Nqobile is a young man raised in post-colonial Zimbabwe. Having been awarded a dream bursary to attend college in America, he thinks his success came as a result of his proximity to whiteness; something he's believed in since attending a majority white high school.
While on break, he witnesses a depressing incident at the border between Zimbabwe and South African that shatters his desire to maintain this proximity, as he now feels that blacks will always be inferior.
Back on campus, he searches for meaning through religion and by joining black consciousness groups. When both avenues fail dramatically, he soon discovers he will have to look within himself to find purpose.
In telling Nqobile’s story, which appears as a novella within his novel, author Mandhla Mgijima outlines a new consciousness paradigm of existence that will inspire people to move beyond the conceptual and materially obsessed world we currently live in.
Mandhla Mgijima, a native of Zimbabwe, attended an American college on a full track-and-field scholarship while majoring in economics. He nearly dropped out of college, however, when he realized that pursuit of material wealth would not provide him with the sense of purpose he longed for.
Although he kept plugging away at his studies up to graduate level, he spent more time reflecting on what the world’s wisdom traditions say about the true nature of the universe. His reflections have driven him to believe that humanity’s trajectory is singular, and as we face the same fate for our actions, we need to get together to shift the consciousness of the entire world.
Given the confusing times we live in, from hashtag revolutions across the world, to Brexit, to Donald Trump actually winning the election, we need to start thinking differently about our problems.
The world clearly wants a change, but it's still confused on what that change is.
I say a consciousness revolution is needed. Read more to understand what that is.
Nqobile – The Story of Becoming
“So, you’re a black man in 2016, a year that is intensifying racial debate sparked primarily by the #Blacklivesmatter campaign in the US—where you spent many years as a student—and the #Rhodesmustfall campaign here in South Africa. Yet you aren’t too optimistic of what could come out of either movement?”
“In isolation, no. I’m not. I think both campaigns are a natural response to issues that have been bubbling beneath the surface for a long time and eventually spilled over after unfortunate events. However, while these movements have been voluble and have brought about the necessary awareness of their concerns, essentially universal black concerns, to the public domain, I feel they come up well short in their diagnosis of the issues, and subsequently their solutions to achieving their aspirations.”
“By that, do you mean that these movements, some would call them revolutions, will not yield the desired results in changing the socioeconomic landscape for black people in these places?”
“Yes, exactly that. Not another revolution, please!”
“Hmmm, but isn’t a revolution precisely what’s needed though? I mean look at Africa. It is revolutions that brought about the independence of most African countries. The majority resorted to warfare and ubiquitous bloodshed to bring about the necessary change to enable us to realize our ambitions as fully sovereign nations with our destinies in our own hands. Look at America too. The Civil Rights Movement successfully ended racial segregation and overt discrimination against black Americans. Don’t you think revolutions or perhaps revolutionary movements are necessary in bringing down the status quo? I would think this would be obvious because there’s empirical evidence everywhere to support their outcomes.”
“Well, first, our destinies are only seemingly in our hands and I will qualify that just now. Second, we have to realize that there will always be a status quo, and it will work either for us or against us, whoever is at the helm. In colonial times or during slavery, the world was more black and white, literally. It was easier then to know what or whom we were fighting against. Now the so-called enemy isn’t that easily identifiable, marginally because of our comingling with liberal whites. The colonial imperialists have simply been replaced by a new black elite, stemming from liberation parties that were responsible for removing the white ruler from his skin-privileged perch. The status quo is therefore nothing more than a mechanical variation of what it previously fought against, and our destinies are only superficially in our own hands as they remain tied to the whims of the present situation. A revolution against the system, against the status quo, requires the physical toppling of the individuals who most embody the philosophy—or a major amendment of the laws—responsible for the present circumstances. Yes, historically revolutions have brought about change, so it is very logical to assume they are the best means to get results, but I challenge that notion. I see it as too simplistic, too shortsighted, and uninspired particularly in its linear rationale when considering the vastness of our true human condition that we seek to fulfil. The people running and following these specific movements, what is their transformational philosophy? What do they want? What exactly do they aspire to? A seat at the table?”
“I think a seat at the table, as recognized equals, would be a great start. We also want to have our cake and eat it too! Is there anything wrong with that? We are tired of watching someone else enjoying the fruits of our labor! Seriously, I’m no Dr. Khalid but how long have they plundered our lands, made us pay tax on the paltry wages we receive, and yet we can only scrounge for scraps around the table floor that bounce off their fat mouths. They have created their heavens on the whipped backs of our free labor and then they have the audacity to turn around and call us lazy and good for nothing?! It’s simple really, we need to change our circumstance. We should be dining at that table as well. We deserve more than scraps and petty donations from what they have stolen from us, as if they are doing us a favor. That’s how blacks will eventually overcome adversity, when we arrive at the table economically empowered as equals.”
“Well then, McDonalds has a black CEO. Is that the kind of seat we are talking about? Maybe we should be asking if that’s even the table we want to sit at, where wealth is created by products and production methods that knowingly endanger the people while destroying the environment at the same time, all for increased profit. Do we simply want an opportunity for our people of color to substitute the whites making those same kind of decisions? It seems that as we have become more obsessed with productivity, technology, profit, and creating shareholder wealth, we have forgotten the very basic aspects of our humanity through which we assume our pursuits are supposed to be improving. Yes, while it’s necessary to want to change our circumstance, we also need to transcend the idea that material concerns which cater to the body are of exclusive importance. Our problems might begin in the material, but our diagnosis should prod a little deeper into the very fabric of nature itself i.e. consciousness. So, it is consciousness, not circumstance, that we need to change. Will the people in these movements learn that their desired change can only be superficial, since their new philosophy, a mere revision of the current one, flows from the same basic assumptions of human nature that give foundation to their existential paradigm, essentially the same frames of mind responsible for their predicament? Hope and history within this paradigm are destined to be forever light years apart. The very same mentality or mental framework that placed them in bondage, they tacitly subscribe to by actively sending their children to schools that educate and mold their malleable minds in the form of past revolutionaries who epitomized the ideal, achievable within this particular paradigm. This frame of mind, the myopic desires of which necessitated the suppression of whole generations of different color slaves, now sustains the materially comfortable way of life they are so accustomed to or aspire to. And judging by their affinity for materialism, they clearly aren’t ready to let go of it. Our ancestors worked their entire lives to buy their freedom from the chains that held them in bondage. You see, we live in the age of the famous entertainer, not the famous philosopher. We have deified our entertainers to the extent that we associate with them by their philosophies, however shallow. Now, ironically, our most popular black entertainers spend their time showing the world their success by how many chains they own?! Black aspirations, it seems, have always been weighed down and grotesquely skewed by chains worn around our necks. Will the people in these movements ever realize that their revolution—an aspiration to a new ideal, albeit philosophically founded within the same existential paradigm—is a futile exercise? I mean winged chickens have a better chance of flying!”
“Winged chickens have a better chance of flying, I like that. And I think I hear some of what you are saying. So in your international best-selling book Nqobile, you do focus on a paradigm shift which you are talking about now; can you expound on it briefly. Is it really necessary?”
“Simple, the time for the closed fist held above a black or red beret, with maybe a weapon in the other hand, has long expired. While necessary in the past, it is no longer capable of continuing the evolutionary progression of our human species. Societal revolution is not, and has never been, enough, at least in terms of the kind that we have seen before. The entire cognitive framework upon which the social order is constructed, and within which children are conditioned and educated, needs a thorough re-examination first. Urgency and desire for broad change by some of the movements we see today, though well intended, must be vastly supplemented by diligent spiritual introspection at the local level: namely the individual, where all life is experienced. Evolution of our understanding of the true human condition must be as necessary in our daily living as breathing itself. All our efforts must be directed toward grasping the epistemological framework and paradigm that doesn’t center but aligns us harmonically with universal truth, laid bare only when we are brave enough to shake off our conditioning, and open enough to see and accept things as they truly are. So yes, a total paradigm shift is absolutely necessary.”
“Evolution? Explain that please because the one I’m thinking of is that theory which suggests a slow natural selection process whose results will be negligible within the individual’s lifetime, considering the billions of years it has taken to get to the life forms and understanding we have now.”
“Well, I’m sure you have seen how quick the technological evolution has been due to intentioned focus, getting to the moon within a few decades of flying. So I’m not talking about a passive process whereby we are naturally selected in our innate ability to adapt to volatile external processes, nor even the manner in which technology has significantly influenced our interaction with the environment. I’m talking about conscious evolution, as in internal, highly focused, and explored within a much broader paradigm anchored primarily in humanity’s compassion, above the considerations for narrow and exclusive egoistic desires; conscious evolution in a highly concerted effort to realize our potential and our unity with all living things, autonomous of the constrictions society currently places on our instinctive imaginations. Following Gandhi’s advice on turning the spotlight inward, we can expect tremendous human relations advances through adhering to this radically different approach by consciously focusing on the internal world. The Greeks had two words for time: Chronos, the linear passage of time, and Kairos, the appropriate right critical moment in time. Contrary to what some will have you think, we aren’t evolving inevitably toward some kind of utopian society. Rather than passively relying on changing circumstance and inevitability, we can, and we must, consciously grab the reins of our evolution by imagining the grandest vision we have of ourselves and focusing all our energy in determining how to achieve this vision. This is our Kairos moment!”
“Hmmm, your approach might be different but you definitely have fire in your belly about all this. I’ll let you expand on conscious evolution later, but before I forget, let me get this: when you mention being brave enough to shake off our conditioning, my guess is there’s a not so subtle insinuation that we are partially to blame for our role in the perpetuation of these paradigms you speak of.”
“Exactly. Yet not by any active desire, but more so by a passive lack of knowledge. One first has to become truly aware of the proverbial box before one can decide what to do about one’s position therein. Have you ever heard of Macaulayism or Lord Macaulay?”
“No, not really.”
“Lord Macaulay was a British politician who shaped the education system in India. In simple terms, his worldview was dualistic, divided into civilization and barbarism. Naturally, Britain represented the highest point of civilization and India was but another barbaric land whose entire collection of books in the Sanskrit language he deemed less valuable than the most trivial condensed book used at prep schools in England. Imagine that.”
“And yet we don’t realize the major role we play in perpetuating the lies that have divided us over the centuries because our systems of thought and paradigms have been created by people with similar sentiments to Lord Macaulay. The one thing I clearly remember him saying was, ‘We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons Indian in blood and color, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country…’ Doesn’t that sound so close and so familiar? You could virtually replace Macaulay and India from that statement with almost any colonial era politician and any one of our beloved countries, and it would hold haunting truths about what we have blindly turned into. We have been educated in these systems and subsequently developed ambitions valued by the very society that created this Eurocentric paradigm. This paradigm, through systematic education, was superficially superimposed over our traditional worldview. Vernacular languages now exist only as arrows to the precolonial world our ancestors lived in, as they too have become allegorically archaic, removed from the context of empiricism. For instance, we know what Ubuntu is, but now can only academically dissect its lifeless body of knowledge and wisdom, as we would a frog in a science lab, because we have failed to naturally implement its precepts in this new world that encourages self-aggrandizement as a measure of progression. It is no more than a feel good catchphrase. We call upon Ubuntu only when it favors our agenda, and not as a genuine fix when its solutions are likely to inconvenience us personally. How small our outlook has become! Whereas the whole would be immeasurably greater than the sum of its parts were they operating in full knowledge of true unison, instead, within this Eurocentric paradigm, the parts have been isolated, blinkered, and incentivized to maximize their own self-interest no matter the cost, under the assumption that this competitive behavior will enhance the whole. Yet where have we ever seen this work? The rich forever overpower the poor. The biggest douchebags are lauded for their material achievements and the youth then seek to emulate them as clear role models for what they deem to be success, celebrated by a shallow society that has attributed more value to accomplishments, however achieved, than to moral personhood.”
“True. I know more people would want to emulate a cut throat like Donald Trump than, say, a Gandhi like figure.”
“Yea, and what’s sadder is that we the educated are now the police of civilization against our own. Did you ever get crucified for butchering an English word in high school?”
“Oh gosh, at my school they were brutal, my fellow blacks worse than the whites. However, with social media don’t you think that’s changing a little? I mean, wasn’t Barnes the news anchor fired not too long ago for making fun of a black minister’s pronunciation? Someone on twitter noted that he couldn’t even pronounce her name. It therefore seems there’s new awareness and growing anger against such double standards. This is important because we are now beginning to value our own languages equally to those of whites. Black consciousness is slowly creeping back into the minds of this young generation and we are waking up or ‘getting woke’ as they say. At least that’s what I think with all these revolutionary demonstrations every other week.”
“Hmm, I don’t know if these public purges of white offenders caused by an emotionally volatile black twitter storm equates to the black consciousness that will emancipate us. The problem will neither be solved simply by vicarious perception, nor reactive anger. Reactive anger, though justified, is simply not enough. It can’t be the source energy causing the birth pangs of this new world we wish to live in. We know the destruction it will leave behind, as well as the irreparable damage it will cause to the relationships of the people involved. We need to diagnose this entire situation at the root lest our angers reach boiling point such that we can no longer coexist peacefully with white people, or any other race for that matter. It’s amazing how we can conceive of our problems and seek solutions in the same educational paradigm as they were intentionally created and yet expect to come up with real change. That will never happen. Heeding Einstein’s advice when he suggested that we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them, we must then change the context of the understanding of our problems by placing them in a broader scope that recognizes the true human condition. Failure to do so will only result in perpetual revolutions seeking to oust a previously installed status quo that has failed again to deliver the change it promised. Best believe that right now angry sentiment is brewing at dangerous levels, and we need to proactively take control of our power to create the world we want to live in, instead of reactively cleaning up the mess that results when this anger finally spills over, as it inevitably will.”
“I don’t know. I’m glad black people have found a voice of expression through social media. Despite what you say, people are finally starting to listen. That’s progress. I hear you though. There’s so much I want to ask you,” Lwazi said, then paused reflectively for a second. “I think I’m digesting a little too much too soon to fully understand and appreciate the breadth of your material,” she continued. “To summarize your book, through the journey of your main character Nqobile, you discuss identity, race relations between blacks and whites, tensions between black Africans and black Americans, and religion. Nqobile also experiences a spiritual transformation that inspires his ideas about a paradigm shift, a social consciousness singularity and a black social consciousness singularity. There’s certainly a lot to take in, so how about we start from the very beginning Sipho? Where did you get the name for the book, Nqobile?”
“Well, Miss Zulu…”
“Please call me Nolwazi, or just Lwazi. ‘Miss’ makes me feel old!”
“Fair enough, Lwazi. You know what Nqobile means right: victor. So it’s a story about the overcoming of ideas, limitations, and compounded societal lies that prevent us from truly understanding who we are and what we are capable of. The main character is one such victor, one who has overcome. While his story might be contextual in that his vantage point forces him to see the world from a primarily black perspective, his victory sees him arriving at the doorstep of humanity’s potential, the highest insights humanity is naturally capable of attaining regardless of race or background. So any person might read this and relate to the journey one normally undertakes through maximizing ideas suggested by their artificially separate identities, their skin color, their faith, but discover that the destination for all beings beyond these superficialities is singular. Also, I wanted people to have fun with the clicking sound for all the 500+ times they will have to read it in this book,” Sipho joked.