becoming storytellers. Every where I go, I meet filmmakers, producers, novelist, journalists and academics and people who are passionate about giving a new face to African identity, telling new stories about Africa, not just the pain and suffering. While there are those elements, they are channelling them into something that is articulate and transformative and positive. I’m also deeply inspired by the women, young women who are forging new terrain everyday. It is difficult to come from a patriarchal society and enter a world that is so full of opportunities if you are educated and exposed. How do you construct love relationships? How do you raise your children? How do you hold on to your culture and identity? How do you use the opportunities that are being given to you and the new environments that you find yourself in and use it as a way of opening doors for other women? How do we define as black women and African women the expectations that we don’t stick together and that we are there to pull each other down? I am inspired every time I see women challenging those notions. Every time I see African women forging a new kind of African feminity that is very much rooted in the ancient understanding of who we are as women but has also added to it the power and flexibility that comes with these new opportunities that we re doing . I do work that my mother would have never been able to do or my grandmother dream of.  So, that inspires me immensely.

Belinda: What breaks your heart about your generation?

Lebo: Oh my world, in South Africa, addiction is a big chord that runs through a lot of the social problems that we have right now and addiction can take many forms.  A person can be addicted to spending money, sex, materialism, consumerism, substances and to God and religion and turn religion into some kind of drug and an oppressive force. And I think what hurts me the most even with all of these opportunities and this so called freedom that comes with being a part of this born-free generation, we still have the same hole that previous generations had and we use things to fill that hole. So, we are like consumers, like vultures that try to take things and use them to fill it. We use people, relationships, substances and drugs and titles and materialism to fill ourselves up because deep down there is still that feeling of worthlessness. I think part of the challenge we have is to figure out how to use women’s voice to change the cycle; women’s artistic and literary voice to change that right now. My country does not have an emotional vocabulary. People don’t know how to talk about what they are feeling because that was how they got through a suppressive regime. So, we don’t know how to say what they feel. You don’t hear people say I feel angry, sad, confused and frustrated. You don’t hear that. So women are writing into existence a kind of emotional vocabulary, a way of being able to enter into the heart space and they are showing the rest of society how to do that. So I think part of the challenge for our generation is to heal. That is our biggest challenge; to develop ourselves and make personal development a priority, spiritual development a priority and healing a priority.  If we can do that, then we have done a lot.

Belinda: When you look at your generation, what can they do to effect change?

Lebo: I think my generation needs to actively embrace the African continent. We need to get rid of this arrogance that was bred into us by the apartheid d regime that made us fearful of ourselves as Africans and fearful of the rest of the African continent. If we can get past that, then we will be fine because we are right on the same kind of path that the rest of the continent has taken if we don’t learn the lessons. And just because we own this first world media and culture does not mean that we own it. And just because we have seen a handful of black people become wealthy over the years and we thank God that they are wealthy but just because they have been able to penetrate the system, does not mean that it’s all good. So, when we sit at the G8 and G20, and they feed us the rest of the left over; is that an achievement? Is it an achievement if you can’t take the rest of the continent with you? Is it an achievement if you can’t take the rural poor of South Africa with you? We have got too many complexities and issues in South Africa to pretend that we have even dealt with our problems because we haven’t, because South Africa is two worlds in one world. And the bigger world is poor, black, uneducated and marginalised. And by enlarge rural and by enlarge women and if we don’t take care of that, we are going to implode as a society because those people are not going to watch us, the black middle class wield all these power and without helping the rest of our people. It is a time bomb if we are not conscious and careful and if we don’t deliberately work on our own healing. It is a time bomb if we don’t take care of it. We need to humble ourselves and learn from the continent. Nation building is not a new pursuit. We need to stop being arrogant and need to stop letting the West shape the way we see the world.

Belinda: In terms of poetry, where are women within the artistic landscape?

Lebo: Women are the first teachers, we are the first storytellers and every child born on African soil is taught and fed intellectually, emotionally, physically and spiritually at the hand of women. And I think women, because we raise children, have our periods every month and have to deal with our blood and life’s cycles as an intrinsic part of our life, women understand continuity. We understand past, present and future. We understand mortality and the concept of creating and performing an action right now and seeing the consequences later. We understand consequences the way that men don’t. It’s a part of our body and the way we relate to this world. In Africa, people are aware of the fact that if you empower a woman, you empower a nation. First and foremost as African women, we need to challenge patriarchy and we need to support each other in challenging patriarchy.  By having deep honest conversations about the way we love. As women we need to support each other and in small ways. I should not be going out with your husband or your boyfriend. I should know that a man who is married and in a relationship with someone is off limits. Men stand together the way that women don’t. Men are taught to protect and nurture this kind of boys club and are taught not to let women divide their relationships but a man can easily divide a women’s relationship, a long standing relationship between women. So, we need to try and have an understanding first and foremost that we love men and we want men and relationships are healthy but we don’t fundamentally need men. You don’t need a man more than you need respect for yourself. So, I think this kind of psychological  dependency on men, we need to let that go and that way, we can attract good and positive men into our lives and support us. And we need to find news way to teach African girls about womanhood, how to care for yourself, spirit and body, and spiritual life. How do you attract a good man into your life and how to be you before your career? These days, we define ourselves by what we do as women same way a man would first tell you he is a doctor when you meet him. We need to come up with new ways of defining ourselves before we enter into the professional stage as whole people.

Belinda: Where is poetry in South Africa today?

Lebo: It is one of the most vibrant and flourishing artist form of expressions, certainly in the performance space right now. But every event you got, you will find poetry reading and campus you go to, there is a poetry society. It is very cool to be a poet in South Africa right now. I wish it would translate into more poets being able to earn living from it. There are only a few of us who can earn a living right now doing what we do which is sad. I wish there was more institutional support for poets. In the last 10 years, I have seen the space flourish and it’s about the immediacy of it. Right now in our history we are trying to figure out our identity and that challenge, a lot of it rest on the shoulders of this born-free generation and they are gravitating to this medium. People are writing in their first language, sometimes, two or three languages. So there is something that is cutting edge about where we are right now literarily where poetry is concerned and I hope the artistic structures and institutions catch up.

Belinda: What’s next for Lebo Mashile?

Lebo: I am working on two audio books of my first and second book. In A Ribbon Of Rhythm and Flying Above The Sky and you can download that from my website. Also, my first book, In a Ribbon of Rhythm will be translated into German next year (2010) and I am excited about that.

For More on Lebo mashile, visit her website: Lebo Mashile

Image: Carl Collison

The End.


2 Responses to “In Conversation: Lebogang Mashile (Part 3)”

  1. Hans Schippers says:

    Great observation about an illusionary freedom: the system may offer us a whole range of choices, leading us to believe that we are free because we can choose the one we want, but it fails to tell us that other ranges exist. That is the genius of capitalism: Keep people in shackles, but make the shackles invisible…

  2. Andrew Pelt says:

    Great info! I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

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