MPHUTLANE WA BOFELO in conversation with Gakwi Goodenough Mashego, film-maker, poet and Pro-Palestinian activist
Let us start here with your understanding of ungovernable, underground, dissident, alternative, avant-garde, rebel, revolutionary; anarchist.
My understanding is that of a person who is not comfortable with the truths that enslave the world today; the one who always wants to find solutions out of the obvious. In our world of conformity that person is called ungovernable since s/he might defy the bipolar approach to everything. (Either you are with us or against us, either you are good or bad etc). That also covers “dissident” since it denotes rebellion against norms that might have been sacred for some time but which might not have moved humanity forward. Humans are in a constant forward trajectory and anything that is designed to stall that movement deserves rebellion. It in a way can also mean alternative; especially if you look at my protest against a bipolar world; I’ve seen the third way, which is the alternative. That alternative means you might become a revolutionary by trying to destroy the current order which you find despicable and unacceptable. And revolution is scary because it violates comfort zones. Comfort zones are designed to keep humans in check and not to question. Questioning makes one anarchist since you start asking about things that are kept away from others.
Where and how do you place yourself in there?
I consider myself all of the above since I am floating in a world full of ideas and not resting on one. I am on a constant journey to find answers, better answers to the ones we have. I believe the best ideas are just around the corner. I don’t belong to any political party and I look at them as proxies for bigger authority, which I detest. We live in a bipolar world which I find no option desirable. So, I am on a quest for that alternative and that should make me a revolutionary. My revolution is best fought through my activism, poetry, essays and commentary in the media. I consider myself an anarchist to the bone.
What put you there? What drives you there?
I was put there by my earlier experiences of injustice in the world. I knew about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when I was 12. I was arrested by apartheid police for owning a pair of binoculars when I was 16. Right there, I noticed that there was something wrong with inequality. And given that now we live in a world of geopolitics whereby nothing is sacred except where money is. What drives me is my belief that we all deserve happiness and peace. And until we all have that happiness and peace, I don’t see what there is to celebrate for me. And today that’s what pre-occupies me; seeking happiness, its root and how to share it with the world. I don’t feel good if I didn’t make one person happy in one day.
What do you do there and what do you hope to achieve?
I research happiness and how to get it. I also research how to share it and why the world is so full of hate and think that being powered by hate is as good as being powered by happiness. Fathers blush when they see their children’s smiles; they shed tears when they see their mother’s smiles, but they smile when they see their neighbor’s frown. What kind of a world is that? Are humans capable of selective happiness? I don’t think so. So I am pre-occupied with literature that addresses issues of spirituality, from Paulo Coelho, Khalil Gibran, Pablo Neruda, Rumi etc. I am currently in a serious attempt to understand Sufism since I think the world, especially the Middle East, needs more of this today.
What is\are your main instrument(s)\weapon(s) and medium(s) and why did you choose that particular instrument\weapon\medium?”
My tools are poetry, essays, political commentary and other platforms that I use. Even on the films that I make there’s a few political points that I make. They might be in what a character says or in the direction of the storyline. My poetry is also my tool to spread this gospel of love. I have a poem in my collection Just Like Space Cookies which is titled “My religion is love”. I will share it here:
My religion is love
my religion is love designed by powers above my ability to decode granted me to babysit ‘til i pass the buck to the next i got full custody of a feeling some still fail to explain goes beyond your reasoning tis loss & love all rolled into one capulets & montagues only gave this gift a human face i choke in its grasp & know it’s time to pray i cough positive vibes tick a minus make it a plus for a god never seen who art beyond my reach me his weakened reflection manifestation of my religion
my religion is love it’s babysitting the amputation of your limb so you can become a pistorius watching you groan from chemotherapy hoping that gives you more life please live for the day we shall meet again i watch you wave goodbye hoping i shared your pain my religion is love for today tomorrow & forever taking a cursory look wondering why the dead look @ peace for tranquility belongs to those who can no longer offend the living peace of mind in the here is a commodity we transact for with breath
my religion is holding your hand & humming kaddish as you gasp for last breath i can see through charades so self-mutilation presents a blank canvas we can paint beautiful pictures hoping censors don’t edit hoping our vulgarity is not AGE RESTRICTED like zuma’s spear we all say what we know while we write what we like love unabridged for some reserved for after-life i kneel down with a smile text my wishes to the giver my religion is looking you in the eyes & seeing my reflection in you you my mirror when you jolly & when your look tormented
my religion is building castles i’ll occupy with the rest it’s inhaling sticky durban poison passing the spliff to the world never calling nobody infidel though my heart is whiter than your robe i’m the face of imperfection still searching for my map to Valhalla my GPS designed by the devil only programmed with brothels & drug houses i become the face of denial that hate can triumph over love my religion is love & an admission i might be wrong i see jews & arabs as two sides of the same coin i’m lost i know but i see goodness in cruelty
my religion is treating you like a recovering addict administering methadone with the precision of cyanide remaining patient when you relapse that’s the passion of a junkie i watch you suffer knowing tomorrow starts our long-awaited harvest the bitter fruitage will be chucked out to the birds juicy grapes main ingredient in our anarchist ale it’s being a sentry @ the gate of an abode i shall not enter a birth i was destined not to witness me being a midwife as you deliver wild seeds cursed from womb i give you a torch to navigate that cave after you dropped it in haste my religion is watching your suffer knowing like gold you’ll emerge polished
my religion is not casting the first stone for i deserve a firing squad what you called a lunar eclipse were my sins being couriered to god boxes & boxes of my contraventions of the Ten Commandments i exist for the day when i shall reach perfection letting the naysayers live so they can witness my crowning moment calling my ancestors’ names hoping for a domino effect if there was greatness in this clan hoping it rubs off on me my religion is seeing myself in you without you calling my name
my religion is not churchgoing but keeping the altar on sight inking tattoos of the crucifixion lest i forget the sacrifice kneeling down closing my eyes lest the devil interrupt me yelling AMEN not as an ending but an index to my prayer my religion is not being colour blind for i know white from black seeing that smirk on verwoed’s face as a smile of defeat the furher’s open-hand salute an honour to souls lost during the passage zionists an ebola virus in the blood of middle east my religion is loving my neighbor as i love me since i can’t love HIM if i can’t love you
If you were to write a manifesto for the anarchist \ underground\ dissident\ alternatives\ rebels\ revolutionaries, what would it say?
It will be what a French philosopher said, “Man is born free; but every time I find him in chains.” Mine would be like, “Man should enjoy the fruits of happiness and live to seek nothing but happiness.” Maybe it will end with some “Hasta la vista siempre.”
May you share what your journey from birth till here\there where you are has been like and where you are heading to from here?
I was born in Pilgrims’ Rest in 1973, became a writer in 1986 through writing letters to magazines and newspapers, studied journalism and discovered poetry through a journal called Something Quarterly, submitted poetry to many poetry journals and later became quite central in poetry circles. I am currently a literary adjudicator with the South Africa Literary Awards and the European Union Prize. So, between my literature, making films, owning a record label that does indigenous music, writing poetry and my pro-Palestinian activism I am chilled, studying how to make the world a better place. The struggle continues until we can all share a smile.