“I ask myself: Did we win our freedom for this?”
– Credo Mutwa [21 July 1912 – 25 March 2020]
This harrowing plea, echoed in the halls of Parliament in 2019, were the sage words of Credo Vusamazulu Mutwa: prophet, wisdom keeper, African cosmologist, freedom fighter and sacred Earth warrior. His love for nature was only surpassed by his service to humanity.
Finally, the weary bones of Africa’s Ancient Lion, “Keeper of the Ancient Records”, were laid to rest. Part Zulu and part first-nation Khoisan, Credo Mutwa died on 25 March 2020, his 99th birthday pending.
With the world in lockdown, there was no fanfare at his simple pre-dawn burial on 4 April 2020. Though the crowds may not have been present, indigenous leaders around the globe were united in deep ceremonial prayers of thanksgiving for his contribution to this unprecedented turning point in humankind’s evolutionary history.
In the three decades I was privileged enough to know Baba Mutwa, presidents, international celebrities and royalty, among other key influencers, trekked across the globe to meet with this humble man, including former US President Bill Clinton (who still holds his walking stick), and Princess Diana who reached out to him two months before her tragic death in a Paris car crash.
As a spiritual warrior, his initiations into LionHearted priesthood were more challenging than even the most gruelling special forces training. They included being left out in the wilderness and buried up to his neck in the earth, for nights at a time. Defenceless, hyenas and lions sniffed his face and he needed to transform his fear of nature into the deepest love and respect in order to survive.
Yet, Mutwa largely remains a prophet without honour in his own country.
While a traditional healer, he was more than a sangoma or nyanga. Africa’s living library was the highest-ranking sanusi, custodian of the ancient records (umlando) and bearer of the continent’s history, through a long lineage of oral tradition of high priesthood. It required supreme LionHearted courage to break the blood-oath which bound him to secrecy – the so-called “Code of Silence” – and hand over his knowledge to the world. This he did because he knew this ancient wisdom was vitally important for humanity’s survival.
Although many could not understand the level of wisdom he offered to South Africa’s liberation struggle, he was critical to the cause and remained part of the struggle to the bitter end, recognising that the greatest battle facing humanity in our day is the battle for the Earth.
His most urgent imperative was that governing bodies take responsibility for protecting our planet, recognising that human health is entirely dependent on planetary health – accordingly, his primary lamentation was that governing bodies were failing to do so.
Unshackled from his physical burdens at last, his great spirit is finally free, having carried the karma on his shoulders for almost a century, not only for Africa, but for humankind.
The question remains: why would Africa’s greatest ancestral wisdom keeper depart at this time when our planet is in most desperate need of his sage wisdom?
True to his name, meaning the “heavenly word or decree”, Mutwa spoke truth to power.
And indeed on 5 February 2019, I had the honour of delivering his deeply moving words before Parliament in the old national assembly building: “Did we win our freedom for this?”
These words echoed in the halls of power, as part of a greater plea for Africa, calling upon the South African government to protect our wildlife as a sacred heritage for future generations, rather than grossly exploit it for short-term greed.
Today, his message is more relevant than ever.
With the world in institutionalised lockdown, it hasn’t escaped the notice of international conservationists that the human species has been forced into confinement, alongside all the other non-human animal species forcibly incarcerated in our zoos, circuses and factory farms around the planet. Numerous conspiracy theories and hysterical fake news articles are speculating on why and how Covid-19 occurred, however the most solidly researched evidence traces the origins of Covid-19 to human trade of pangolin (Pholidota) in the unhygienic wet markets of Asia.
If we seek to emerge from the dismal aftermath of the current crisis, wiser, stronger and more capable of preventing the very same lesson from reoccurring, these authoritative findings are highly relevant.
Gentle, harmless and loving by nature, these exquisite jurassic creatures are among our planet’s oldest inhabitants, yet one of its most endangered species. Today, at this very moment, in our own lifetime, they are at acute risk of extinction, due to unregulated human consumption and gross ignorance. Like many other rare wildlife creatures, they have been poached, transported and traded – authorities have either supported this practice or merely turned a blind eye.
It is true to say that Covid-19 has achieved in two months what international conservationists and animal welfare activists have been trying to achieve for years: shutting down China’s deplorable live food markets, where Africa’s pangolin, rhino, bats and – wait for it – lions are sold – alive or as parts, and eaten.
Indeed, South Africa’s diabolical lion bone trade (which was gearing up to export 1,500 lion carcasses annually to these food markets), is being dragged under the spotlight yet again, as well it should be.
If we value our health and survival, this uncurbed abuse of wildlife, and nature in general, cannot be halted as a mere temporary measure. Prohibitions of these malpractices have to become the new normal – the status quo.
For years prior to the breakout of Covid-19, leading conservationists, myself included, were joined by medical and veterinary experts, warning the South African government that the mass farming of lions in captivity, and consumption of their body parts in Asian wildlife markets, created the conditions for a global pandemic.
Mutwa was a visionary, but we ourselves don’t have to be prophets to recognise that consuming apex predators breaks the most fundamental codes of nature – and zoonosis (diseases which jump the species barrier), is an inevitable consequence. Every pandemic in recent times, whether SARS, Aids, Avian Flu or Ebola has been traced back to the abuse and consumption of rare wild animals, whose true ecological purpose is not for human consumption, but to play a vitally important role in the restoration of our planet’s health. This is particularly true of panthera leo.
Until humans recognise that our health is directly linked to the health of our planet, we will have learned nothing substantive from the weeks and months of shut-down.
On Human Rights Day, three days before South Africa’s enforced restrictions, the warnings of leading international environmentalists were once again repeated to our government, addressed directly to Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy, whose defined and appointed role is to serve the health and wellbeing of our natural environment.
Their message was universal: If South Africa does not prohibit its rampant, unregulated, unethical captive lion breeding and killing industry, we face the threat of another global pandemic originating from within our own borders.
In the light of our current crisis, with our entire species facing the unprecedented crisis due to misuse of our planetary resources and governments’ panicked interventions, Creecy’s enfeebled responses to the appeal of these international experts is grossly unacceptable. South Africans should be demanding her immediate resignation. Yet, Mutwa would have gone further. He would have called her failure to deliver on her mandate for the environment a crime against humanity – “choosing to do nothing in the face of monstrous evil”.
It is all the more poignant when we note that Mutwa’s plea was first taken to the South African Parliament in 2008, more than a decade ago, when the Global White Lion Protection Trust convened a delegation calling for South Africa’s rare white lions of UNESCO’s Kruger-to-Canyon Biosphere to be protected as a global heritage. Following our presentation, it was duly gazetted that South Africa’s white lions would be protected by national legislation.
Instead, these conservation rarities have been mercilessly exploited as “canned commodities”, in the now notorious pet-and-kill industry, which is set to go down on record as one of the most disreputable wildlife travesties in humankind’s history.
Events today are history in the making.
In 2019, in the lead-up to the current crisis, the Global White Lion Protection Trust joined a delegation of international conservationists once again, to make a plea for South Africa’s wildlife. We were accompanied by representation and stakeholders from nine different South African tribal groupings, as well as presentations from international indigenous leaders and climate crisis activists.
Once again, I had the honour of reading out Mutwa’s urgent words, calling for the protection of our country’s critically rare white lions. For this is indeed the context in which his words were first pronounced:
“People come to my Motherland, people come to South Africa, to brutally murder the White Lions of Timbavati in the name of manliness and in the name of sport … And I ask myself: Did we win our freedom for this?”
Numerous international indigenous leaders and climate activists have identified the white lions and other snow-white animals from other continents, as “climate indicator species”. Their position is supported by scientific efforts in Canada, and here in South Africa led by the Global White Lion Protection Trust, which has led to a resolution being passed at the World Wilderness Congress, demanding that our governing bodies and all appropriate parties have the white lions and other climate indicator species protected by international legislation.
All conservation issues today are global issues. If Brazil loses its rain forests, Earth has lost her lungs. If South Africa loses its white lions, humanity has lost its heart.
Yet today, after years of unfailing effort to represent the king of animals’ rights in Parliament, there is still no legislation protecting South Africa’s critically rare white lions.
Given this lamentable state of affairs, we have to ask: Why would our greatest ancestral wisdom keeper depart at this time when we are in desperate need of his sage wisdom?
This great lion of Africa survived the brutality of apartheid, indescribable persecutions and assassination attempts, as well as, poignantly, his own attempts to take his life during the days leading up to 9/11. His desperation over humanity’s thirst for war is evident in his prophetic artwork, completed shortly before 9/11, depicting an aircraft heading for a tower. He knew all too well that peace would be achieved only when we, as humanity, united our focus on restoring planetary health and thereby making our “peace with nature”.
So why depart now?
His own freedom from physical burdens coincided exactly with South Africa’s incarceration.
That, too, seems meaningful.
For us to understand what is at stake, it is important to provide the greater context of Mutwa’s harrowing “Plea for Africa”. It is part of an overarching ecological message, in which this great lion heart spares no words identifying the sacrilege associated with killing the sacred white lions, whom he understood to be the most noble and luminous of nature’s creatures:
“A voice rises from the parched valleys of my ancient Motherland, a lonely voice above the hills of eternal Africa, an appeal to those who do not care, to those who have no ears. A Plea to those who choose to be nothing in the face of monstrous evil:
Leave the lions of Timbavati alone. Do not destroy the Sacred Lions of the Gods of Africa.
…People come to my Motherland, people come to South Africa, to brutally murder the White Lions of Timbavati in the name of manliness and in the name of sport.
And I ask myself: Did we win our freedom for this?
This quiet devastation of our country’s most sacred animals?
Did we, by joining the ranks of the democratic countries of the world, also join those people who see it as their task to denude this planet of all life?
…In the past two hundred years or so, the human race has lost much which is of importance in Africa.
And it continues to lose much. But what is most terrible, what is most tragic, is that it does not realise what it has lost.
One day, in the dark valleys of the future, people will try to turn back …”
Plunged into global panic, with an international economic crash looming and other unimaginably dire consequences emerging from the current crisis, it would seem that those prophesied dark days have indeed arrived.
And, yet, have they?
I would argue the reverse. Is this present moment not offering us the greatest opportunity for a radical quantum shift in our global consciousness as a species?
When we release the fear-mongering and face the truth, isn’t there an opportunity of the grandest scale presenting itself?
Could this not be a graciously beneficent invitation from mother nature herself?
If we emerge from this initiation with one clear action plan – to take all measures possible to restore our planet’s health and wellbeing, and thereby regain our own health and wellbeing – we have our answer.
So, why would Africa’s greatest lion man pass now?
Could it be at this very moment that we, South Africans and humankind in general, are being invited to step up and take responsibility for the circumstances in which we find ourselves, globally?
Could it be that we have finally come of age?
Before Covid-19, most of us led lives we considered too “busy” to ask the important questions. Now in this truly bizarre global hush of foreboding, with our schools and businesses shut down until further notice, and global transport at a virtual standstill, we are being encouraged to take the deepest of breaths and ask the most basic, meaningful and obvious questions about our purpose, our survival, and, most fundamentally, our role as stewards of our planet.
And, with the weight of Earth’s carbon load radically lifted (China’s carbon emissions alone fell by 25% over the first four-week period), mother Earth herself is able to breathe with us, once again. So, too, without the human onslaught on our sensitised wild places, all Earth’s animals can breathe easy, for the first time in a long time.
What is at stake is life itself. This great sage understood that life is not a right, but a gift from the creator. His monumental legacy is founded on this core message: Our health and wellbeing is entirely dependent on the health and wellbeing of our beloved planet, which indeed is an inheritance received not from our forefathers, but borrowed – or stolen – from our children.
If our governing authorities are genuinely concerned with our health and wellbeing, they would be prioritising the health and wellbeing of our natural environment: our ecosystems, animals, plants, fresh water and fresh air.
Our role as emerging LionHearted citizens is to hold them accountable.
Emerging from the great Covid-19 lesson (the “Coronation,” as Charles Eisenstein now terms it), as our citizens start to radiate true service-based leadership qualities, we will come not only to recognise Mutwa’s wisdom, but to act upon it.
As an emergent rainbow nation, we still have much to learn from the baton and flame handed over to us by that other great lion of Africa, Nelson Mandela. Now that Mutwa returns to join him in the heavens, our time has come to take responsibility for our future on Earth. DM
**Credo Mutwa’s Plea for Africa can be read in full here. It was first published, with his permission, as the foreword to Linda Tucker’s book, Mystery of the White Lions, in 2001.
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