The Big Debate recently asked if artists had “sold out”. It was a fascinating episode that explored whether artists have a duty to effect positive change through their respective arts or whether their duty is only to entertain. It’s a question that can be put out to all. How am I using my position and/or what am I doing to effect positive change, to stand in alliance with the poor and marginalised?
The opinion space holds such a struggle too. Do I write merely for the sake of entertaining or do I create some kind of positive change? Is there a duty to amplify the issues of ordinary people, which often go ignored? And in a country (and world) in which so many voices go unheard should I be creating a space for alternative voices.
Over the past few months I’ve had to interrogate just how much my opinion is privileged over others. The difference between me and many of my peers is that I am able to communicate in English, making me somewhat of a “better black” and thus “more deserving” of a larger platform from which to share my views. The problem with this is that my opinion somehow becomes representative of the opinions of others, which is misguided because even from the same place/space experiences differ and no single viewpoint can relay the entire story. As such it is important to guard one’s own voice, that it does not usurp the voices of others or force them to retreat and accept being unheard.
South African society is in a struggle, a struggle for political and economic power, which currently lies with the few. The struggle is evidenced daily. Communities go without the most basic of services and many are ruthlessly exploited at work. The struggle can be seen in the haunted eyes of the many brutalised by police for dissenting against a system that ensures a better life for some. And this same struggle can be seen on the faces of children who walk barefoot and are barely dressed despite the cold. Everywhere one goes the struggle is evident — to not see it is to not want to see it. It is within this context that the value of the opinion space can be appreciated. A revolt from the system is necessary but the revolt can come in many forms — including using the opinion space as a means to exchange ideas, amplify unheard voices/stories and to start debate on the many pressing issues South Africa faces.
We need to make the space less elitist. It should become a space accessible to all. Information dissemination is very important in any social struggle and the opinion space is a platform from which one can do this. Until this happens those of us able to access the opinion space have tough questions to ask about how we use it.