Tjatjarag: Songs for a new kind of struggle

2014-04-14 10:00

Lira. I do love her. Her sound. Her sass. She is an entire entrepreneurial venture wrapped in a single beautiful body with a voice that burbles up from deep in her soul.

She is our finest export and well on her way to global fame. Like Trevor Noah, she’s part of a generation of South Africans who are world class from the soles of their feet up.

I wish they were the headlines coming out of South Africa rather than those of men who’ve behaved badly: Oscar Pistorius and Shrien Dewani, both spoilt youngsters involved in murder trials.

I last saw Lira as she closed the season of Old Mutual Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts. Undoubtedly, Lira channels Miriam Makeba in her elegance, her sound and the way she moves.

This got me thinking about Makeba and how her music became the soundtrack of the liberation movement, capturing its every lament (for home, for self), its every hope and victory.

The ANC was a movement. A generation of artists allied themselves to the struggle against apartheid, making their soundtracks and their canvases part of the arsenal of a revolution.

Also allied were the churches, community organisations, professionals (from which the ANC’s leadership was drawn) and the class of intellectuals. The ANC itself was born in a little church in Bloemfontein.

The Mangaung municipality has renovated it beautifully. Go and have a look if you can. It will warm your heart and help stop the Nkandla palpitations.

Its character as a “broad church” made the ANC one of the finest liberation movements because its deft leadership was able to crochet unity across disparate formations and then fan out globally

to build alliances across all these vital sectors.

At Kirstenbosch, I sat and wondered if the ANC still has at its centre this wonderful character of a movement to shape and guide a society.

My ruminations were disturbed by the caterwaul of a lengthy blue-light brigade bullying its way through the Sunday afternoon traffic.

President Jacob Zuma was on the move from Genadendal and I wished that he didn’t use such a big convoy and so many blue lights; or that he didn’t build such a sprawling estate with our money.

I wished our president was a little more like José Mujica of Uruguay, who drives a VW Beetle and lives in his simple family farmhouse – a symbol of his alliance with his people. When the ANC was a movement, this idea of living simply and in modesty was not as foreign as it seems today.

On Wednesday, a tired President Zuma let rip. The media, he said, were never far from a headline about “Zuma this” or “ANC that” and, he said, were never bothered to put the honorific “president” before his name.

That’s true. We should. I try. And I will work hard to try change our style guide to build more decorum into how we report honour and title.

But honour and decorum also follow conduct, I thought, as I listened to our president on TV. My mind kept drifting to Montevideo, where President Mujica lives after he and his wife gave up the presidential palace to the people. Ja.

Funny how the ANC has become so much bigger, but so much smaller. President Zuma and his secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, have amped membership of the governing party to astounding levels. (The party had well over a million members the last time I checked.)

When I went to see Noah, he said he was voting for the ANC. Not because it’s an amazing movement from which he draws moral and political inspiration, but because our president is an endless font of material. So, no longer is it the artist’s muse, but a font of jokes.

I’ve read every opinion piece on the splurge at the president’s estate at Nkandla, and if they are

a bellwether, the ANC has lost the support of professionals and the country’s opinion makers.

Only an employed bureaucrat, a couple of lawyers on retainer to the ANC and a communist in search of a job have filled columns trying to defend the indefensible. For the rest, the Nkandla matter is treated like the worst symbol of pork-barrel politics we have.

But for a couple of patron holy men to the SABC’s high priest, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the men and women who are spiritual leaders to the bulk of South Africans pleaded with the ANC to take the moral path on the Public Protector’s report and implement its findings.

The party has also lost its centre – if you consider its veterans a centre. You will not find one who will defend the spending. The ANC is a plain old political party now, a big one, but simply a party. It is no longer a movement.

And I find myself humming to Lira:

“Rise and rise and rise and rise again?...

At times, [we] feel so lost and disoriented

[Our] life has not worked out the way [we] planned

Thought [we were] smart enough ... anywhere

But [we] made a few bad choices along the way

Still [we] rise again.”

I hope Ms Lira is right.

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