Thursday, May 20, 2010

Naants' Indod'Emnyama

In the struggle against apartheid, Nelson Mandela defines the courage and bravery - willing to die for a just cause; and healing and reconciliation - willing to forgive those who took away his freedom and dignity for 27 years. But, there were other heroes who never saw 1994. The one that moves me the most is Vuyisile Mini. Born in 1920, he was an activist, a singer and a songwriter. In early 1960s, he composed Naants' Indod'Emnyama a Xhosa phrase for a threat: "Here Comes Black People". The song became an anthem for a struggle. In its popular rendition, the chorus Verwoerd Pasopa or Beware Verwoerd was added (Henrik Verwoerd was the architect of apartheid policy). So, basically the song was an irritating, boisterous, repetitive chorus saying: "Beware Verwoerd, Here Comes Black People". The song irritated the white establishment so much because it was so popular and so powerful that they found reasons to jail Vuyisile Mini. Mini, in his bass voice, used to sing it in meetings and rallies to arouse the passion of black people who would march stomping their feet. Later, the police found charges in his militant activities and the courts gave him death sentence.

In October 1964, he made the following statement from the death row:

"I am presently awaiting execution at Pretoria Central Gaol having been sentenced to death at the beginning of the year. On October 2, 1964, Captain Geldenhuys and two other policemen came to see me. They asked me if I had been informed that my appeal had been dismissed. I told them I was not interested to know from them what my advocate said. They then said there was still a chance for me to be saved, as they knew I was the big boss of the movement in the Eastern Cape. I must just tell them where the detonators and revolvers were, and they would help me. I refused. They then asked me about Wilton Mkwayi [subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment]. They said I saw Mkwayi in January 1963. I said `Yes.' They asked me if I was prepared to give evidence against Mkwayi whom they had now arrested. I said `No, I was not.' They said there was a good chance for them to save me from the gallows if I was prepared to assist them. I refused to assist. When they asked would I make the Amandla Ngawethu [‘Power is ours'] salute when I walked the last few paces to the gallows, I said, `Yes'. After a few more jokes of that nature, they left.

On 6 November 1964, Mini, together with Wilson Khayinga and Zinakile Mkaba were hanged in the Pretoria Central Prison. Story goes that Mini walked down the hallowed prison corridor towards the hanger's noose singing "Naants' Indod'Emnyama Pasipo Verwoerd". The next day, one of black prisoners who was facing a normal sentence sent the following entry for the official ANC journal:

"The last evening was devastatingly sad as the heroic occupants of the death cells communicated to the prison in gentle melancholy song that their end was near... It was late at night when the singing ceased, and the prison fell into uneasy silence. I was already awake when the singing began again in the early morning. Once again the excruciatingly beautiful music floated through the barred windows, echoing round the brick exercise yard, losing itself in the vast prison yards.

And then, unexpectedly, the voice of Vuyisile Mini came roaring down the hushed passages. Evidently standing on a stool, with his face reaching up to a barred vent in his cell, his unmistakable bass voice was enunciating his final message in Xhosa to the world he was leaving. In a voice charged with emotion but stubbornly defiant he spoke of the struggle waged by the African National Congress and of his absolute conviction of the victory to come. And then it was Khayinga's turn, followed by Mkaba, as they too defied all prison rules to shout out their valedictions. Soon after, I heard the door of their cell being opened. Murmuring voices reached my straining ears, and then the three martyrs broke into a final poignant melody which seemed to fill the whole prison with sound and then gradually faded away into the distant depths of the condemned section.

Now, you can listen Mariam Makeba's rendition of Naants' Indod'Emnyama - and imagine it sung with baritone voice of a black man stomping his feet, with pride and defiance, on his way to confronting death. May the Lord Rest His Soul in Peace.


Anonymous said...

This is quite moving and thank you for sharing. It is beyond annoying to see that a struggle for an economically independent black man (anywhere on this planet)is not yet realized. We have moved from slavery and apartheid but somewhat there are invisible chains through nasty economic policies and debt imposed upon us.

And the saddest thing is this chant is still relevant today.


Personally I've never heard South African music that didn't sound like a trade union's march, but whatever.