Sandile Memela’s Reflections


Theorizing the life, meaning and purpose of master pianist, multi instrumentalist and highly gifted musical composer Bheki Mseleku is a difficult task.

When he returned to the country, although he had neither music training or qualification, it is reported that he applied to various supremacist institutions to teach.

He was, predictably, rejected. You need an accredited Masters degree to enter the tertiary institution to teach in South Africa.

Some people are convinced that Bheki should rightfully be conferred an honorary degree by Kwa-Zulu Natal, University of Cape Town or Wits and Rhodes for that matter.

This matter needs sober analysis and reflection methinks. It is not, politically, complex but simple and straight-forward.

Yet it is complicated with no easy answers.

Even some of his family members and closest friends who are righteously committed to upholding and reviving his legacy feel that it would be the right thing to do.

It could contribute to the decolonization project.

I find that gesture would make him part of a system that rejected him.

Of course it is painful to realize and be reminded how South African universities are myopic and steeped in traditions of supremacy and lack of innovative thinking.

Allowing Bheki access to teach after conquering the world of music on the global stage would have been a resounding victory.

Of course he could have opened and launched a school at somebody’s garage.

Yes there would be no resources but black resilience and determination has always created something out of nothing.

Black artists need to fast learn that they must make things happen for themselves in their own lives and communities to take their fate and future into their hands.

One can only imagine what is happening to master visual arts painter Lefifi Tladi in Pretoria today.

He is not alone in that plight.

Without in any way rejecting yet to be made overtures to grant Bheki an honorary doctorate in music, it would not be a good thing to allow that to happen.

It would be a face saving gesture to cleanse their sins for any tertiary institution to do that. It would be a PR exercise more to benefit whatever institution than for Bhekis benefit.

The fundamental challenge facing black creative intellectuals and critical thinkers is to reject and condemn supremacist institutions and their racism rather than be eager to wear their red gowns of graduation.

Black creative intellectual like Bheki cannot – after being rejected and condemned to the margins – be seen as helping rehabilitate untransformed institutions in the name of pseuodo-decolonization.

Bheki and his ilk need to be seen and preserved as symbols of oppositionality, resistance and an alternative way of life and view of the world.

Without a principled stand, an intellectual of the caliber of Bheki will “become part of a system that rejected him,” resulting in his lonely and miserable death in the capitals of the world.

We must understand that the black world does not need white approval. It has always – despite racism – produced artists of global standards.

Those who are working towards reviving the legacy of Bheki Mseleku must recreate and portrayed him as a brilliant musical artist of global stature who emerged from the nothingness of the black experience, life, history and heritage.

Decolonization means that we must rethink everything.

You cannot use the same institutions that rejected and condemned Bheki to the margins and miserable death to rehabilitate and revive his memory.

This is a challenge to rethink what black intellectuals do and the consequences of their decisions and choices.

There must be a way to remember and memorialize Bheki Mseleku in ways that will challenge the roots of the supremacist education system.

How Bheki will be remembered will have a direct and abiding connection with the future and fate of black artists.

You dont need an honorary doctorate from Wits or UCT to be acknowledged as an artistic or musical genius.

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