An epic journey of cultural economic geography, says Pali Lehohla on Dr Jerry Mofokeng's new memoir, ’I am a Man’
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IN Dr Jerry Mofokeng wa Makhetha’s book, I am a Man, released last month, he unveils some of the deep-seated and systemic dilemmas and paradoxes that the South African society faces.
The book is about how he always felt like an outsider in his family. At the age of 58 he discovers who his real father is. Suddenly his search for identity makes sense. He gives us a glimpse into his family life; his love for his wife and kids, as well as tracing the highlights and disappointments in his career.
Along the way he learns some very important lessons on manhood. This is a memoir, but also a challenge to South African men to live out their masculinity in a responsible way.
He has exposed his life so unreservedly and in gory details to transcend some of the paradoxes that bedevil us as a nation. In chapter seven he provides a well thought through slate of solutions.
Going through the book, I found myself lectured in substantive subjects of cultural biology, cultural economic geography and global citizenship. These messages are driven through its central actor, Ntate Jerry. He ruthlessly cuts through the paradoxes that the South African society faces by making himself the sacrificial lamb for cleansing the deepest of our secrets that often hold us back from moving forward.
Let me explain the three terms as lenses through which you can read the book. Cultural biology relates to how the act of reproduction, which is a biological act, relates to culture and social mores which sanctions legitimacy of a biological product – the child. This is mindful of the fact that in South Africa 60 percent of fathers claim to be married against 31 percent of mothers. The statistic itself is a major paradox.
But Mofokeng wa Makhetha navigates this paradox and makes it visible and explainable. Cultural economic geography is an articulation of place and what makes the place what it is and why it is that way.
On the question of global citizenship, he takes us through his 65 years of exploration from Setlakalleng in Butha Buthe in Lesotho, Soweto, and New York in the US.
The clarity of detail, absorption of culture and practice and place belie his age and the length of his sojourn in Lesotho which was a mere six years and left back for Soweto at the age of 10. The depth of the message that he retained all his life from his maternal uncle of Ngoana ke oa Likhomo (paternity is about lobola and not biology) sustained him for 58 years and paved his cultural transformation of being a Mofokeng to embedding him in his biological roots of Makhetha.
Hence Mofokeng oa Makhetha. This is an epic journey of cultural economic geography that many South Africans can benefit from.
In discussing cultural economic geography, I am reminded about my familiarity with the places in Butha Buthe. This invoked my own journey as a student at Butha Buthe High School. The clarity with which he discussed places like Khukhune, Hololo, Setlakalleng and the attendant cultural and economic activities are refreshing and I can relate to these practices of heading cattle and only surviving on two meals and the cold, dry and stonehard sorghum porridge.
The role of Khubelu, the red then South African Railways bus that took him back to Soweto six years later invokes emotions. The book looks back at Soweto of the three decades from the 1960s. He provides the layout of the houses around where he lived, the businesses and the men that brought him up. Scholars of cultural economic geography would find it useful.
He describes in detail how the Soweto economy functioned and this would be important to the township economy. His critique of numbers that were pasted on houses without street names is an important one and would inspire the student of geographic information systems and guide the evolution of navigation systems.
Finally, he provides us with rich detail of how he grounded himself in values of the men that brought him up in Setlakalleng and Soweto. Armed with that he explored the world and in his academic endeavour he went through Wits and then to Columbia University, where he qualified in performing arts.
Mofokeng wa Makhetha is an astute artist. He writes his book with heart-wrenching suspense. As you would imagine we are on happy landing, he starts with chapter 5 where he opens up his family details in ways that South Africans can relate. The world of drugs, teenage pregnancy and HIV/Aids.
In chapter 6 Mofokeng wa Makhetha provides us with hope. But this hope is etched in reality as he gives a blow-by-blow account on this. Chapter 7 looks at the road ahead and draws from his 65-year journey and affirms that he is a man of great faith.
I found the book as a fine endeavour in intellectual mastery and practice.
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and former head of StatsSA. Meet him @www.pie.org.za and @palilj01.
*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites.
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