Ordinarily, when an open letter, such as this, is sent to anyone it is often expected that it will be received and acknowledged. Sadly, the person I am sending this letter to will never give a reply to it. However, I must confess that I was inspired to write this letter on the strength of my belief in African mythology. You may have wondered and asked, “Are you no more a Christian?” Of course, I am. However, an Edo proverb says “Though the lion and the antelope happen to live in the same forest, the antelope still has time to grow up”.
African mythology has it that in its traditional religion that life does not end with death, but continues in another realm. In fact, the concepts of “life” and “death” are not mutually exclusive concepts, and there are no clear dividing lines between them. Human existence is a dynamic process involving the increase or decrease of “power” or “life force,” of “living” and “dying,” and there are different levels of life and death. Death does not alter or end the life or the personality of an individual, but only causes a change in its conditions. This is expressed in the concept of “ancestors,” people who have died but who continue to live in the minds of people in the community as they were often remembered for the good things they deed before their departure to the great beyond.
Against the foregoing, I am sending this letter, which is more or less like a progress report on the xenophobic fire that has literarily been raging inSouth Africa. I want to let the recipient of this letter whose identity had already been revealed in the title of this piece to know that the cause he stood for and the injustice and oppression he fought against in respect to apartheid has taken a deadlier dimension since he passed to the great beyond. In his life time, the fire in Soweto was stoked by the apartheid regime of Pieter Botha. On the other hand, since he departed from the earth, the fire has become wild and it has unarguably been stoked by Xenophobia which a school of thought says is a profound psychosomatic carryovers and the negative product of the apartheid regime.
Dear Evangelist Sonny Okosun:
It’s me, Isaac Asabor. We may not have met in the land of the living during your seemingly brief earthly sojourn. However, through your musical album “Fire in Soweto” I became one of your died-in-the-wool fans in my village in the 70s, somewhere in the southern part of Edo state. Upon my migration to Lagos in the early 80s, everything you did, even when you became an evangelist, caught my fancy and gave me every reason to emulate. I even tried my fingers on guitar but for the fact that I was a “bookworm”, and I could not share the limited time I had then with any past time. Fire in Soweto, as reported by the United Kingdom’s Guardian became an underground hit in southern Africa during the late 1970s. The paper added that “although EMI did not promote it, they sub-licensed it to the London-based Oti label, which established it as a pan-African bestseller”.
Permit me to say that the inspiration to write this letter to you was necessitated by the need to inform you that Soweto (which is invariably South Africa in this context) is presently being raged by fire that was literarily exacerbated by Xenophobia. I consider this letter to be befitting to you because of the role you played in ensuring that the Fire in Soweto was quenched. But alas! Since your exit, the fire has been rekindled again but in another form. To put in a figurative perspective, Soweto now burns with the flame of xenophobia, and no more that of apartheid. Since you departed from this world many words have been written and spoken in your honour, particularly for dedicating a greater part of your musical career to popularize liberation music well ahead of any African musician.
You were once in both New York Times and UK’s Independent Newspapers quoted to have said that “All my mates were singing love songs, I was trying to talk about what was happening to black people.”
I do not need to say much on the role you played throughout your lifetime in the fight against apartheid. But alas! Uncle sonny, I must confess that my heart bled and my eyes became misty when I saw your photo that portrayed you as very sick when was I searching for the background materials to write this letter to you. I was emotionally moved because it appeared your singular efforts toward the liberation of South Africans from the gulag of apartheid was not appreciated. The South Africans, no doubt, seem to be ungrateful as to the assistance rendered by you and the federal government toward their liberation from the gulag of apartheid. An African proverb says, “If pounded yam is not eaten because it was badly pounded, it can be eaten for the sake of the soup”. Interpretatively put, if South Africans have no reason to leave Nigerians in South Africa unharmed, can’t they see reason in the efforts you put in for them to be liberated from apartheid?”
As you read this letter they are maiming and killing Nigerians and other Africans in South Africa. The prevailing attack that inspired me to write you this letter is not the first. For instance, some few days after your departure from this wicked world in 2008, there were 135 separable violent incidents that left 62 people dead, and not less than 670 wounded. The media reported that dozens were carnally assaulted and many properties destroyed and looted. I wanted to withhold this letter until your death day as a way of thanking you for the unforgettable liberation struggle you fought throughout your successful music career. However, I could not wait as the fire in Soweto at the moment is seriously raging that the senate is considering expelling South African companies from Nigeria. I also learnt that the Leader of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has been mandated by the House to lead a delegation to South Africa over the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians.
I also need to inform you that as the senate is considering expelling South African companies from Nigeria. MTN, which I guess you may have subscribed to its telephone service before your exit, Shoprite, where I believe you may have done your shopping and DSTV which I am cocksure you may have equally patronised being an entertainment person all through in your life time have been fingered in the retaliatory move. Even as you read this letter close to 100 Nigerian youths have been deported from South Africa ostensibly as a result of a retaliatory attack Nigerians carried out in Abuja. However, to appreciate all your efforts in ensuring that South Africans were freed from apartheid, I would like to add the following two magic words: Thank you.
Thank you for your struggle against apartheid, even at the risk of being killed by the whites, who were invariably the perpetrators of the evil act, as you were at the same time travelling to Europe, America and all over the world. No one would have begrudged you the bitterness and resentment against apartheid as it was condemnably an act of injustice and inhumanity.
It is not an exaggeration to say that you deserve to be thanked for using liberation music which was unarguably focused on South Africa and the remaining holdout of white power on the African continent. Your 1977 song “Fire in Soweto” which I have repeatedly mentioned in this piece and also formed the title of this piece, was a blistering attack on apartheid, South Africa’s system of segregation. Though it was banned by the government, it nevertheless became a massive underground hit in black townships. Another musical hit which you released toward the battle against apartheid include, “Papa’s Land,” and a host of others that reflected the dire situation for blacks in South Africa. Once again, I say thank you.
However, be praying for Nigerians over there because there is still fire in Soweto.
Isaac Asabor, a Journalist, writes from Lagos.