Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Twenty years of pointless blinkers

There have been so many events this year to prove that we have a long way to go in terms of social cohesion in this country. The Spear showed how easily cultural sensitivities can be both overlooked and inflamed, and the scuffle at Joburg Pride was a sad reminder of how little unity there is in the “gay community”. Worse than that, there seems to be very little knowledge of one another's lives and histories. Until a month ago, I had never even heard of Simon Nkoli.

The fall of western hegemony should have presented white South Africans with a beautiful opportunity to wake from the terrible spell we were under – the delusion that we are part of the western world – and to finally see what a rich, interesting and incredible melting pot we live in. Surely it’s time to wake up to our real context? (The lyrics to Binding by Florence and the Machine spring to mind: “no more dreaming like a girl so in love with the wrong world”)

The greatest regions in the world were built by diversity. New York celebrates its status as a global melting pot. Cities at the crossroads of diverse cultures are the most creative, the most innovative, the most interesting.

We are sitting on a cultural gold pot, South Africa, and yet we hate it. So many of us are still stuck in our old, dull, segregated comfort zones – almost 20 years after the fall of the system that put us in them. Heritage and culture are not genetic – so why do we continue to mindlessly reproduce them in segregated ways? The parts of South African culture that I love and am most proud of are certainly not the Anglophone lineage, from which I suppose I technically come. And isn’t it time we started constructing a composite South African culture with elements from all of them?

It breaks my heart that listening to Simphiwe Dana or Miriam Makeba or Thandiswa Mazwai is met with surprise. Why is it more cool to have some arb Australian “indie” band on your iPod? Why is it so hip to have a Peruvian restaurant in Cape Town, or even Ethiopian food now (it’s so trendy and African!) – but we don’t see umngqusho anywhere except cringey restaurants intended for tourists? What the hell is wrong with us that we idolise anything foreign and have no curiosity for the wonders of our fellow South Africans’ culture, music, food, traditions?

Why are we so scared to get to know one another and to celebrate one another? I’m so fucking bored of the idea that there is black music and white music, black culture and white culture, black drinks and white drinks. We live in one of the brightest, most incredible countries in the world, and yet we choose to pretend we're in a bland, monotonous one. Until, of course, foreigners come and make documentaries about us to tell us how interesting we are. When will we wake up?

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