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Being & Belonging in South Africa – National Arts Festival Programme

The Mellon Humanities Focus Area Media and Citizenship project at the School of Journalism and Media Studies, Rhodes University is going to be very busy over the National Arts Festival.

Here are the fantastic posters for our programme over the National Arts Festival, being held in Grahamstown between 28 June and 12 July.

We are hosting lectures and panel discussions, an interactive exhibition, and a film festival with discussions about the films.

Let us know what you think of the posters and if you’ll be joining us for the National Arts Festival. You can see more details about our programme in the Festival programme, which can be downloaded here

Review of Dear Mandela

Dear Mandela will be shown as part of the Being and Belonging Thinkfest event at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown on 5 July at 13h00 in the Seminar Room of the Africa Media Matrix Building in Upper Prince Alfred Street. Richard Pithouse will facilitate a discussion after the show. This is a review by Basia Lewandowska Cummings first published on the Africa is a Country website

What to make of Nando’s latest “banned” advert

Mellon FA co-director Herman Wasserman participated in a conversation about the controversial Nando’s advert on the blog Africa is a Country, reposted here with permission:

I am writing this from Cape Town, where it took me a while to load the 53 second video of the latest Nando’s ad (above) on Youtube, so I am not sure how “it is going viral” here. (Though viral here also means 300,000 people viewed it on online.) For those who don’t know, Nando’s is the South African fast food chicken chain taking on a “global” footprint–well as far as I know in the UK, US (in Washington D.C)., Australia, Dubai and a few African countries. As for the ad, Nando’s claims it is a comment on xenophobia. For those who have or can’t watch it online, it opens with scenes of black undocumented migrants crossing the country’s border while a voice over says, “You know what’s wrong with South Africa? It’s all you foreigners.” It then cuts in quick succession to a series of stereotypes and references to Chinese (yes, offloading good), Indians (Oriental Plaza, I think), Kenyans (in running gear), Afrikaners (yes, farmer with dog in front seat and black workers in the back), Zulus, Tswanas, and Sothos, among others, all disappearing in puffs of smoke. The only person who survives the puff of smoke effect is “a traditional Khoisan man” who, using expletives, says he’s not going anywhere because “you found us here.”

The public broadcaster, SABC, then announced it wouldn’t show the ad on its channels, and now satellite operator DStv as well as terrestrial channel ETV have done the same thing. This played well into Nando’s marketing strategy. Its ads thrives on political controversy. The result would be people talking about them and more sales of peri peri chicken. This is chicken nationalism. It does not help that South Africans–remember the country where the media acts like they’re writing/reporting from Somalia and North Korea as political researcher Steven Friedman puts it so well–are now obsessed with saying everything is being banned. So of course when the SABC–synonymous with the ANC “dictatorship” in the media and the suburbs, clumsily announced its decision (its spokesman said the SABC was concerned “that the public might interpret [the ad] differently”), the papers insinuated that it was a “political” decision and that the ad was “banned.” Nando’s CEO went on about “freedom of expression” and “censorship.” (He wasn’t saying anything about how happy he was about the whole thing blowing up.) Of course you can still watch it online. But what about the ad itself? The reporting here on the content of the ad has been very poor–to put it mildly.

I actually find the ad unfunny and problematic. It basically endorses, on the one hand, the white right-wing parliamentarian Pieter Mulder’s willful denial of South Africa’s violent history especially on land dispossession (and with aspects of the sunny politics of the Democratic Alliance) and on the other hand it bolsters the similarly ahistorical and ethnocentric claims of coloured nationalists who are all “Khoisan” now (that category in itself is a 20th century construction since the two–Khoi and San–that make up “Khoisan” are separate, distinct peoples). In the end this is about Nando’s wanting attention and it got it. Nando’s wants to sell chicken and it pretends that it has good “politics,” though we know that politics goes only so far.

I then ask around the AIAC “office” for comments. Here’s an edited version of the conversation.

Melissa Levin: I totally agree with you. That’s how I read it too. That we are all ‘colonizers’ and the fight was one between groups of land invaders. In addition, it persists in buoying the nonsense about cultural identity, diversity, multiple groups making up the South African fabric–no majorities and minorities, blacks and whites, but Xhosas, Afrikaners, etcetera. “We are all minorities now.” The contest over the meaning and content of public life is quite brutal it seems.

Daniel Magaziner: Unfunny and problematic is putting it kindly. The ad traffics in the long disproved ‘empty-land’ thesis on the early 20th century, which held that South Africa’s current residents–whether white or black–were conquerors, who had displaced the subcontinent’s legitimate inhabitants. If both whites and blacks were conquerors, than what right could Africans possibly have to cry foul at land dispossession and segregation? Bantu-speakers (the ad’s fast disappearing array of Zulus, Tswanas, Sothos, etcetera) had simply lost the great game of imperial conquest to the whites. Boo hoo. Let’s not even dwell on how the ad’s comparison between Kenya and Lesotho, Cameroon and ‘Zululand’ traffics in apartheid era claims that Bantu-speakers’ legitimate homes were in the Bantustans (including those supposedly pure ethnic enclaves beyond South Africa’s ‘white’ borders), just as whites were legitimate in their white republic. And the stereotypes, oh, the stereotypes. Although I enjoyed the running Kenyans, I found the the Boer in the bakkie with the dog in front and the workers in the back a little too real. Nando’s chicken is delicious; its historiography and social criticism less so.

Basia Lewandowska Cummings (@mishearance): It’s strange that they portray the ‘Khoisan’ guy at the end in some with a kind of hip hop style aggressive cool. Why make him swear? I suppose the only interesting thing the advert throws up, other than a brilliant array of stereotypes, some dubious looking chicken and a poke at xenophobia, is: whose place is it now to question social realities like xenophobia?

It’s interesting why Nando’s feel they can/should comment on it, and think that it’s a lucrative means of advertising their product. And if advertising will increasingly become a place to address these concerns, can we predict that it will continue to fall into such crude, stereotypical, de-contextualised ‘advert-myths’ like this one? Also, with a range of only 2 apparently ‘diverse’ styles of chicken their product isn’t even very diverse. 2 types of chicken is still only–using their own analogy–just black and white.

Herman Wasserman (@hwasser): I think there are various issues here that have become conflated in the somewhat predictable public outcry against ‘censorship’.
For one, there is the feeble attempt at humour that falls flat. I also find the ad unfunny–as a joke, the ad does not quite gel, perhaps because it takes itself too seriously. Then there is the ideology–problematic to say the least. The ad flattens out history, denies any possibility of asymmetrical distribution of visibility among competing cultural identities, and ignores the relationship between ethnicity and political and economic power. “We are all just foreigners here,” it tries to say, “so don’t come and make any claims to restitution or redress. If those people in Alexandra could just learn to laugh at themselves, they wouldn’t have gone and burnt immigrants alive.” But the lack of humour and problematic ideology aside, I do think the refusal to screen it was misguided. The SABC’s claim that it had ‘xenophobic undertones’ missed the point. It was meant to look like xenophobia, not hidden away underneath, but so exaggerated that the very possibility of xenophobia becomes impossible. By refusing to screen it, the TV channels bought into the current discourse about ‘media freedom under attack’ and lent gravitas to an ad that wouldn’t have attracted half the attention it has if it were allowed to disappear among the many other mediocre ads on television.

Mikko Kapanen (@mikmikko): Nando’s has always presented a moral conundrum to me: I like their vegetarian burger, but find their advertising very off-putting and this advert is perfectly in line with their TV advertising strategy. It has got practically no connection to the product they are selling, millions of Rands [the local currency] have been thrown into its production and it’s offensive. I am not even one of those people who are looking around for things to be offended by, but this just is. Just like probably every advert by Nando’s I have ever seen. I think textually these visuals have been analysed spot on here by others (empty-land etc.), but purely from a production point of view, I’d say that even in general this is a very typical South African TV advert. The advertising industry–having observed it in action especially in Cape Town–is very detached from the majority of South Africans, but they are too proud, stubborn or just unaware to admit it. I remember a friend who is an industry insider telling me how his white supervisor had told him with no irony or regret that in advertising “white is aspirational” and as a logical consequence of that they didn’t have to understand the Black cultures of South Africa while coming up with adverts to them. Many industry people also focus so hard on trying to win the TV Laurie (advertising award) meanwhile most radio adverts are pretty terrible regardless of the relative efficiency of that medium. No other country I have ever lived in has had such abundance of locally produced expensive looking TV adverts that effortfully try to connect the product and its potential consumers–and Nando’s is just one of the companies that have climbed on this ox-wagon.

Brett Davidson (@brettdav): Of course I’m sure that as long as people are discussing the ad, whether positively or negatively, Nando’s is happy.
Herman Wasserman: Yes, Brett, Nando’s might even be happier with the ad being ‘censored’ and gaining credibility online than having it screened on TV. But does this whole saga not also point to a certain failure of mainstream media, commercial or public, to engage their audiences in an informative, creative and entertaining manner in debates about race, culture and power? When these issues enter media debates, it is often done in such heavy-handed manner that audiences become fatigued and then the repressed racial tensions in those dreadful comments at the bottom of online news stories that we see everyday on South African based websites.

Lily Saint (@lollipopsantos): The manner by which people are eliminated (by a puff of smoke) is pure euphemism. Meant, I suppose, to recall various moments in South African history when different groups featured in the ad were targets and victims of brute violence, would the ad still have any claim to humor if people were shot dead by bullets instead of lamely evaporated into clouds of smoke? While there is certainly offense to be taken in the stereotypes and exclusions in this ad, the real problem as others have pointed out, is the erasure of actual histories of violence that continue to plague the present. By making light of these the ad wants to make consumerism the only identity that can unify people–the pun on “real South Africans love diversity” of course evokes national, ethnic and racial diversity, but more ominously speaks to the rhetoric of “choice” allowing us all to think we are free agents while keeping us spoon-fed capitalism.

Melissa Levin: On Brett’s earlier point. He is spot on. There is something important to be said about the multiple ways in which public space is increasingly privatized. Whether it is football teams that are owned by big business rather than supporters, or public parks that are sponsored by private companies, whether it is the roll-back of basic state services that are doled out to the well-connected or whatever. In this case it is a business that sells its product by both defining and giving meaning to the issues of the day. So public space is increasingly occupied by corporate soundbites. At the apparent end of history, social issues are addressed through buying a bag to end hunger, for instance, or eating ‘anti-xenophobic’ chicken. I cannot help myself but to carry on yelling about this and giving the chicken people more air-time, because I am all for the post-Nazi adage that suggests that the imperative of humanity is to be at home nowhere. That way, we make no claims above another. I am against the trite evocation of this theme that reinforces the politics of difference and the political imperative of being nice. The dominant exposition of the idea of culture transfers an idea of a categorical, immutable, static identity from the notion of race which we must no longer have an appetite for. But the claims are similar. Someone else has spoken of this process of trading race for culture as being neo-racist.

Kathryn Mathers: This discussion keeps making me think back to those SAB (the now multinational South African Breweries) adverts from the 1980s [and through the 1990s], you know, the perfect embodiments of South African cosmopolitan masculinity both black and white getting together in a bar for beer? I am pretty sure it was the 80s because I remember discussions about how they were filmed when black and white couldn’t drink in the same bar and how technology was used to paste together two separate but equal (sic) scenes. (There are also the post-apartheid versions like the Klippies “eish/met ys” romance.) I have always found those advertisements confusing since they were certainly utopic if you believed in a nonracial South Africa but they could not have been simply aspirational since it seemed pretty clear that the majority of potential SAB drinkers did not aspire to a nonracial South Africa. This discussion is making me wonder how these two advertisements are part of a long tradition in South African media that has less to do with erasure of violence past and present than with its displacement. By shifting the terms of racism/xenophobia rather than trying to erase them, which would be near to impossible, it makes it much easier to live with, making viewers/participants doubly implicated ultimately not just for the violence but for trying to hide it in plain site. I argue that this is a gesture typical of romanticized images of Africa in the US where the white savior is made possible not by the erasure of Africans but by their relegation to a backdrop or by the kind of move that Disney’s Animal Kingdom makes, which is not to ignore the social/political challenges of the continent but to bring one of the less disturbing ones forward, big game poaching, even in the context of an amusement park. Nando’s does not try to suggest that South Africans are not xenophobic–rather they show how everybody is xenophobic but we can still laugh about it so it doesn’t really matter, thereby displacing the problem without denying it, and making it even more invisible than erasure would or could.

Tom Devriendt (@telamigo): The male voice-over is the “Voice of Reason,” holding the moral high ground: “This is your history. History is not how you live it.” Reason trumps experience. The advertising genius trumps the consumer. But a stereotypical hypocrite is hard to visualize in a one-second shot. So the soutpiel, not for the first time, is let off the hook. There’s no time for self-criticism in the ad world.

Herman Wasserman: Good point, Tom. Perhaps this points to the invisibility of white South African English normativity and supposed ideological neutrality.

Melissa Levin: To Tom and Herman, I thought the white couple in the fancy car that were referred to as Europeans are the souties? And ‘even the Afrikaner’ who disappears is clearly another category of identity.

Herman Wasserman: Melissa is right. Appropriately, the English white stereotypes in the ad are not in some ‘tribal’ gear but can fit in anywhere looking thoroughly modern as we know.

Tom Devriendt: That, or–how I read it–it is a generic reference to the tens of thousands Belgian, Dutch, German or English immigrants that have made South Africa their home over the last decade — “Bought this house in Clifton for a steal!”

Long fuse, big bang….

By Harry Dugmore

How are we doing as South Africa and as South Africans? In the hurly-burly of daily political drama, it is often hard to work out what the trends really are. Are ‘things’ getting better or worse? Where are we headed? These are elusive topics with multiple and usually non-evidence bases answers. That’s why The SA Reconciliation Barometer Survey 2011 is so useful. It looks hard, over many years, at what’s happening in our democracy, in terms of attitudes and actions on the ground. It tries to give some empirical weight to rarefied debates about nationhood, community, and critical fabric-of-society issues. There are only a few other longitudinal, long-term surveys of sufficient-size and rigour to be taken as seriously.

The SA Reconciliation Barometer Survey 2011 came out late May and is produced by the Institute for Reconciliation and Justice . In a year that feels, on many levels, as more insurrectionary than others, and in the wake of the Arab Spring, and with elective conferences and the 20th anniversary of 1994’s laboratory election loaming, is there a long fuse lit? A fuse of growing inequality (which has worsened each year for well on three decades), continued deep poverty, fairly strong evidence of increases in everyday corruption, and lack of progress with getting the basics of life, health and education to so many people? If so, how long is the fuse, and what happens in the end: does it sag, to use Langston Hughes’s prescient phrase, or fester, or just explode? Where? When?

Surveys, even those bolstered by focus group research and a thorough methodology such as the IRJ’s, do not easily yield up definitive statements. But the trends seem clear; deep into a long economic downturn, where more than a million jobs (at least) have been lost, social protests numbers are creeping up, while trust in local government keeps dialling down. But oddly, after less than 50% of registered voters turned out in the 2000 and 2006 local government elections, 2011 saw a veritable surge of voters: 57.64% nationally went to the polls. Even the Eastern Cape saw 58% plus of registered voters voting. With 23 million registered voters on the rolls, this was impressive by any standards – and a sign of hope, perhaps?

But at the same time, confidence in local government, and in the ability of local government to deliver, to be fair, to be accessible, continues to hover in the low 40 per cents. South Africans have far more confidence in provincial government, and even more so in national government. Not surprisingly, confidence in local government was lowest of all in the Eastern Cape compared to the other provinces.
But, as the report notes, under these higher voting figures “… South Africans still seem uncertain about the power of the vote, and the ability of individuals to effect real change within their communities. Just over half (53%) agreed that voting in this year’s local government elections would make a difference for their communities…. only 40% of South Africans agreed that people ‘like themselves’ have the power to influence decisions made by local government that affect their communities.”

This trend of disempowerment and distrust continues when other things are measured: only 51% still believe that the ‘people who run the country are not really concerned with what happens’ to people like themselves. The percentage of people who ‘trust the country’s national leaders to do what is right’ has fallen from 58% in 2010 to 51% in 2011 – a significant drop, as the Barometer report notes.
Contrast this decline in trust in local government with ongoing high levels of belief in the efficacy of protest, and even in the usefulness of violence protest. While the report notes that belief in the ‘justifiability’ of strikes and protests has dropped over the past 3 years (from the around 50% to about 45% in 2011), a sizable 12% of South Africans still believe that forceful and violence methods are viable and justifiable as means of getting heard. There is a big gulf between what people say they support — but don’t activity participate in — but even then, it is remarkable that 1 in 5 adult South Africans participated personally in a demonstration and about the same 1in 5 number participated in a strike in 2011. 1 in 10 South Africans reported that, in just 2011, they had personally participated in a violent protest.

Declining trust in voting’s efficacy and leadership contrast starkly with stable but surprisingly high levels of participation in actual protest and proto-insurrections of various kinds. Overlay that with staggeringly high numbers of South Africans who, when asked how do they think of themselves, resort to the category of ethnic group, race or, in particularly high numbers, language, as their first choice. The report finds, over the past few years, more than 50% of South Africans think of themselves primarily, as their default ‘top of the head’ sense of identity, place and belonging, with only 11-14% of the population thinking of themselves as South Africans first.

Only 11% to 14%!?

Does it signify much though? Language groups are strong pulls on people’s primary sense of self all over the world; the imagining of whatever imagined community or communities you might think yourself in is done in one’s own language, the language of your thoughts. But what of the nation building project here in South Africa? Where is that deferred dream going? After the mega-bucks spent on the Soccer World cup in 2010, can it really be true that 90% of us are not thinking of ourselves as South Africans before claiming other cloaks of identity?

With this low sense of national belonging comes — and is perhaps predicated on — the also extra-ordinary slow process of racial, ethnic and cross-class integration. Income inequality, the geography of apartheid, the economic deep ruts of the ‘old paths’ keep people apart much more than we might want to acknowledge. While the numbers of South Africans who sometimes or often socialize with people from other race groups is up significantly over the past 10 years, it has yet to reach 40%. In an average week, 23% of all South African say they never even speak to a South African not from their race group. 17% socialize across racial lines only very occasionally, and 42% say they ‘never’ do! Never is a long, long time.

These numbers could reflect urban rural divides, massive joblessness (the portion of the adult population not working by far the highest in the world; according to the National Planning Commission just 41% percent of the adult population (ages 18 to 60) work, either in the formal or informal sector, employed or self-employed) so there might just not be the space, time or opportunity to socialize across ethnic and racial fault-lines, but there was a dream there too, once, a non-racial dream. Has that also crusted and sugared over?

So is something lit? How do we escape what seems to be the increasing velocity generated within vicious circles of low trust, high levels of violence and propensity to violence even in formal political discourse, ethnic enclaving, lack of understanding, division, despair? Zuma’s Spear brings up the specters of the non-non-racial, the non-united, non-rainbow nation with particular sharpness. The upcoming round of pubic service strikes (and many other industry wage negotiations) in what is a critical ‘choosing’ year for the ANC, all threaten upsurges in disquiet and violence – a further fraying of cloth of our still ‘new’ democracy. After a lull, service delivery protests seem on the up in 2012 so far. Perhaps the ‘new guys’ in local government, who have been in power exactly a year, are running out of honeymoon time.

The Barometer does offer up oases of optimism and is written in an upbeat tone to be admired. But it reveals mostly deeply troubling trends. There are multiple fuses out there, and some are clearly already lit.

“Dear Mandela”

For those of you in the Cape Town area – see below. We are also hoping to have the documentary as part of our film festival during the National Arts Festival.

Dear Mandela is a gripping documentary that shows how the SA government is trying to ‘eradicate the slums’ by evicting shack dwellers from their homes at gunpoint, in scenes eerily reminiscent of apartheid-era forced removals.

It will be screened for the first time in the Western Cape Tuesday 15th May, at 6pm at the Alternative Information Development Centre.

Determined to stop the bulldozers that are destroying homes and communities, a new social movement made up of the nation’s poorest is challenging the evictions on the streets and in the courts. Dear Mandela is the remarkable story of Abahlali BaseMjondolo – Zulu for ‘people of the shacks’. It is considered the largest movement of the poor to emerge in post-apartheid South Africa.

“Unexpectedly gripping, eye-opening…humanizes the nameless protesters we see on the news hurling bricks at the police through a haze of teargas….What is most striking about Dear Mandela is its ability to capture life in Kennedy Road without prettifying it or horrifying it – without the tinged wide-angle or the shaky camera. We move through schools, initiation ceremonies, shack fires, evictions, onto taxis, into courtrooms, to illegal electrical wirings, through Gulag-like transit camps of tin shacks and – jarringly – to swanky casinos where government housing bosses sip champagne and congratulate themselves.” City Press

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