Bob Marley and the continuing struggle for global justice
I was in Standard 8 when one of my mother's brothers, William Ziwoya, or Godfrey Ziwoya, as he later insisted on being called, came to live with us at Police College, in Zomba. Uncle Godfrey, who was 7 years older than me, sadly died in 2000, aged 36. In his short life, he taught me two things, one of which has had a defining influence on my worldview. Uncle Godfrey loved reggae music, and considered Bob Marley to be the greatest musician of all time. He also loved Bruce Lee, and considered him to be the best martial artist of all time. His love for Bob Marley influenced me so much that I not only came to also see him as the most important musician of all time, I have actually come to adopt his pan africanist social justice agenda as my guiding worldview.
Today, May 11, 2006, marks 25 years since Bob Marley died. When I started secondary school and was able to utilize a book mailing service that the National Library of Malawi used to run, I read two thick volumes that were biographies of Bob Marley, Catch a Fire, by Tim White (1983), and Bob Marley: The Biography, by Stephen Davis (1985). I was 16 at the time, and thus began my social consciousness, sharing a strong feeling of inequality and injustice by powerful nations of the global North against smaller nations from the global South.
In my last year of secondary school at Police Secondary School in Zomba, in 1988-89, my friend Andrews Nchessie and I performed live on stage two of Marley's songs, Redemption Song, and War. From that day onwards everyone in the school began calling me Marley. I went on to possess as many of Bob Marley's albums and songs as were available, and have continued feeling their passion and power to this day.
As we commemorate his untimely death today, I find that Marley's words, adapted from Emperor Haile Selassie's 1963 speech to the UN, still resonate with truth, a quarter century later:
Until the philosophy which holds one race
Superior and another inferior
Is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned
Everywhere is war, me say war
That until there is no longer first class
And second class citizens of any nation
Until the colour of a man's skin
Is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes
Me say war
Today, Marley's music is not as widely listened to as it was when I was growing up. There has been no musician who has done what Bob Marley, a true pan-africanist, did for the world. A lot of young Malawians are growing up in a world where global injustices are still rampant, but the discourse has shifted. There are fewer musicians and artists who possess the intellectual depth and analytical insight of the historical and global root causes of world poverty and inequality. Instead, a triumphalist rhetoric that blames poor people for their suffering, and celebrates the mighty and powerful for their greed and wealth, results in shallow, superfluous understanding of the world's major problems.
One of the most important messages Marley gave the pan-african world were the words in Redemption Song:
"Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds"
Taken together with his urgent message for the end of racist philosophies that hold one race superior and another inferior, those of us who work with young people have our work cut out for us. And mentorship roles, like the type the late uncle Godfrey played with me, is an important part of that work.