A 100% laugh at tribalism

2014-01-19 14:00

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99% Zulu Comedy laughs out loud at the issue of tribal stereotypes.

In the week when former president Thabo Mbeki spoke out against tribalism, Monwabisi Grootboom, the creator of 99% Zulu Comedy, has said that the show is not designed along tribal lines despite its provocative name.

The stand-up series, which is steadily becoming a feature on the local comedy circuit, features comedians performing their routines in their vernacular languages.

Speaking from Durban, Grootboom said his audience had grown beyond tribal stereotypes since the show started in 2005.

“I’m one of those who never could fathom why the show could be spoken of in the same sentence as ‘tribalism’. Nonetheless, I happily accept the need for clarity,” he said.

He insisted there was nothing in the show to perpetuate divisions among black Africans.

He said this was why it had now grown beyond KwaZulu-Natal and was being supported by people from all walks of life.

“The show is simply about edutainment. People leave having learnt something about themselves or others. I believe that’s a good starting point towards growing to be a socially cohesive society.” Grootboom spoke out against tribalism, calling it “an evil that has to be uprooted at the core if we are to progress in advancing the gains of our 20-year-old democracy”.

“Language is central to my cultural identity. As an African, that’s where I derive my pride. Not identifying with my language therefore means not identifying with my cultural heritage. I’m African because I have an African identity, not because I’m black or am able to speak isiXhosa or Sesotho.

“Since there is no law or prescribed definition of an African, my interpretation of it is that my Africanness is tied to my cultural heritage.

“Among others, the aim of 99% Zulu Comedy is to create an interest in stand-up comedy with African-language speakers in our country,” he said.

The show began life as 100% Zulu Comedy. When its popularity attracted the attention of new audiences, Grootboom said they realised it was time to rethink the name.

“We wanted a name that’s not as serious, but can communicate a point –?hence 99% Zulu. It speaks of our nondogmatic approach to comedy,and to our brand in particular.”

He said the show had expanded to non-Zulu-speaking provinces such as Eastern Cape and Western Cape. It will launch in Mpumalanga and Free State this year.

The show also features non-Zulu comedians.

“I guess those will be the 1%. Any one of our patrons will testify to the fact that the show is quite urban and isn’t as exclusive.

At times, some of the shows are 50% Zulu or Xhosa instead of 99% Zulu.”

So far, the show has featured the likes of Kagiso Lediga, Tshepo Mogale, Trevor Noah, Roni Modimola, Nik Rabinowitz, Marc Lottering and other non-Nguni-language speakers.

Grootboom has been in the creative industry for 16 years and says it bothered him that stand-up comedy in South Africa, an African country, was always done in English.

“Most of the time, this happens to the detriment of many African-language speakers and aspiring comics because no one will give them a stage opportunity.

“Secondly, African languages are rarely seen as commercial entities in Mzansi’s creative industry save for music. Our entertainment industry is most often very narrowly defined in terms of the English language, even among Africans.

“Furthermore, our country?– the world’s most diverse nation and one that still has the fresh and deep scars of apartheid?–?still needs to engage in building a nation towards social cohesion. Africans have yet to claim their cultural majority status in South Africa even though they are a racial majority.

“Colonisation has so affected black people that they’ll credit anything done in English and not rather than one done in in an African language,” said Grootboom.

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