Reflections

The dead legends’ society

A Steve Biko T-shirt going for about 200 Rand in South Africa

So I have a problem with making fashion out of dead legends. I am sure you have all seen bags and T –shirts bearing the images of greats like Steve Biko and Martin Luther King Jnr. I often cringe to think that these men, who fought for the emancipation of their people, now find themselves pasted onto brightly coloured garb, forming a part of popular culture.

Okay, so I think it’s important for young people to be conscious of the past, to be able to identify with the efforts of predecessors who have paved the way for a better today. But I am not so sure if a T-shirt will achieve this. What about a visit to a museum or a look through a history book?

Oh, but you will tell me that young people don’t have time for that, that between Face Book and their i-pods, there is simply no time for that. So how exactly does regalia ensure that these people are conscious of who these heroes are? I

tend to feel that all these artefacts are commercial gimmicks that ensure that ordinary people feed into the capitalist machine. In a world where everything and everyone famous is patented, it’s not hard to see how all these products largely serve the interests of a few. So we think its cool and conscious to buy something that says Kenyatta on it, or to cruise around wearing something emblazoned with Saartie Baartman’s derriere when all it usually is some company churning out mass-produced goods for the health of their pockets and not history.

I do agree that these products make young people more curious about the past, but it’s saying something if they are not made aware of history within the school setting, or at home.

I remember that when I was in high school – at a private school – we were never taught

And then some just wear their own regalia!

Zimbabwean liberation war history because our school believed it was time to bury the hatchet between blacks and whites, the two main race groups in our school. And so instead, we learnt about Chinese feudalism, the Egyptian pyramids, 18th Century England and everything else that took us away from the gory details of Rhodesian history. I believe that was the wrong way to go about things.

Imagine if German kids weren’t taught about Nazism. It’s an ugly horrible shameful past, but one that must be confronted and accepted. It is what happened, and this can never change.

And it still saddens me to think that many young people, like I once did, go to school in Zimbabwe and know zip about their own culture and history. Sadly, T-shirts, caps and bags aren’t the real solution to unlocking one’s history.

It is a far more intricate process of unravelling the hidden layers of self.

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6 thoughts on “The dead legends’ society

  1. Money isn’t evil but it can be used for evil purposes. Religion isn’t evil but it can be used to achieve wicked ends. The same goes for patented t-shirts; they are not bad but the motive behind their production may not be noble. In as much as I agree with you that self aggrandizement has a lot to do with these t-shirts, regalia and other such paraphernalia – I think it is a good way of remembering those people who made the world a better place or who attained some goal that we may aspire for or whose achievements we may wish to emulate. Popular culture exists because it fulfills a certain function in our society and by whatever means necessary may we ensure that luminaries such as Steve Biko are not forgotten.
    I have a problem with the Zimbabwean history that is taught in schools anyway…there are distortions, exaggerations, half-truths and glaring omissions…I am yet to read a history book on Zimbabwe that mentions the Gukurahundi genocide….so I am a bit skeptical when it comes to a ‘bookish’ approach to history, heritage and the roots of a people. Suffice to say, everyone has an ‘agenda’…one can argue that history books have nothing to do with preserving history but rather are there to distort past events, line the pockets of those who write them and eulogize the undeserving; immortalize tyrants and silence the dissenting voices of those who might know “the story behind the story”…. But I love how you always manage to wake my brain from its slumber…lol!!! Thought-provoking as always…

  2. And just what exactly is wrong with capitalism???!!! Aside from putting the food on tables of millions of people who didnt have the brains,the guts or were too “moralistic”(i just invented a word!) to go out and make money. Fungi your problem is not the t-shirt, your problem is that somebody else is making money off an idea that could have been yours if you’d thought of it first.

    The youths would not even know Steve biko were it not for the t-shirts. The first time I heard of Guevara Che is from a t-shirt won by a guy siting next to me in a kombi. And up to today I am still grateful to him for giving me an invaluable lesson on history.I may not know much more about Che but I certainly know more than if I had never seen that informative tshirt.

    Vive Capitalism!!
    Vive Commercialism!!
    Vive T-Shirt Lessons!!
    Vive Vive!!

  3. You ladies sure know how to analyse things!!! Thanks for the thought-provoking feedback. Just what I needed :)

  4. If some capitalist company is printing Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela, Che Guevara, etc T-shirts and making a lot of money from it, fine- with a provisor.

    If the Steve Biko Trust (and others respectively) are receiving royalties from the sales of such merchandise then most bho. If not, then it’s not just capitalism, but exploitation of a brand much like me starting to make cars tomorrow and calling them BMWs. Not cool.

  5. I feel for some of the articles such as this one, you need to start interviewing key elements of your story, e.g. people who make these T-shirts, young people who own the T-shirts, ‘ex[erts’ in consumerism among young people – I dont know – something to balance out your conclusions on some matters. i know essentially this is your blog, your thoughts, your convictions, but I think it would be good with some articles to weigh your convictions against conflicting or even mutual worldviews.

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