The realisation hit me around one o’clock in the morning, as we were jiving to the crazy guitar notes of a hastily assembled jam outfit called “The Albert Frost Trio” in the packed auditorium of the so-called “Club Al Capone” at the KKNK festival last Thursday night.
I had accompanied my friend Theresho to the dancefloor after trying to persuade my wife to get up and boogie. After all, how can one listen to Albert Frost and not boogie? Theresho, who was there with his white girlfriend, had no luck either trying to persuade his partner to accompany him to the dancefloor. So that was how I ended up dancing with a black man in Oudtshoorn.
Had this incident happened a decade or longer ago, I might have drawn enough attention to myself to make KKNK festival history, thereby eclipsing the Wynand Windpomp rape allegation scandal and the Drunken Dozi Incident as topics of gossip and discussion.
It’s tempting to conclude this segment of worthless information with a platitude such as “Hey, we’ve come a long way since 1995”, if only it were true. But that was not the realisation that hit me right then. Right then, I was staring at Albert’s fingers as they dazzled their merry way across his guitar, and my thoughts went back, way back to the time when Albert was still a schoolboy who my wife and I had asked to stay in our house in Gordon’s Bay to look after our dog while we went on holiday. It proved to be a disastrous decision — Albert not only lost our dog, but managed to run up a gigantic electricity bill after spending the whole week jamming with his entire band, plus sound equipment, in our lounge — but the point is, those were the merry and uncomplicated days before the local music revolution we had instigated with the Voëlvry tour had become truly mainstream.
After the neighbours had brought back our dog — it had fled to their house to get away from the noise — I forgave Albert, and allowed him to play in my rock band, “Die Warmblankes”. Next thing I knew, though, he had teamed up with Arno Carstens and they were playing with the Stones in Barcelona. Yes, the Rolling Stones! They actually met all four of the geriatric rockers backstage. And all because someone who knew the Stones spotted them performing at The Isle of Wight festival the week before and had told Mick Jagger about them!
Now, as it is, my rock ‘n roll days are over, and though I’m not much younger than the Stones, I no longer have any ambition about making a breakthrough into the international music market. (As if the world would sit up and notice at the sound of songs like Kytie or Lente in die Boland!) But I remember being mighty proud that a member of “Die Warmblankes” ended up playing with the Stones. I had no idea where or what the Isle of Wight was, but to me the sound of that name acquired a magical ring; obviously, it was the place to go for young South African musicians if they wanted to break into the international scene.
Alas! Instead of queuing up to go and play at The Mythical Isle of Wight, young local musicians, especially young Afrikaans musicians — also those who are not so young — seem to be eternally stuck on a metaphorical Isle of Whiteness.
I cannot begin to express how depressed I felt when I read that my old friend Steve Hofmeyr had written, in a letter to Julius Malema, that there were only six black intellectuals on the continent of Africa. Okay, sure, that wasn’t exactly what he said, but he sort of suggested it, even though the precise number of African intellectuals in existence had absolutely nothing to do with Julius Malema, who is certainly not an intellectual and wouldn’t recognise one if he saw one, even if it turned out to be Steve.
I thought, at that moment, that Steve had committed career suicide, yet he survived; the only journalist sufficiently aghast at this statement was the editor of Mail & Guardian online, Chris Roper. The Afrikaans papers all mentioned Steve’s letter to Malema, but failed to call attention to Steve’s dreadful faux pas.
And then I heard about the Dozi thing. I must admit I felt a bit sorry for Dozi when I read about him getting drunk in a restaurant in Oudtshoorn and shooting his mouth off about Julius Malema, offending all the other people in the restaurant by using the “K word” liberally. But the next day, Dozi sobered up and made everything infinitely worse by not apologizing for his behaviour, and by saying (to a journalist from Die Burger): “I was only saying what all of us feel”.
Is that really what we all feel like? That blacks are inferior? What kind of reasoning is this? Just because the ANC has failed us in so many respects, just because someone like Julius Malema has managed to grab the headlines with his crazy talk, are we to make the assumption that all blacks are stupid and that we should return to old-style apartheid?
I am reminded of the words of Steve Biko:
“Blacks have had enough experience as objects of racism not to wish to turn the tables. While it may be relevant now to talk about black in relation to white, we must not make this our preoccupation, for it can be a negative exercise.”
Biko realised this decades ago. Dozi, who can speak Zulu fluently, who has recorded some of the best Zulu music I’d ever heard, has still not realised it, and has now decided to turn back the clock in favour of Steve-speak. In fact, the two have been openly encouraging each other in the media since then.
These have been a politically explosive two weeks, admittedly, and it’s true that the murder of Eugéne Terre’Blanche, right after the “kill the boer” debacle, could not have happened at a worse time (not that there would ever have been a “good” time for such a heinous murder to take place).
Thankfully, not everyone got caught up in the crazy rush towards ethnic polarisation. This is what I read in a Thought Leader blog barely two days ago:
“Eugéne Terre’Blanche did not deserve to be murdered. He did not deserve to die the way he did … the first and most important thing for all of us to do at this time is to extend our deepest condolences to the immediate and extended family of Terre’Blanche — and that includes the AWB.”
These words were not uttered by a white supremacist, but by someone called Tinyiko Sam Maluleke. I have yet to read such an impassioned statement of empathy by a white author toward, say, the families of the victims of the Skielik massacre.
The increasingly blatant flirtations with racism of erstwhile friends and colleagues like Steve and Dozi is not the only thing that bothers me about the local music scene. What we had set out to do when we launched Voëlvry — to create a multicultural platform which included Afrikaans — we failed to do. Up to the Houtstok festival we had tried, and tried very hard to engage black music acts, to perform to black audiences, with only limited success. Then came Houtstok, and the whole emphasis of the movement changed overnight. Instead of working towards a new political alignment, everyone was suddenly trying to “act” like “hippies” from the “Sixties”. It became a white suburban jol, “decadence” was cool, and the one thing which we had struggled to control and deal with on a personal level — drugs — suddenly became a fashion statement.
Houtstok was the end of the Voëlvry dream, not the beginning, as most cultural historians seem to think.
What Sandile Memela wrote in another recent Thought Leader blog about the ANCYL would have been equally applicable to the young white Afrikaans rock rebels of fifteen years ago:
“What the youth leadership of this country needs to understand is that they cannot afford to settle for quick-fix solutions.”
There is a Houtstok again now, so I heard, somewhere outside Malmesbury. A vast number of entertainers from mostly the Afrikaans music industry have been invited, almost all of them white.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong, per se, with being white, or with inviting whites to a festival. But one would have hoped for the organisers of a festival named after the 1969 Woodstock happening in America — whether the first Houtstok festival years ago, or this new one — to at least give a subtle nod in the direction of non-racialism, equality, and shared humanity. But that, presumably, is a quantum leap in free association which had simply not occurred to those guys.
I had always thought that, deep down, most South Africans instinctively agree that these words by Xolela Mangcu in his book To the Brink — the State of Democracy in South Africa encapsulates a basic and universal truth about South African politics:
“I have argued in many of my writings that the ANC needs to rediscover non-racialism as its language of life. Even though I have not always been a great supporter of non-racialism as a strategy for struggle, I never had any doubt that the ultimate aim of our struggle was the creation of a non-racial democracy.”
Of course, I am not implying that, of all Afrikaans musicians, the founding fathers of the Voëlvry tour were the only ones who were politically correct. We were awfully naïve and sincere, sure, but we had precious little leadership abilities then, and we still have precious little leadership abilities now. I simply cannot imagine the likes of myself, Piet Pers, Lee Edwards or Dagga-Dirk Uys being offered cabinet posts by the ANC and making a success of it (not that the ANC would care either way). Apart from the fact that most of us have no organisational skills, and besides the sad fact that most of us now hate each others’ guts, we will always be tainted by our decadent past. Even if I were to become an elder in the Dutch Reformed Church or start singing gospel songs at Angus Buchan’s Mighty Men get-togethers, I will always have fans out there who believe that I start every day with a joint, a glass of Tassies, and a few spoons of cough mixture.
Bill Clinton might have gotten away by saying “I did not inhale”, but who would believe us? We were vrot, all of us, rotten to the core with angst, bad habits and untreated dysfunctionality. The voters would never vote for us if we tried to start a political party now. A statement like “I did not inhale”, such as the excuse offered by Clinton, would sound as lame as Monica Lewinsky saying “I did not swallow”. (She did not actually say that, but we know it to be true, for if she had swallowed, all that stuff would not have landed on her dress as forensic evidence.)
On the other hand, it is unfortunately true that by now, in this year of our Lord 2010, our young democracy has had so many crises that we are all tainted, to some extent, with failure and mediocrity. Hell, if one can’t even trust Mr and Mrs Vavi, who can we trust? How can we still call ourselves the rainbow nation if the editor of The Sowetan felt the need to write something like the following in his editorial of March 30? (I quote:)
“South Africa’s politicians, especially those of the ANC, are openly at each others’ throats over positions and tenders. This worries foreign investors and the citizenry who see comrades ripping each other to shreds.”
Back in 2007, Justice Malala phrased the dilemma even more fluently in his Sunday Times column when he wrote:
“The question has to be asked: is this the South Africa of Nelson Mandela and Albert Luthuli? Did the heroes of June 1976 and the 80s lose out in schooling and normal lives to be in a country where journalists are prosecuted as happened under apartheid?”
Yes, indeed, Julius Malema is by no means the first black politician to threaten journalists; the editor of the Sunday Times and one of his colleagues were threatened with arrest under the reign of Thabo Mbeki for exposing our beloved (now deceased) garlic-and-beetroot-driven ex-minister of health, Tannie Murderous Manto, as a “drunk and a thief”.
Mondli Makhanya was still editor then. It was the same guy who, during that same year, said this in a newspaper column:
“The ANC must wake up to the fact that its responsibility goes beyond its paid-up membership and its own self-preservation.”
You may ask yourselves at this point, who am I attacking in this blog entry, Afrikaans musicians or the ANC? Whose side am I on, actually? Well, neither. In the first place, I’m not attacking Afrikaans musicians for making kak music (I have done that often enough in the past, and my criticism had no effect whatsoever, so I took a vow earlier this year never to go down that route ever again, with the possible exception of Die Antwoord). I am attacking them for setting a sloppy example to their fans by publicly indulging in racist slurs which, in the end, strengthen the hand of those members of the ANC who wish to polarise South Africans among racial lines so as to cover up the real issue: ineffective and corrupt government, self-enrichment and lack of service delivery.
Please stop confusing the issues, Steve. By stirring the fires of inter-tribal hostility, you may be aiding your career in the short term, but you are doing it at the cost of alienating thousands of people outside the Afrikaner tribe who would have been potentially sympathetic to your cause. At some point during the KKNK festival, I found myself dining out with Theresho and some other friends in a charming little place called The Swiss Bistro, when someone at our table remarked: “Did you realise that it was in this very same restaurant last week that Dozi got drunk and started throwing the K word around?”
No. I had not realised it. But as I reflected on it, it seemed a fitting epitaph for that sorry incident for us to be eating out, as a multiracial group of colleagues, in exactly the same place where Dozi had finally lost the plot.
I know, I know, none of us are perfect. I have been guilty of subtle forms of racism myself on some occasions, and I know very few people, black or white, who do not, from time to time, have harboured some mild form of ethnic paranoia. It goes with the territory. After all, we are living in a country which is trying to recover from a 40-year bout of collective insanity.
But that is no reason to condone a shameful lapse into pro-apartheid thinking by people as prominent and talented as Steve Hofmeyr and Dozi.
Allow me to end this blog entry with a quote from a personal email sent to me by an ex-comrade in the States, someone who had been jailed by the Nats and who fought Koevoet in the Angolan bush war:
“I think my head would explode if I were to come back home. What I read and hear over the internet makes me so mad that I think I would end up being chased by the blue-light cars. I cannot believe the thuggery and pilferage all in the name of the masses and politics.”
I would have liked to quote many more clever blacks, of course, but I think seven is enough (at least it is one more than Steve’s estimate). Up to this point I have not made any mention of intellectual giants such as Desmond Tutu, Sipho Seepe, Prince Mashala, or Sipho Hlongwane, and countless others. Unfortunately, I am running out of space. Not writing space on Thought Leader, but space inside Steve’s head.