She must be an angel

2013-05-14 00:00

AT a recent address to the Cape Town Press Club, former Eurythmics star Annie Lennox related an anecdote passed onto her by her hairdresser.

It went something like this. The hairdresser had recently been on a trip to Atlantis, a community 40 km outside Cape Town with a high poverty and unemployment rate. As he was parking in a parking lot, a young girl, who looked no older than 10 years old, offered him oral sex on the spot.

While Lennox was relating the story, early on in her speech, a few men in the audience started snickering.

To which Lennox immediately snapped: “It really is not funny. It’s really disturbing.” She went on: “My hairdresser was really disturbed by this. So he went to the car-park attendant and told him, ‘look there’s something wrong. There’s a 10-year-old girl over there. She has offered to give me oral sex’.

“But he [the car guard] thought it was hilariously funny and brushed him off.

“What disturbed me the most about that story,” Lennox continued, “is that it is almost as if it is a normal occurrence that a 10-year-old girl should approach a grown man anonymously and offer him oral sex in a car park. That sticks with me, that kind of reality.”

Her retort shut the snickerers up –— and she continued with a passionate address in which she called on all men to “become feminists with us”. She also made it known that she has put any thoughts of music- making on ice for the moment — so that she can focus on her activism and on spending time with her new husband, South African gynaecologist Mitch Besser.

Lennox (58), who has been based partly in Cape Town since marrying Besser, also 58, last September, was horrified by the rape and murder of Bredasdorp teenager Anene Booysen earlier this year. Since then, she has been at the forefront of a petition, titled Make It Happen, which is aimed at mobilising the government, the media, religious groups and civil society to help end violence against women and girls.

The Aberdeen-born singer and songwriter has sold more than 80 million records internationally and received an OBE in 2011 for her “tireless charity campaigns and championing of humanitarian causes”.

She met Besser in 2009, through her involvement in the Mothers2Mothers Aidscharity that he founded in South Africa. They married in a private ceremony in London.

In an interview following her address to the press club, Lennox described how, despite finding Cape Town a beautiful city, she regularly finds herself angered by the disparities and the violence which characterise South Africa. While apartheid might be a thing of the past, economic apartheid is still strongly in existence. “People say all the time, it [Cape Town] is beautiful … and sometimes when I’m in a bad mood, I think, ‘who cares that it’s beautiful … it’s really disgraceful’. Then, at other times, I do see the stature of the beauty.

“Cape Town is a beautiful city, with marvelous nature, a wonderful mountain, lovely people, great food. I enjoy a rich life here, yet I know that all around are these subtexts of human behaviour that go way beyond my experience or way beyond what anybody might think of as being normal or healthy. They seem to be extremely dysfunctional and it’s not just … one 10-year-old girl in a car park.”

Lennox related how, as a teenager in Scotland, a white South African man visited her home town in Aberdeen to scout for talented musicians to come to South Africa.

“He said: ‘We have tremendous opportunities for people like you in South Africa. We need music teachers.’

“He said: ‘You could have a fantastic life, a maid in a big house and a swimming pool,’ and I was disgusted as I knew what was happening then. And I thought I would never set foot in a country like that, a country that divides people because of the colour of their skin.”

Nevertheless, she came to SA for the first time in 2003, when she became aware of the gravity of the HIV and Aids pandemic, and became involved in fighting it.

These days, Lennox — who names Eve Ensler, the founder of the global campaign One Billion Rising, as one of the people she admires most in the world — has shifted her focus to activism to curb gender-based violence.

“Gender-based violence is not an issue that exists like a floating balloon above society. There are deep roots … it is not just happening in Atlantis, but everywhere, and until people start to understand that this is happening … it will continue.”

She continued: “This is a crisis. When you have a crisis and don’t see it … then there is really something wrong.

“The worst feeling for me is human impotence — when people see a horror and do not do anything about it … as if it is normal.”

Lennox said that for now, she will be using her “speaking voice”, rather than her “singing voice”, to focus on activism. “The words I use to communicate with people are not so much songs, as talks.” She said she is determined to use her celebrity status to do something to fight the scourge of gender violence.

Lennox questioned how South African journalists cope with hearing and reporting the constant flood of negative news.

“You are reporting these stories all the time. How do you deal with that? I find it very hard. I carry it round with me and I get deeply upset and I don’t know what to do with it. That’s the kernel of motivation that spurs me into some kind of action.”

She urged journalists to continue covering the stories and “the horrors”. “Keep at it, even if it drives you nuts …”

On a more personal note, Lennox spoke of her love for her new man — her third husband after two marriages that ended in heartbreak — saying that for now, all she wants to do is focus on her activism and her marriage. “I am married to a wonderful man, who founded a fantastic organisation here … and living with him is my life now. Wherever he is, I want to be,” said Lennox, who these days bases herself in London and Cape Town.

Asked what she enjoys doing when she’s not working, Lennox responded: “I am a very quiet person, so I don’t seek wild entertainment. I like eating out. The restaurants in Cape Town are wonderful. It’s a thrill. And I love just looking around,” she added.

“I went to Woodstock … and we went for a grafitti tour through the neighbourhood. It think it’s very vibrant, some very interesting people work here in art and theatre. It’s a very human place.”

Asked if she has come across any hot South African musicians, she said: “At this point I have not been listening to music; it is a funny thing for me. For years I always did. It is just a stage I am going through. I don’t know if it will ever change, but I don’t really listen to anything. I know that sounds odd, but I think it might be a reaction to the fact that I steeped and immersed myself in music for so long that it is almost as if I am onto another level or something.”

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