Year in review: 15 cultural controversies

2013-12-25 06:00

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City Press’ pop culture buff Charl Blignaut counts down the controversies of the year.

15. New York bites David Tlale

There’s no such thing as bad publicity, said David Tlale afterwards, even when it’s coming from a famous publicity boss.

The day before his New York Fashion Week show, the powerful PR firm and production company People’s Revolution emailed everyone on the guest list to say they were pulling out and announcing their displeasure at not being paid.

Tlale has made headlines over payment issues before, but never on E! Entertainment and Fox News. And never fuelled by someone as fierce as the company’s owner, Kelly Cutrone. The star of Kell on Earth, she’s made People’s Revolution the base for her gritty fashion-world reality TV reality shows.

Tlale swanned through it all to glowing reviews, though did admit to City Press the drama before the show “almost gave me a rash”.

“It’s unfortunate it came to this, but these things happen for a reason,” he shared. “God always has better plans for me.”

David Tlale was not the king of New York. Picture: David Tlale

14. Coq/Cock! Steven Cohen arrested in Paris

Legendary South African performance artist and queer Jewish activist Steven Cohen has been arrested or removed from public before, in several countries. But the meanest arrests have been in an increasingly intolerant and conservative France, where he lives.

Responding to a wave of homophobia, he made a trademark public intervention called Coq/Cock. He dressed up as a great bird and appeared at the Eiffel Tower with a French cock leading him on a length of ribbon wound around his own cock, effectively being choreographed by the national symbol of France. His arrest on charges of indecent exposure made world headlines and an expensive court case will play out in the new year.

Now “France is imprisoning artists,” said his high-profile anti-censorship lawyer, Agnès Tricoire, who will appear for him.

Performance artist Steven Cohen just before his arrest in Paris. Picture: Quentin Evrard

13. Blind busker bashed

In their increasingly famous role as bully boys, the police are the stars of a few culture controversies this year. In the category #CantMakeThisShitUp the good people of Cape Town took to the streets to demonstrate against what happened to Lunga Goodman Nono at the hands of the city’s metro police.

The blind busker had been accused by the now-suspended policemen of contravening bylaws. His guitar was smashed by police and he was dragged through a busy market as his wife screamed for help.

“It’s all been a very 21st century affair: social media was the conduit for the spreading of cellphone footage of Nono’s assault and social media was the vehicle for organising the protest in his defence,” wrote journalist Rebecca Davis of the demonstration. “Beat Drums Not Buskers, said [a placard]; Cops or Robbers? questioned one. Take Steve Hofmeyr Instead, one wit’s placard pleaded.”

Metro police rough up and arrest a blind busker at St Georges Mall in Cape Town. Picture: Michael Walker/Cape Times

12. Professor fined for police uniform

Kwaito star Mkhonzeni “Professor” Langa was eventually fined R3 000, or one month in prison, for appearing on stage in clever cosplay. He wore a metro police uniform to the Metro FM music awards in February and the cops hit back.

Yes, really. Because, said the prosecutor when Professor appeared in court, it had become a worrying trend for criminals to pose as police officers, usually to commit serious offences.

Because kwaito stars are criminals and because humour must be met with force and dealt with firmly. We saw in 2012 the dangers of the nation’s artists’ insidious predisposition towards satire.

Kwaito star Professor wearing the metro cop uniform that landed him in trouble. Picture: Sipho Maluka

11. Kuli Roberts versus world

When Khanyi Mbau and Nonhle Thema are taking a year off from page three, you can always rely on the formidable Ms Kuli Roberts to fill in. In the office our jaws dropped when ace reporter Ngwako Malatji broke the story of the late Vuyo Mbuli’s estranged wife, Savita Mbuli, accusing TV and radio presenter Roberts of being among 18 women her husband had committed adultery with during their marriage. Kuli won the round, with Savita sullying it up in rumours of catfights before funerals and erotic SMSes.

The other round that put her in the spotlight? Not so sure. What was supposed to be a SA Comedy Central roast of Steve Hofmeyr turned into a roast of Kuli Roberts and she lashed back at Trevor Noah for ambushing her and getting way too personal.

As roast host, Noah set the tone against Roberts, as he did with all participants.

“McSlutty, I’m glad you’re sober enough to join us,” he said to her, before getting stuck in.

Kuli Roberts at the controversial Comedy Central Roast of Steve Hofmeyr. Picture: Dominic Barnardt/Gallo Images/Getty Images for MTV

10. Die Antwoord’s ugly exploitation drama

Last year the controversial zef rap supergroup Die Antwoord took on another artist – Lady Gaga – with a video that threw a canopy of shade on her South African tour.

This year it was other artists who took them on. Following on from sculptor Jane Alexander threatening legal action over the group’s use of her Butcher Boys imagery in a teaser video, a rapper who worked with Die Antwoord as a teenager accused them of using him and his friends to create their gangster image.

Wanga Jack also accused Die Antwoord of stealing his trademark Evil Boy imagery and turning it into fluffy toys without coughing up.

Die Antwoord’s denial came in the form of a stinging attack on Jack. They were silent on the claims by another artist – Anton Duitsman – that Die Antwoord used his writing to create the lyrics for tracks on their debut album $O$. Duitsman said Jones had acknowledged this, but never paid him a cent. Die Antwoord has been accused of stealing material and borrowing images. Picture: Die Antwoord 9. Sex, lies and heritage sites

The SABC may be the public institution that hogs the headlines for all the wrong reasons, but the country’s richest heritage site, Freedom Park, made a bid for a share of them this year.

The Pretoria site’s CEO Fana Jiyane faced a huge revolt from staff, who have accused him of using his position to promote the women in his life.

Jiyane denied all allegations, but labour and civil cases continued to mount against him and two sexual harassment investigations were pending. The Public Protector has now stepped in as staff continue to toyi-toyi.

CEO Fana Jiyane made headlines for allegedly abusing his power at Freedom Park. Picture: Craig Nieuwenhuizen/Foto24

8. Kelly Khumalo in catfight of the year

Afro-pop singer Kelly Khumalo set the interwebs ablaze when City Press revealed she was wanted for questioning by the Hillbrow police after allegedly assaulting the wife of Orlando Pirates goalie Senzo Meyiwa. Khumalo was reported to be embroiled in an ugly love triangle with the star player.

After hours behind bars Khumalo and her sister arrived for her appearance at the Hillbrow Magistrates’ Court dressed to, er, kill. She might have failed to escape the Hillbrow police, wrote Ngwako Malatji, “but she would definitely escape the clutches of the fashion police”.

Kelly Khumalo with her sister in court on assault charges. Picture: Muntu Vilakazi/City Press

7. ANN7 news boss on the run amid blooper storm

Never before has the launch of a DStv news channel generated such media mayhem. And that was just the internet blooper collections of embarrassing mistakes made by the model-agency hired newscasters live on air.

Crashing like a wave in the Sunday papers came further news of a senior news boss on the run and fearing for his life. City Press found Rajesh Sundaram exhausted and scared at a Joburg hotel where he described ANN7 as a workplace ruled with an iron fist by its owners, the Gupta brothers. He also spilled the beans on visits to President Jacob Zuma about the news channel’s pro-ANC policy.

The Guptas have angrily denied his claims and dismissed him as incompetent, but Sundaram will be publishing a tell-all book next year. It will no doubt not be well received by the Guptas, who have spent the year taking on their detractors.

They may have managed to land wedding guests at a military airport, but even they couldn’t kill the internet when bloopers from their news channel began to go viral.

Former ANN7 editor Rajesh Sundaram goes into hiding. Picture: Leon Sadiki/City Press

6. Soap opera at soap opera

It was inevitable that South Africa’s longest-running soap opera and the SABC’s hugely popular commercial cash cow Generations would one day spawn a spin-off series.

It just wasn’t supposed to be behind the scenes. But that’s what happens when you have the fragile egos of so very many beautiful, insecure people in one dressing room.

Late in the year City Press broke the news that almost all the soapie’s cast members had refused to sign their new contracts because executive producer Mfundi Vundla did not accede to their demands for wage increases and did not extend their one-year contracts to three years.

An attorney was appointed, meetings ended in deadlock, names were sullied, a settlement reached and then a second threat of a strike rose.

Now the cast will have to work in the holidays because so many shoot days have been lost. Just between you and me, it is unheard of for soap actors to be given contracts beyond a year. Characters don’t last, storylines end. It’s TV, not real life.

The cast of Generations went on strike. Picture: Lungelo Mbulwana

 5. SABC makes booing taboo

If you thought that 2012 was the year of the SABC’s bosses tightening editorial control of perceived anti-government subversion then that was small fry, the odd Nkandla advert here, the odd radio show there.

In 2013 the sun really began to shine in the news department.

A new season of a talk show that critically tackles social issues in a lively debate? The SABC didn’t think that was necessary thank you and so they canned The Big Debate.

A documentary that exposes how the government did nothing to recover billions looted by apartheid banks? Not today thanks .

Booing at the memorial for former president Nelson Mandela? Why focus on such negative nonsense?

If the trend continues in 2014 I suggest viewers stock up on sunscreen and a nice big beach hat.

To boo was taboo at the SABC. Picture: Nelius Rademan/Foto24

4. Another year, another exploding painting

Brett Murray’s infamous painting of the naked emperor triggered a reaction that has formed a permanent part of the language of our contemporary art – featuring the controversial presidential depiction.

This year’s Spear was Yakhal’inkomo – Black Man’s Cry. City Press revealed how a new work by Ayanda Mabulu, the politically outspoken painter from Cape Town, was removed from the walls of the FNB Joburg Art Fair 2013 for fear, said the artist, that “it will offend sponsors and important people”.

The incident marked another chapter for the controversial, dreadlocked artist who became infamous for painting President Jacob Zuma with his penis exposed – before Brett Murray even.

The painting, themed around the Marikana shooting and depicting a miner being attacked by Zuma’s dog, was eventually returned to display after photographer David Goldblatt removed his work from the fair amid a public outcry.

Mabulu’s career was well and truly launched.

Artist Ayanda Mabulu with his Marikana work censored at the Joburg Art Fair. Picture: Denzil Maregele/Foto24

3. Film banned then unbanned

Twitchy organisers and frowning government bodies continued all year to create big-name careers. All hell broke loose at the opening night of the Durban International Film Festival when the scheduled film Of Good Report did not screen. Instead director Jahmil XT Qubeka appeared on stage with his mouth gagged.

The Film and Publications Board had refused to classify the film, deeming it child pornography because of a scene involving inexplicit sex between a sugar daddy teacher and a 16-year-old student.

By the end of the year Qubeka had won his appeal against the ruling, his film had been lauded internationally, he won several awards and announced he is suing the board in exchange.

It really could be a movie in itself – and probably will be one day. Jahmil Qubeka had his film banned by the Film and Publication Board. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya/City Press 2. Rapper shot by cops pursuing kidnapper cop

But the biggest controversies of the year involved rappers, cops and courts, just like the good old days.

One morning late in November the nation woke up to news reports on Talk Radio 702 that ricocheted across the media at the speed of a bullet. In another one you really can’t make up, it emerged that police had opened fire on hip hop artist Khuli Chana, believing he was a suspect in an attempted kidnapping that, it turned out, involved another policeman who was moonlighting as a kidnapper.

The police then announced they would be investigating Chana, who slapped them with legal action in return.

Khuli Chana recounting how police shot him. Picture: Elizabeth Sejake/City Press

1. Another brick in the wall

But nothing would sum up the violence of the cultural year like the news in City Press that kwaito star Brickz had spent the weekend in jail on rape charges.

Tears in court did not help as Brickz denied the allegations and his bail was contested for days on end. His case will no doubt add to the pending trials that lie ahead of our celebrities. In a tone set by Oscar Pistorius, 2014 will be the year of the courtroom drama.

Kwaito star Brickz in court on rape allegations. Picture: Elizabeth Sejake/City Press

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