The Cultural Weapon
Mike van Graan
Today I have decided to throw all my parking tickets into the Atlantic Ocean, this in protest against the local traffic authorities who do nothing to police the four-way stop sign near my home so that every Merc, Golf and Nissan continue to terrorise my ageing Polo! (It won’t make any difference to the policing of the four-way stop sign, but I will feel good! Oh, and it will give me something to tweet about).
Okay, so it’s not R5000 worth of tickets like those Steve Hofmeyr threw into the Jukskei River on Sunday in protest against Bono saying that it was fine to sing “Kill the Boer” but just not in public (that’s sing, not kill). Now, Cape Town papers are reporting on one Shiloh Noone – a Fine Music Radio DJ – who has followed Steve’s example and dumped his R2000 worth of Bono tickets into the Black River.
One can argue about whether this was a deliberately racist act, throwing his tickets into the Black River (why not the Liesbeeck River?), but there will be many asking whether these principled gentlemen threw their tickets for PW Botha’s masterly “I did it my way” concert into the Rubicon during the states of emergency in the eighties?
Yesterday, Zapiro had a cartoon with Bono asking “Steve who?” and others would mischievously insert a hyphen into Shiloh Noone’s surname to question their credentials in making these symbolic acts of defiance against Bono, the new Irish Devil. (Apparently, if you play U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday backwards, it says, well, Sunday Bloody Sunday). But Hofmeyr and No-one are not alone; there are more than 2000 Facebook Friends who have joined the F.U2 band.
After Tunisia and Egypt, we know the power of Facebook, so Bono should be concerned that his 98 000 fans at the stadium (minus one or two now), don’t turn out to be 98 000 protestors against his interference in our domestic, cultural and agricultural affairs. (Facebook had a political impact just yesterday in Rwanda too when a Valentine’s Day posting of the minister responsible for arts, culture and sport showed him in a compromising position with five young women, resulting in him being fired, much to the joy of the local arts community).
Of course, Bono is entitled to his opinions. And Steve and Shiloh and anyone else are entitled to waste thousands of rand in protest against such opinions. (And, one has to give them credit for dumping their tickets. With the demand for tickets for U2’s 360 degree tour, they could so easily have auctioned theirs on Gumtree or e-Bay, and used the profits for Steve’s upcoming 180 degree, Sinner to Saint, tour!).
That’s what some celebrities do. They use their celebrity to bring attention to some social or political cause. Bono talks to world leaders about poverty and raises funds for people living with HIV/AIDs. George Clooney focuses world attention on the plight and rights of Southern Sudan. Angelina and Brad adopt all the orphans of the world. Kenneth Kunene (what do you mean, who?) promotes healthy eating in Africa by shifting the focus from braaied meat to sushi. There are others who use some social issue to bring them wannabe celebrity, or to shore up their waning celebrity but basically, it’s not a bad thing when those who have achieved some public stature within the arts and entertainment world use their celebrity in support of a particular cause.
Love him or hate him, like his music or not, believe him to be a racist or only unfortunately giving that impression, Steve Hofmeyr is, in the South African context (maybe not in Zimbabwe, USA or Ireland), a “celebrity”, having earned this status as one of the highest-selling musicians in the country as well as a television and stage actor. On the particular issue of dumping his tickets into the Jukskei and such politics of gesture, I personally think that it has done little other than keep alive the irrational politics surrounding the “Kill the Boer” song, the debate around which reflects just how much we have to do in deepening our democracy and maturing our political discourse beyond the dominant, shallow, empty vessel politics of the time.
But, while Hofmeyr may have chosen to use his celebrity to highlight the plight of “his people” (white, Afrikaans speakers) in the New South Africa, as victims of crime, cultural oppression and political marginalisation, I wish there were others who have achieved public stature in the arts who would use their celebrity constantly to bring attention to the challenges still facing the majority of people in our country. For while there can be no justification for the murder of white farmers in a constitutional democracy, the reality is that it is still black Africans who are the overwhelming victims of violent crime; of having their languages undermined and not given the same status as English by the government of the day; who may not have lost jobs due to affirmative action, but who still constitute more than 85% of those who are unemployed today and who are still victimised, abused and exploited by – some – farmers.
Where are the local artists who have “made it” like Steve Hofmeyr and who will highlight their legitimate causes?
Mike van Graan is the Secretary General of Arterial Network, a continent-wide network of artists, activists and creative enterprises active in the African creative sector and its contribution to development, human rights and democracy on the continent. He is also the Executive Director of the African Arts Institute (AFAI), a South African NGO based in Cape Town that harnesses local expertise, resources and markets in the service of Africa’s creative sector. He is considered to be one of his country’s leading contemporary playwrights.