Culture is a privilege of the privileged few in SA

2011-05-31 00:00

CULTURE is priceless, ultimately as tangible as people’s sweat in their everyday struggles.

It is the right of all our people to express themselves through culture and participate in it.

And yet to be a poet in a land of poets means to have to live off a full-time job and to write in your spare time. To be a maskanda musician is to be venerated and spoken of in glowing terms, but to be only really useful when they drag you out to benedict political meetings among traditional people and in rural areas. To be a painter is to be told the World Cup is all about creating an opportunity for you, and yet what happened? And nobody understands your pictures. Social messages? The government would rather use Chomee and Arthur Mafokate than Mxolisi Nyezwa and Ike Mboneni Muila to grace its rallies. Community festivals become pay packets for the same gang of well-connected people. You hear of some artists making millions, but the majority struggle on nothing but love of art.

We wonder why we are a divided country. We want our democracy to grow, but it cannot grow without a cultural revolution. The average South African can’t afford books, but can afford the Daily Sun. You want to liberate yourself? Buy Frantz Fanon’s masterpiece, at only R167. Can’t afford it? Then you can’t be liberated. But everyone has a right to education, and knowledge, allegedly, is free.

Our poets are the match of any poet worldwide. Mxolisi Nyezwa is a modern-day Federico García Lorca. Who? You are more interested in what Julius Malema says. You complain about Malema, and you have no idea of the literary renaissance occurring in our country. Twilight? What must that mean to me? You want to read about vampires when our poor are the victims of economic vampirism. Do you understand this? Do you know what it is like to live in a location? Read your Harry Potters, but balance them with our own stories. We know Harry Potters who work magic on people.

Where is our commitment? Exclusive Books is well named. It excludes a lot of South African writing. Market demands. Is that the freedom we need? Why do we complain about the state of the nation when we do not allow people to be liberated by complete education? We are responsible. We are angry with Malema, but where were we when he was receiving his education? Malema would not have got an F in woodwork if his parents had come from Sandton, Chase Valley or Stellenbosch. We attack the so-called lost generation, but what example did we give them? Each one of us is lost without cultural education as our true reference. Talent is meaningless without guidance.

Every day in the real world, I see talented young black people, desperate for cultural leadership and guidance, and little coming. And yet we are not short of creative voices. But what can we do when the SABC and radio stations do a bit of promotion, yet still marginalise so much of our culture? When what is left is privatised and commodified. If it doesn’t fit a prerequisite, it is excluded. None of us will know our great artists if we are bombarded with American celebrities’ views on everything, and every movie is courtesy of Hollywood.

We have to transform the current status quo. It is for the sake of democracy.

• Kyle Allan is a 24-year-old poet, writer, businessperson and festival organiser. He has had poetry published in Fidelities, New Coin and Kota2 magazines, and has started a small poetry magazine called Sibali.

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