Fela Kuti, one of Africa’s greatest creative talents, had a penchant for openly speaking his mind.
He remained steadfast in his convictions, even though his strong liking for airing his thoughts publicly brought misery to his life, earned him countless scars and resulted in fractured bones. Fela’s arm and leg were in cast with the body still bandaged (following yet another police/army beating) when he began playing and first assembled the tune Sorrow, Tears and Blood.
“We always get reason to fear,” sings Fela. Chai! (a snap of fingers and a sagging face while heaving shoulders should accompany the reading of these words). Na true matta that Fela-O! Na true matta. Those with balls (of steal) will have no qualms about putting it to the South African creative sector that, unlike Fela, it is an industry that is predominantly populated by cowards (also cultural mercenaries) who have mastered the cap-in-hand-baasboy/girl approach.
There has always been one justification or another for several, who purport to be pro-African creative output, to be fearful about openly and steadfastly pursuing the cause for a total economic liberation of the African cultural and creative sector in South Africa.“Bazong’valela ngaphandle,” is the most familiar of defenses or excuses put up whenever someone in the industry is urged to publicly air their views, concerns and gripes.
No doubt there are individuals who have had the door of economic opportunity shut in their face for speaking out while those who zip- it as and when told or expected to (as true puppets would do) have been rewarded greatly.
However it has to be highlighted that awarding silence and concealment comes at a great cost. Among other things it breeds a tribe one calls; sucking-up-old- babies with a tendency to give praise where it is not due just to win favour. Benefits tend to look great (on the surface) for sucking-up-old babies and they include jumping the tender, grant and or funding long list. Forget excellence, progressiveness and brilliant ideas or work that could be of great service to the country and the majority of its people.
Letting fear and the culture of speaking (in whispers) behind a hand to continue as a norm, among other obstacles, will keep taking the creative industry nowhere slowly as it has in the last twenty years of South African democracy. The tendency for victims to suffer in silence or share views or discontent in small inner circle goes against the sound advise given in one of South Africa’s most popular song, Whisper In The Deep by a great band -Stimela, that discourages mumbling.
One of the Unite States of America’s celebrated president’s Franklin Roosevelt cautioned against fear in his inaugural address to his country and his words are a liberating force. “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyze needed efforts to convert retreat into advance,” Roosevelt cautioned his fellow countrymen.
Mzansi’s creative sector need not look further that its immediate surroundings for inspiration and evidence that retreat and fear is not necessarily the best route to take for meaningful and genuine survival and advancement. Freddie Nyathela and his South African Roadies Association (SARA) have proven time after time that it pays to be resolute, speak out, stand your ground and push forward – no matter the attempts to soil your institution’s or personal reputation and image. When the department of Arts and Culture dragged its feet regarding delivering on its promises to SARA; the association’s leadership did not resort to becoming closet victims – a status they have always courageously rejected with contempt in all their years of existence. Instead SARA alerted the media and its stakeholders about the department’s mischievous prank. To cap it all; the Roadies took its injury, for examination, to the public protector. You just have to love these guys for their drive. The end result of their bold action was that the department was instructed to deliver on its promises to the Roadies or face the music.
One more thing proven by SARA, through its actions, was that the government is not doing the creative sector a favour by funding and supporting sensible South African creative initiatives; it is constitutionally expected of them to do so. If it means the department and its various institutions have to be forced and publicly embarrassed to do their work, let it be.
There is a pressing need for critically constructive voices in the creative industry to be consistent and go public as often as necessary (about pertinent issues, gripes and most of all service delivery in the creative sphere) for the sector to be taken note of. It’s unbelievable that to this date the creative sector has not secured guaranteed space in the popular media where the politics and business of the industry (over and above the coverage of the work of artists, events and performances) can be debated regularly. The drama and scandals surrounding the lives of creators need not be the only topical issues of interest covered by media – particularly by platforms that supposedly cater for mostly the black majority.
A hopeless voice may say “But the media is only interested in news they consider to be scandalous such as those of artists falling on hard times, being in trouble with the law, and dying (especially when it appears as if they were broke).
Fact one; as long as silence and or closet mumbles and debates, concerning important issues and work in the creative industry, continues the scandals, gossip, events and entertainment element of the creative sector will continue to be regarded as sufficient coverage for the industry. Several newspapers, especially those that are historically considered to cater for blacks, have chopped, changed and shrunk their arts/entertainment pages without much of a protest or even an endorsement from the creative sector.
Fact two; the media often covers what it believes is or might be of interest to the public and or its readers (scandals included.) Often letters to the editor, response (s) to articles and call-ins on radio shows give the superintendents an idea about the issues and tastes of their targeted audience. Proudly South African creative industry captains, practitioners and supporters hardly tackle issues openly, engage with the journalists and their writings (to criticize, praise, disagree or even complain) in the sector especially publicly.
So, to make great advances in the proudly South African campaign those who claim to be passionate and love Mzansi creative output should get rid of their “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror and get into the habit of writing letters to the editor and phoning-in on radio shows to air their views or push what they believe deserve attention and exposure. Only when such is being done can the creative industry convert stagnation and retreat into advance. Let’s face the fact; the creative sector’s lack of or minimal active and open engagement in the media and public spaces can be attributed to one thing, FEAR!
“We fear for the air around us, my people self they fear too much, we fear for the ting we no see,” goes part of the lyrics of the great Fela Kuti’s song, Sorrow, Tears and Blood.
“FEAR IS RULING YOUR LIFE, AWAY WITH FEAR,” Ray Phiri tells his audience (during dangerous times in South Africa) in the song Sishovingolovane that is featured in Stimela’s 1988 Live at the Market Theatre recording.