Ideologies and concepts in the essays of SEK Mqhayi

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Chapter Two The writer and his society


That Mqhayi was one of the most prominent scholars during his time manifests itself in many ways. From his personality, his literary prowess and accomplishments, together with his subsequent influence on his contemporaries and the generations after him, one can discern an effort by an individual to disseminate profound and noble ideas. The purpose of this chapter is to examine his ideas and ideals, as well as his ability to communicate these to society in general and the Xhosa people in particular.

Ideas and ideals

As a natural social leader, Mqhayi had a duty to perform in his society.It was duty performed through art and directed towards the concept of the hope of success and possibility failure of society. The intentions of some writers, however, might be to entertain, to amuse, to satirise and yet in some deep-seated and subtle way, this might involve a desire to make a positive contribution to society. The question of the success and failure of a society, although not necessarily an inevitability, revolves around the writer’s criticism of that society’s inability to utilise resources that would generate strength to support its nationhood. Ultimately, a writer, especially in this case Mqhayi, necessarily uses his creativity and physical endeavours as tools to try to mould society and shape attitudes. Kofi Anyidoho (Julien 1986:27) refers to a writer « as a myth maker whose creative efforts are often devoted to the breaking of social, economic and political myths that are in conflict with aspirations or with the aspirations of the society. » The role of a writer is further viewed by Ngara (1978:28) as a commitment that transcends individual interests:
Just as the ancient bard had a social function, had a lesson to teach,1 so the modem writer too has a social function, has something to r say to us. A serious writer must be concerned about humanity and i. his society; a serious African writer must address himself to the .> human predicament in general and to the African situation in particular. In short we expect moral earnestness from the writer, we expect to be informed about man and life.
A bard and a writer, Mqhayi in his creative works, much in line with the thinking in the passage above, often  portrays a society in conflict with itself or with forces from outside.On numerous occasions he identifies himself as the spokesperson for his society and as an agent endowed with the creative faculty to transform through art his imaginative world of desire, dream and hope into the realities of daily existence. His art by and large reflects every day realities, views, people’s attitudes  and   ideas  about  the  concepts of culture,politics both modem and traditional, economy and some activities of social interest, and in fact according to Kuse (1979: 1),  « Mqhayi projects his image of men and women of culture who propagated the best ideas of their time. His heroes and heroines encompassed the representatives of tradition as well as men and women educated in the ways of the west. » Throughout his literary career Mqhayi was convinced that the writer, and the bard in particular, is gifted with special spiritual and creative resources and that these attributes, reflected in his work should enlighten and direct humankind.
This is true not only of Mqhayi but of all writers in all societies, albeit differing in perspective. The following extract (Bennie 1969: 198), whilst serving to reflect how Mqhayi perceived himself in his society, also emphasises the high esteem with  which he is  regarded as a writer and as a leader among his people, thus dignifying   his role and endowing it with particular social significance:
(I, the poet of the nation as a whole, Allow me to talk, inquire and rebuke if need be, And announce to the Tshatshu and the Ntinde people, And announce to the Tshawe and the Xhosa people.)
The use of the reference lmbongi yeSizwe Jikelele, by Mqhayi himself suggests his acknowledgement and acceptance of a superior role, which is further echoed by Kuse (Wylie et al 1983:130) in his depiction of Mqhayi, citing Jordan that Mqhayi  « was in a sense the soul of the people and understood their hopes and aspirations,   he  was  also  a self-conscious  individual  very  much  aware  of  his singular gifts.  »
It  is  however in Opland’s (White  and  Couzens 1984:183)  explanation of the origins of the title Imbongi Yesizwe Jikelele, that one immediately becomes aware of Mqhayi’s commitment as a ‘serious African writer concerned about humanity and his society’ :
One reader in Johannesburg, recognising that Mqhayi’ s poetry was not merely that of a local imbongi but reflected black concerns in general, dubbed him Imbongi yeSizwe Jikelele, the imbongi of the whole nation, a name Mqhayi subsequently adopted in preference to Imbongi yakwaGompo, the imbongi of the East London area. Right up to the year of his death at the age of 70, Mqhayi continued to perform in public as an imbongi, producing poetry that was at times critical.
Significantly Mqhayi’s poetry did not reflect black concerns only, but contrary to what  is intimated in the passage above,  was inclusive of all the people of the country, both black and white.   His mention of ndithethe (that I may speak) in the passage [4] quoted from Bennie suggests his larger role and, of course, the role of any  writer,modem or traditional,  that of being the embodiment of values, norms and people’s collective conscience. Furthermore Mqhayi, through the use of this  seemingly  simple term,  reaffirms  his  perception of himself as  a critic « defining social values, celebrating what is historically relevant and assuming the position of an  impartial observer in expressing the  aspirations of the  people » (White & Couzens 1984:183). The utterance that ndibuze de ndikhalime (that I may inquire and reprove) refers to the poet’s traditional role as a king’s and the people’s praise singer, as Mqhayi was to Chief Makinana, A!A! Silimela. He was, however, « not a sycophantic retainer of a chief: One of the essential qualities of an imbongi was not blind loyalty to the person of the chief, but loyalty to the principles that the chieftainship does or ought to stand for » (White & Couzens 1984:186). In Mqhayi’s voice [4] there is an obvious urgency which was a result of the colonial era whose political hold was fast losing its grip only to be replaced by yet another unwelcome system, that of apartheid. He felt from the beginning a special obligation that his work should function in a manner that would give direction and educate society and hence ndenz’ilizwi (I may comment). Mqhayi realises the political, social, educational and cultural problems caused by colonialism, hence he uses his creative works to suggest solutions to them. This is a task to which he committs himself in a poem published in 1892 in which according to Kuse (Wylie et al 1983:131) Mqhayi declares his « unshakeable loyalty and fidelity to the polity and traditions of his people. » He speaks primarily for and to the people of his country and expresses their hopes, fears and aspirations. Another one of many of such instances is found in an article in Umteteli Wabantu (23rd July 1927) in which he remarks:
[5]  Kwintlanganiso yomzi ontsundu oh/ambulukileyo ethile, eyayih/angene kwindawo ethi/e, elalivela komkhulu kwaRhulumente lisithi: Ningathanda niphethwe ngayiphi imithetho, ikho eyakowenu, ikho eyasemlungwini? Impendulo yaloo ntlanganiso ngobunye yathi: Sifuna siphethwe ngeyakowethu.
(At a certain meeting of black elites, which was held at a certain venue, the government wanted to know: With which laws would you like to be governed, those of your own people or those of the government? The answer was overwhelmingly: We want to be governed by those of our own people.)
The main issue in the above assertion [5] by Mqhayi is not about which laws were preferable to others, but about the view that the black people were not prepared to accept the laws of a government which discriminated against them and which at that time was busy preparing and designing a system that would effectively exclude them from participating in any form of government. Clearly, the so called Native policy whereby the black people of South Africa were excluded from White politics, thus being made strangers in their own country, was unacceptable. It must be further explained that the answer, sijuna siphethwe ngeyakowethu (we want to be governed by those of our own people) in [5] above, does not in any way discriminate against any other persons. To Mqhayi ngeyakowethu (of our own) is broadly applied to refer to all those who regarded South Africa as their homeland. His idea of a South African nation, a theme which forms a golden thread through all his literary works and which he tried to communicate to the people through the pages of Umteteli Wabantu (1923-1939), took the South African politicians many decades to realise. Taking into consideration the vast changes the country has undergone over the years, it is conceivable that Mqhayi’s vision could have been considered sheer lunacy at that early stage:
Mayicace kuthi indawo yokuba asikabi siso 1s1zwe thina sisengamacakaza ezizwana, asikabi yile nto kuthiwa « luhlanga « . Le nto kuthiwa yiBritani kuthethwa ingqokelela yezizwana; ngokunjalo i.Jamani, nabuphi na obunye ubukumkani obubalulekileyo. Thina ke /usapo lukaNtu, umSuthu eyedwa akasiso isizwe, nomXhosa eyedwa, nomZulu, nomTswana, into eya kusenza isizwe kukuthi sidibane sihlangabezane, sibe luhlanga olunye. Siyazi nokwazi ukuba phakathi kwethu akukho naziqosho namiqobo ingakanani engenza ukuba singabi ngumntu omnye. Ezi zizwe sizixelileyo zathi zahlangabezana zazizizwe ezikhulu, zaqabela imimango, zabulala izinto zazo ezinkulu nezinoncedo ukwenzela ukuba zizuze amandla ngokumanyana nezinye izizwe, zibe luhlanga o/unye.

Chapter One Introduction
1.1. Aims and objectives
1.2. Scope of the study
1. 3. Approach to the study
1.4. The term  »images »
1. 5 . Mqha yi’ s 1i terary tastes
1. 6. Synopsis of the study
Chapter Two The writer and his society
2.1. Introduction
2. 2. Ideas and Ideals
2.3. Intercultural communication
2.4. Reconciliation
2.5. Homage to Mqhayi
2.6. Iimbongi to an imbongi
2.7. Conclusion
Chapter Three Ideologies and concepts in the essays of SEK Mqhayi
3.1. Introduction
3.2. Images of Ubuntu in Mqhayi’ s essays
3.3. The Bible in Mqhayi
3.4. Nation building in Mqhayi
3.5. Conclusion
Chapter Four UAdonisi waseNtlango: The translation
4.1. Introduction
4.2. Mqhayi in a dilemma
4.3 The translation of UAdonisi waseNtlango
4.4. Mqhayi’s creativity in translation
4.5. Language and style
4.6. Conclusion
Chapter Five General Conclusion
5 .1. Introduction
5.2. Mqhayi, the writer with a vision
5. 3. Suggestions for further studies

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