Howard Feldman

What to wear to your 1980s protest reunion

2017-04-04 08:07

In 1987 my father sat me down for a serious talk. He had something he needed to get off his chest and I needed to hear it.

He was worried, he explained, that some of the things that I have been saying, whereas important and accurate, could cause issues for me. He expressed his view that whereas freedom of expression is something that we value in theory, the government is a dangerous and crafty beast. And I needed to tread carefully.

I was 18 years old. My father must have been 50 at the time.

This past Friday we had the same discussion. I had popped past my parents Friday afternoon to see how they were doing, and like every South African across this troubled nation, we had dissected and therapised the week that was.

The mourning stages of denial, anger and depression were all covered in the span of a short conversation, one that I have no doubt was playing out in homes, bars, gyms and offices nationwide. Jacob Zuma had finally gone too far, was the conclusion and now things would change. Maybe.

And then our conversation took a turn, because my father had something he needed to get off his chest. He was worried, he explained. Some of the things that I had been writing, whereas important and accurate, could cause issues for me. We might now have freedom of expression but this government is a crafty and dangerous beast. He explained. I needed to be more careful.

My father is now 80 and I am 48.

But with this conversation, the circle of time sealed closed.

All of a sudden South Africans find themselves returning to their student activist days. Our Doc Martins (the privileged white kids protest-shoe-of-choice) need to be dusted off and serious consideration needs to be given as to what to wear with them. Our wardrobes no longer work with that look and we are forced to rebrand.

Fortunately the new campaigners have made it somewhat easier by providing us direction in the form of colour guidance (#BlackMonday) so we can opt for a crisp white Country Road shirt – classic fit because we are not as “slim fit” as we used to be back then, along with black trousers (with a tapered leg seam) and we are good to go.  And we know that wearing black shaves off a few of those unwanted kilos. A master stroke if ever there was one.

That said it has to be a concern for those who ordinarily only wear black. If they dress as they would normally (in black) they might not feel like protestors at all. And if they don’t want to protest, do they have to opt for another colour or can they stay with their current style? A 2017 question if ever there was one. I definitely don’t remember this being as confusing in 1987.

My children tell me that Doc Martins are back in vogue which is very convenient. So if you happen to have misplaced your 80’s favourites in the years you spent with that Investment Bank in London, you can simply pop down to Sandton City and pick up a pair or two (they are open until 6pm).

Just lift them slowly as they are heavier than you remember and after that skiing accident at Whistlers in Canada and subsequent damage to your L1-L5, you might want to raise those beauts with a little caution. Remember what your personal trainer has told you; lift from the knees (your bio will confirm that).

The reality is that whether we want to paint the picture of the ANC government being the same or worse than the old Nationalists, it’s simply not true. Today we might be encouraged to wear dark colours, but those were dark times. There was no freedom of expression, there was no freedom of movement, there were scant ways to challenge government.

Mostly there was detention without trial, there was torture and there was fear – not only for the economy but for life and for freedom. Peaceful protests more often than not ended with tear gas, with sjamboks and with arrests. Not because the protestors misbehaved but because no one was prepared to hear what they had to say.

These are troubled times and Jacob Zuma is a disgrace of a president. He needs to go to Nkandla, and to leave South Africans to rebuild. And we need to protest so that there is no doubting that this is indeed the will of the people. But we also need to note and appreciate what we have. We have the ability to raise our voices. We have the freedom to say what needs to be said and we have a court system that allows us to challenge that which is unconstitutional.

For that reason, I am not going grey. I am not wearing black and my South African flag will remain colorful and bright like the people of this amazing country. Mass protest is vital and critical and I will join the voices without fear. Just don’t tell my father.

- Howard Feldman is the author of Carry on Baggage and Tightrope and the afternoon drive show presenter on Chai FM.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

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