Tuesday, May 17, 2016

isiZulu-Pessimistic, Beautiful Nonetheless

I really shouldn’t be writing this at all since I have an exam tomorrow and everything but anyway, this is going to be short.
I’m Zulu (as far as I’m concerned) so I find myself comparing isiZulu (which is a beautiful language just by the way) with other languages a lot.

So I greeted a friend a few days back (who also happened to be Zulu) and I noticed that almost all greetings are not an expression of your actual state but just livelihood. A typical conversation for example:
Person 1: Sawubona. (Hello-direct translation is something close to “I see you”)
Person 2: Sawubona ntombi, unjani kodwa? (Hello girl, how are you?)
        Person 1: Ngiyaphila ntombi singezwa kuwe? (direct translation: I’m alive girl,
        let’s hear about you?)
        Person 2: Ay, sivukile bandla. (Direct translation: we woke up (it has this tone of
        regret or sadness to it))
A typical reply is anything from “kube  nomkhuhlane kwaSiban’-ban: there’s been a flu (or sickness)at so and so house” (when someone has died), to we “akukho lutho olubi bandla: There’s nothing bad ”.

I can’t think of a phrase that is equivalent to “I’m great, thank you.” that wouldn’t sound awkward. Even that ‘thank you’ at end of most polite English greeting is so unfortunately awkward and misplaced in isiZulu.

And we use bandla a lot (adds that element of sadness/regret/sorrow/depression/humility-I don’t know), so I we find ourselves saying ‘shame’ a lot in English. Not out of pity/sympathy/embarrassment, just because there’s no equivalent to Bandla in English.

Are we so sad or depressed or pessimistic as a people that even our greeting isn’t remotely joyful? Or perhaps we’re just realistic about our circumstances…? I think it’s the latter.

Obviously we have expressions for joy and happiness and all that mushy stuff, but we don’t use any of it when we greet…

It’s still a beautiful language though…

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Monday, May 9, 2016

The Importance of Art

"We consume what we see on 
TV and American content 
dominates our Screens"

The pursuit of education in the arts department is often mocked, ridiculed and not prioritized. I obviously cannot speak of nor to other continents, countries or even universities because I have no knowledge of what goes on elsewhere but I can speak of Stellenbosch University.

Stellenbosch has a tendency to relate certain degrees with levels of intellect and thus importance. For example, if you’re working towards being an actuary (studying actuarial science), you’re considered smart and crème de la crème. And if you’re studying BA law or doing journalism, you’re not particularly smart or particularly dumb; you’re just here to find a man. I’ve heard more than one person referring to a BA degree as BA man vind (direct translation: BA man find). I haven’t heard of anyone (maybe because they keep it on the down low) who’s studying BA and has a bursary (that isn’t from the university).

If you graduate cum laude and you’re doing BA the reaction is “obviously” whereas if you an engineering graduate everyone slaps you on the shoulder and tells you how great you are even though your academic record is a series of 50s. The reality though is that different degrees have different challenges. For me, my creative side died when I got to university. I dread words! Especially if they are intellectually material, the main reason I use my textbook is to look the examples because I don’t understand the written explanations. Someone doing English though, probably loves words and dreads equations.

We have different strengths and weaknesses and specializing in different departments enables us to make the most of our unique talents. In my opinion arts is not emphasized enough. Sure engineering, medicine and law are important in our infant and malnourished economy. But we’re at a time where what the world thinks of us and sees us as a country plays an important role in trade, investment, and other sectors where people in the art department play an essential and influential role.

As a country we are our art! We are the movies and documentaries we make, we are the books we publish, and the art we paint, the moves we dance, the songs we sing, the clothes we make and the ads we produce! And right now we are at a unique position where we tell the American and European story. Our ads promote the European and American lifestyle, the clothes we wear and make are American reproductions or products. We are not forging our own style and path but following the one already well traveled by other countries, perhaps because we are not cultivating our art.

In the April issue of Destiny Tiisetso Maloma is quoted saying: “We consume what we see on TV and American Content dominates our TV screens” and I cannot agree more. I was listening to a song the other day (I think it was by Emtee or Nast C, I’m not sure now) but it said something about peanut butter and jelly! REALLY! Peanut butter and jelly!? In South Africa!? I’ve attached images of South African jelly and American jelly. The one is a bread spread the other is a dessert of sorts. Or he's speaking of actually jelly (the dessert) and peanut butter, which is disgusting even though I've never tried it. If it's the  former, that is rather unfortunate. You cannot be a South Africa using American names for stuff, it's not helping tell our story. South African’s have to start telling, writing and painting stories that portray South Africa’s narrative.

This is American jelly, but in                        I don't know what Americans call this but in
South Africa this is Jam.                               South Africa this is jelly.
South African stories are told by Americans. Invictus, is a film that tells the story of SA during the 1995 world cup. Wikipedia describes it as “ a 2009 American-South African biographical sports drama”! It starred Samuel L. Jackson (they really could have chosen a better person for the role) and Matt Damon (who both got academy award nominations for their respective roles). Sarafina! on the other hand, is a south African movie, telling a South African Story, directed by a South African, with South African actors and actresses (with the exception of Whoopi Goldberg) and is an exceptional film! However, it didn’t get as many (if any) awards or nominations. Maybe it was because of the times at which they were made, I don’t know. But the reality is South African stories aren’t being told by South Africans and when they are told by South Africans they don’t get the credit they deserve!!!!!

Now some effort is being made to cultivate young South African talent, e t.v. has their Monday eKasi stories. A slot that show stories told by emerging producers and actors I guess. But how much are they investing in those shows? If you’ve watched them, have you seen the quality of those things? It hurts to watch and it breaks my heart! I don’t know how much goes it to the production of those films but the people look orange, lighting is always an issue, the filming in general is questionable and I’m not even a movie critic.

Journalists and writers in general have a unique opportunity to write our stories without making us look like invalids. When man builds a car from scratch in Africa it’s a big thing, but the way in which the rest of the world tells the story  does not highlight the man and his intellect but the dire circumstances under which he built the car. Our success stories are written about, sure, but they are usually poverty porn and do not help improve how the rest of the world sees us. If the story was told by one of our own the narrative would be different.

I’m not saying that all south African art is a shambles and is unsuccessful. Tsotsi the film was a success, Isibaya a is totally kick ass soapie, Dean Simon is an exceptional artist, Mafikizolo and The Soil make good music. But how many of these success stories are there? Maybe I just don’t know about them, that in itself is also a problem because it doesn’t mean we aren’t producing phenomenal artists and work but we just aren’t promoting them.

The United States has done a great job of selling itself as great nation (the basis of this is a debate for another day), but they’ve done so through their art! Their movies (They make movies titled Captain America for crying out loud!), the way their rappers rap and dress (The baggy clothes and everything) they do not fail to mention America and its greatness at every turn! America is no longer just a country but it’s become a brand of sorts. There is no reason South Africa shouldn’t be doing the same! And the people to do this are people in the arts department, people we do not give enough credit!

The point I’m trying to make is that the people that tell our story (as South Africans) aren’t engineers, or doctors or accountants. It’s our artists. And we don’t give our artists credit unless their material is American and the stories they write go viral when they expose the weaknesses of our country! We’re not promoting their work nor emphasizing their role and importance. They’re truly successful once they’ve gone to Hollywood, we’re not doing enough to make them want to stay and uplift our country! They have the opportunity to portray our country; it’s history, hopes and dreams form a personal point of view without malicious intent. They’re at a position where they can influence our economy in a big way, and we need to give them the due credit and treat them like the assets that the are.

We undermine the importance and role of art and artists and this need to change.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Africa’s Virtual Independence

Source: http://www.sfsa.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/slider_africa.jpg

While looking for information for this post my frustration with Africa (and South Africa in particular) was further emphasized. It seems all the sources of information available (on the internet, documentaries and books) seem to be written by foreigners (and I use this term loosely in the least derogatory manner). As a people we don’t seem to have a handle on information processing and preservation and making it accessible. Or maybe I’m the one who is unable to find information and looks in all the wrong places, I don't know.

This post is (perhaps) on an old issue (Africa's independence, or lack thereof) that has been written about over and over again. But since I find myself frustrated by the same things I was frustrated about 5 years ago I feel like I'm allowed to write about it. Maybe if enough people write about the same frustrations we'll begin to see change (I'm a pessimistic opportunist).

According to africanhistory.about.com the last African country to gain independence (from a non-African country, since South Africa and Ethiopia also tried their hand at colonizing) was Zimbabwe in 1980. Now, according to google dictionaries independence is the state of being independent (i.e. a state in which one is "free from outside control; not subject to another's auhtority". However, the reality is we are not entirely independent, the way world economics and politics are structured don't enable any one county to be truly independent. at least not with world trade, foreign lending and investments, tourism and other factors being relatively important in our various economies. However, counties are not equally influenceable (if this is even a word).

George Orwell said it best in 'Animal Farm': "All [countries] are equal, but some animals are more equal than others". Independence was never meant to level the playing field, colonization was a tool used by the big dogs to spunge off Africa (to put it simply and bluntly). All that independence did was take away the excavator (colonization) and give the big dogs a shovel (sanctions, foreign policy, financial aid). World politics and economics is like a playground really. There are cool kids and not-so-cool kids. If the cool kids don't like the way you are doing things they prohibit you from participating in their activities and starve you of fun; it is equivalent to economic and political bullying.

Evidence of the economic bullying are the sanctions against Cuba. The United States of America put an embargo on exports to Cuba (excluding medicine and food) after the Cuban government nationalized American owned oil refineries without compensation. However, the reality is how many times in the colonial times did America (and countries like America) do this? How many times did they take over companies in the colonial states and not compensate the the people of the state. How many companies were established in colonial states using the state's resources and the colonizing countries still benefit from those ventures and continue to not compensate the former colonial states?

How many mines in South Africa are owned solely by South Africans? ( :D now I don't know the stats because of the aforementioned problem). But seriously, the few companies that are solely owned by South Africans are probably owned by white South Africans (another issue for another day). The big dogs implement red tape or sanctions to bar countries from making the most of their independence (even if the most means that the country shall suffer for a while; counties, like individuals, learn from their mistakes).

One might argue that countries that colonized African countries have since tried to redeem themselves by offering one or other form of financial aid to said colonized country. Even this is a fallacy. The reality is that there are a lot of keep-africa-on-a-leash policies and the financial aid is one of them. I'm not saying that African countries don't need aid, I'm just saying the form in which it comes is not best for the recipient. If a man is starving, you give him a fish sure. But it is much more beneficial and empowering to give the man a fishing rod and teach him how to fish than have to give him fish all the time. The way in which foreign aid is facilitated to African countries is delivered in such a way that Africa as a whole is kept on a leash. It is swe rely on foreign aid for sustenance, poverty is still rife (although much improved), sustainable economic development and growth continue to elude us.

I've come to the end of my rant and I feel like I've achieved nothing by writing this piece. I've stated a problem we are, perhaps, all aware of an I've come up with no solutions for the status quo. But honestly, how do we relieve ourselves (as a country) of the world pressured but still meet the needs of the people, accelerate economic growth and development? Is it even possible or is it one of those unattainable goals? I for one, don't know enough about the economy to come up with solutions and don't have enough power (at least for now) to implement to solutions.

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