More than skokiaan ties us to SA

SKOKIAAN is so profoundly Afrikaans there can be no doubt that it originated with the language of the Afrikaner, who failed to create a country based on the separation of races.
Today, you will find skokiaan in Google: it is described as an illicit brew made from yeast, sugar and water.
We are also told that the word itself is derived from the Zulu, isikokeyana — “a small enclosure”, referring here to the practice of hiding illicit alcohol in the ground.
Yet what most of the civilised, sophisticated world would know about skokiaan is the title of a recording by Satchmo, Louis Armstrong.
It was probably his acknowledgement of the musical talent of the country then known as Southern Rhodesia, which he visited in 1961 and clearly fell in love with.
Skokiaan was originally recorded by the South African recording company, Gallo, by a Zimbabwean saxophonist, August Musarurwa, in the 1940s.
It is now featured in Gallo’s commemorative CD of their early recordings: they include hits from King Kong, the South African stage musical in which Miriam Makeba and the Manhattan Brothers celebrated the life and tragedy of the great South African heavyweight boxer, Ezekiel Dlamini.
Some of the music was done by the former Drum magazine columnist and jazz pianist, Todd Matshikiza, among other great musicians of that roaring era.
As was the case elsewhere in Africa, after The Scramble, Africans were barred from consuming alcohol the Europeans brought with them, including beer.
It was decided the consequences of this would be dangerous for white women. The drunken “natives” would rape them in drunken orgies.
“Seven days” — so-called because of the time it took to ferment — was introduced by the whites and was dispensed in huge beerhalls, built specifically for the Africans in their townships.
This brew was designed to induce relatively mild inebriation — not lethal enough to endanger the white women.
Skokiaan has been brewed and consumed in Zimbabwe since the Pioneer Column landed in the country in 1890.
Skokiaan is not what anybody in their right mind would call “a good drink”. It is dangerous.
Its effect on the body – let alone the brain – is devastating, if consumed in excess.
One visible consequence is the darkening of the skin. These blotches eventually peel off, leaving ugly scars, impossible to disguise.
Skokiaan could be described as one of the unhappiest historical elements of our association with South Africa.
The others must include the white settlers’ determination to introduce and perpetuate the “colour bar” in Southern Rhodesia.
If it hadn’t been for Providence, we might have ended up as a province of South Africa.
These are not the only events that link Zimbabwe to South Africa.
The so-called Pioneer Column invaded Zimbabwe from South Africa. Among the people looking after these white invaders were Africans who performed the menial tasks, such as feeding the oxen.
Some of their descendants remained in this country, distinguishing themselves in the liberation struggle.
Politically, Africans in South Africa provided the lessons which our nationalists used in their early agitation against settler domination.
The African National Congress of South Africa was formed in 1912. Eleven years later the British granted the white colonialists of Southern Rhodesia self-government status.
Next year the ANC celebrates its centenary.
Although it would not be until 1957 before the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress would be formed, the pioneer role of Albert Luthuli’s movement would not be forgotten.
Most of the liberation movements in the region would be formed on the same basis as the ANC of South Africa.
It is worth noting that the ANC was five years old when the October revolution toppled Czarist rule in Russia.
South Africa’s freedom from apartheid took longer than the struggles of the other nations from colonialism.
But its distinction remains Nelson Mandela. Even at 93, he remains a world event in his own right.
The matter is likely to be debated for long in Africa and elsewhere — why there are no more “Madibas” emerging on the continent.
For South Africa, the question is almost as relevant as the political and economic future of that country, the biggest economy on the continent.
Bill Saidi is a veteran journalist based in Harare

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