Leave us alone

Breeze Yoko's mural highlights three African political icons: Steve Biko, Amilcar Cabral and Kwame Nkrumah.

Yoko working on Steve Biko's likeness for his mural.

The South African artist, Breeze Yoko, has generously allowed me to share these images of him completing this striking mural in the Swiss city, Basel. Yoko is presenting at the Focus 10: Contemporary African Art Fair. He is also one of 16 artists featured in the curated show “Artistic Visions”: A Snaphot of Contemporary African Art. The mural highlights three African political icons: Steve Biko, Amilcar Cabral and Kwame Nkrumah.

The choice of these three icons to convey his message of African selfdetermination makes sense. Nkrumah was the first prime minister of independent Ghana and is generally considered the “father” of post-independence black Africa. He is famous for his attempt to create “a United States of Africa,” to some extent manifested in the Organization of African Unity and later the African Union but without the necessary mechanisms to enable Africans to move freely between countries (rather than sometimes having to fly via a European capital), increase representation and influence of diasporas, or facilitate trade, among others.  Nkrumah was eventually removed and driven into exile, by force, as president of Ghana by a combination of factors (his own lack of hubris, a conspiracy from western powers and his own local enemies). Cabral, in turn, represents the generation of African leaders who led armed struggles (Nkrumah led a largely unarmed, mass struggle in Ghana), but also contributed to a theoretical understanding of how to take on imperialism and capitalism head on. He sadly did not see Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde gain independence and was murdered, in 1973, by a member of his own party who was compromised by Portuguese intelligence.  Cabral and Nkrumah both lived the end of their lives in Guinea-Conakry, though Nkrumah would die on a health visit to Rumania.

Yoko sizes up the empty canvas with a photograph of Amilcar Cabral.

As for Biko, he is from Yoko’s homeland, South Africa. Biko invigorated black South Africans’ struggle against white rule in the 1970s before he was murdered by apartheid police. With South Africans becoming disappointed by ANC rule (graft, non-delivery, white privilege remaining largely intact), Biko is making a comeback influencing parts of the ANC (ironically, the previous president of the country, Thabo Mbeki, who is usually associated with neoliberal reforms that deepened racial and class inequalities, was a fan and surrounded himself with advisors from the Black Consciousness Movement), to public intellectuals (the sociologist Xolela Mangcu) and political movements (the peripatetic Black First, Land First).

A pedestrian looks at the finished mural.

This is not the first time, Yoko, who is from Cape Town, has featured Biko in his work. In fact, his art practice is informed by Biko’s dictum to reclaim and forge new “schemes, forms and strategies” in politics and culture. His first solo work was titled, “Biko’s Children” (2007). It explores Biko’s legacy in postapartheid South Africa. That same year, 2007, it won the Audience Award at the Tricontinental Film Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa, and later won the Special Jury Award at the Sienna Film Festival, Italy as well as was nominated for the Blachèere Foundation Prize at the Dak’Aart Biennale, Senegal. Yoko is usually based in Johannesburg.

Further Reading

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Fatou Cissé’s directorial debut meditates on the uncertain fate and importance of Malian cinema amidst the growing dismissiveness towards the humanities across the world.

The meanings of Heath Streak

Zimbabwean cricketing legend Heath Streak’s career mirrors many of the unresolved tensions of race and class in Zimbabwe. Yet few white Zimbabwean sporting figures are able to stir interest and conversation across the nation’s many divides.


After winning Italy’s Serie A with Napoli, Victor Osimhen has cemented his claim to being Africa’s biggest footballing icon. But is the trend of individual stardom good for sports and politics?

The magic man

Chris Blackwell’s long-awaited autobiography shows him as a romantic rogue; a risk taker whose life compass has been an open mind and gift to hear and see slightly into the future.

How to think about colonialism

Contemporary approaches to the legacy of colonialism tend to narrowly emphasize political agency as the solution to Africa’s problems. But agency is configured through historically particular relations of which we are not sole authors.

More than just a flag

South Africa’s apartheid flag has been declared hate speech by a top court. But while courts are important and their judgments matter, racism is a long and internationally entrenched social phenomenon that cannot be undone via judicial processes.

Resistance is a continuous endeavor

For more than 75 years, Palestinians have organized for a liberated future. Today, as resistance against Israeli apartheid intensifies, unity and revolutionary optimism has become the main infrastructure of struggle.

Paradise forgotten

While there is much to mourn about the passing of legendary American singer and actor Harry Belafonte, we should hold a place for his bold statement-album against apartheid South Africa.