image by Steven Benjamin
I was actually planning something a little amusing for this post, but events ensued, unfolded, came up and dictated matters. So alas, twas a glorious day yesterday, and there we were, traveling through the 'wine country' of Paarl valley on our way to Drakenstein Correctional Center (DCC). It was only as we made the turn in to the entrance that I realized where we were. After all, the DCC is a name that bears little distinction. So for those who are still in the dark, as I was for a small period; this prison was formerly known as Victor Verster Prison, YES, the very same facility that Nelson Mandela was released from in 1991. It underwent an unceremonious (by my standards) name change around the time democracy made landfall in RSA. And so, there we were, on Youth Day, in the shadow - metaphorically speaking - of the statue of the iconic leader. This special event taking place on the Prisons sports grounds (just outside the actual prison, lets call it the DCC staff and security village) was by no means coincidence of course, I was just mum on the details... well there you go, everything turns out for the good in the end, and a great time - and lunch - was had by all.
Wishing you many blessings!
LEGACY OF A STRUGGLE… June 16 – Youth DayOne of the most famous images from apartheid - Hector Peterson, the first student shot and killed on June 16, 1976
Article – by Steven Benjamin
(I toyed with naming this article “The land of milk, honey and stings”)
Excerpt from Pale Native (book):
“By 1983, I had witnessed the collapse of Portuguese colonialism in our region, the uprisings in Soweto and other townships, the killing of Steve Biko and the SADF’s wars in Namibia, Angola and other frontline states. I knew by then apartheid and minority rule were evil, dangerous and unsustainable.
But I was part of the white, privileged, authoritarian, chauvinist, racist Afrikaner establishment. I felt threatened by black people. So how does one break out of that and find a new political home? Well, I looked around and the only democrats I could find who seemed to want someone like me and had a vision for the future I could believe in were the UDF – people like Allan Boesak, Azhar Cachalia, Christmas Tinto, Murphy Morobe, Terror Lekota, Johnny Issel, Andrew Boraine, Trevor Manuel, Sydney Mufamadi, Cheryl Carolus, Valli Moosa, Frank Chikane and Desmond Tutu.
The UDF consisted of Christians, Muslims, Jews, communists, trade unionists, entrepreneurs, socialists, social democrats, intellectuals and workers, men and women from the cities and the deep rural areas, from every region of our country. What kept them together was their dream of freedom, dignity, democracy and justice. If you believed that apartheid should end and be replaced by a fair system where the race, ethnicity or gender of citizens did not determine their standing in society, you were welcome.” – Max Du Preez
A full decade before I was born, an event occurred that would have an indelible effect on my country. It was the Soweto uprising, also known as Sharpville, or the Sharpville massacre. Today, eighteen years into democracy, we remember that day – June 16 – as Youth day, to commemorate those students who marched and died in protest of apartheid.
This post is not a retrospective, but rather a sparse stock-take, a light commentary of the times. Since it is the youth we are commemorating, it is thus the youth we shall focus on, and since I’m a writer –we shall take it from a literary perspective. In general one can say that the literary scene in South Africa is good and growing, but it’s definitely not without its substantial cracks. During last year’s Literary Festival, Max Du Preez – who has just released a book on Mandela – commented during a talk on Nelson Mandela’s memoir, Conversations with Myself, that there’s a notable lack of the black perspective on the latter years of Madiba’s life. Most, if not all the commentary, translation and interpretation of the iconic leader has been done by white writers, reporters and liturgists (as an indication; all of the writers used in compiling Conversations with Myself, were white South Africans). Du Preez intoned his desire to hear ‘the voice’ of educated young black writers , giving their take on, not only the life and evolving times of the “Father of the nation”, but also the struggles the nation currently faces.
As a young “colored” man living in South Africa (colored not having the same meaning as black, as it does in the USA – and NO, it is not a derogatory term in this country), it’s difficult to see where my voice fits in. Colored people (a minority) in apartheid were always in the middle, between blacks and whites, since we have a very diverse lineage – the term biracial has never been in our vocabulary.
What I do know though, is that as a country we have a long way to go in terms of elevating a.) the state and voice of the majority (impoverished black people), b.) the overall literacy in the country, and with that, c.) the ‘thinking’ of the poor. Too easily are the majority swayed by empty political promises, failing to see far beyond their means. It is for this reason that there’s a notable difference in the mentality of impoverished black people in South Africa compared to black Africans from other countries
In conclusion, the true legacy of apartheid lives on – apart from the poverty and crime – the really definitive damage apartheid did to South Africa was to cauterize the minds of the impoverished black majority. Apartheid successfully stole their education, and then subsequently, their ambition, and thus crippling forward progress within a liberated people.
36 years on from June 16 1976, and the picture in this country has changed immensely. I am a proud South African, living in a healthy democracy, but I am under no illusions as to the struggles we face. The challenge of raising the level of thought and cognizance in society… but then again the world is not a stranger to this problem.
For the last year and a half my country has seen the most protests in the shortest space time – from demonstrations over freedom of speech and expression, to the lack of basic governmental service delivery – as people grow disillusioned with a government (surprise surprise) who are not delivering on all their promises… evidence of a restless nation, and hope.
JUNE 16 - SOLIDARITY
links to a review by The Guardian
Article by Steven Benjamin
What is the point of art? Aside from the fact that art is meant to inspire, invigorate, catalyze, proclaim and tell the truth et al. So what if it cannot be seen? I'm talking about the recent opening of the Hayward Gallery . And yes there’s been a whole hullabaloo about invisible art – it’s a rip off, a stroke of genius, intriguing, thought or debate provoking or even a stab at instant fame (which, if that was the aim, they achieved it, and good luck to them), but what are we to make of it, and is there a middle ground? Wait, it could even be a con, seeing as they claim to “show” over 50 works by famous artists like Yoko Ono, Andy Warhol and, a pioneer of invisible art from the 1950’s, Yves Klein.
Firstly, there’s the issue of ‘Gen pop’ – what most people consider art, what the average human being is interested in – and let’s face it, the general population are not that fickle. Mention The Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, Statue of David, and most are sorted – because THAT’S art – that is what’s perceived as the general concept of art… A little way down the road and you have fellow humans with a somewhat deeper and more astute palette for perhaps what one could call fine art. So to avoid missing any form, here’s a quick look at many forms: Imperialistic, existentialism, absurdest, abstract, street art, architectural art or design, writing, haut couture, passion, art in film, life, beauty, love, sculpturing, a subtle sense of honesty in something simple… and that is the smallest tip of the iceberg…
[Banner illustration by Joel Kanar]