Guest Column

As an Afrikaans person, I felt unwelcome at the Samas

2018-06-05 11:59
President Cyril Ramaphosa gives a speech at the 2018 South African Music Awards (Samas). Photo: Gallo Images/Frennie Shivambu

President Cyril Ramaphosa gives a speech at the 2018 South African Music Awards (Samas). Photo: Gallo Images/Frennie Shivambu

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Gideon de Klerk

It is Monday morning and I am waiting for my flight back to Cape Town after our weekend at the South African Music Awards (Samas). This was our fifth Sama nomination and our third Sama event as band so we kind of knew what to expect and were really excited to enjoy a weekend away with fellow artists and to experience a great show with awesome live performances. 

As I sit here I am still trying to convince myself that my experience was due to my "white privilege", or maybe that "social media influence" biased me, but as time goes by I am realising that my experience did not have anything to do with myself but that it was just a terrible event.

Every white boy's first Sama experience is a bit of a culture shock and revelation. You quickly realise how insignificant you are in the English pop genre in South Africa and that you have absolutely no clue what the majority of people listen to in our country. 

Nonetheless, my first Sama experience was a true revelation. I got to experience a part of South Africa that, as a white person, you probably will never experience: the jokes in languages that you don't understand, the random outbursts into songs that you have never heard before and the gracious presenters who spoke in English most of the time so that all of us could understand what was going on. 

It is with this experience in the back of my head that I now realise that I was truly not welcome at this year's event.
To start at the beginning, we received our official invites on the Monday before the event, before which we were never sure exactly when it would take place. We were only told to keep the dates open as it "might" happen over the weekend of 1 to 3 June. This is probably why half the artists weren't there to accept their awards and we were left with a lot of awkward silences after some winners were announced. 

When we arrived at the hotel to check in we were booked into a room where someone else was clearly also staying so we eventually ended up in what is possibly the cheapest room available at Sun City. You know, that room with the leaking roof and broken doors, etc. 

But all the logistic issues aside, I could definitely find some way of explaining all of that and from experience in the industry I know how difficult it is to organise such a massive event. That still wasn't the reason I felt personally very unwelcome at this year's event.

The awards evening started with great anticipation as our president rocked up and opened the evening with a short and inspiring speech about contributing to our country; all of which I am personally bought into as a South African citizen. However, everything went downhill from here. 

Now, before I go further I think it is important that I explain the reason I am writing this letter. I feel obliged to do so as I am always labelled as the "liberal" in our family and among my friends. AfriForum and Steve Hofmeyr are only two of the reasons I feel embarrassed to be white sometimes and as a father of a beautiful 5-year-old boy I am committed to making South Africa a better, safer and more equal place to live in. 

I realise that, as a white person, I was born into privilege in 1983 and still today reap the benefits of that whiteness. I am not ashamed of being white or Afrikaans, but I do realise that I need to help that much more in repairing the damages done by previous regimes in this country. 

Back to the Samas. Maybe the entire event took such a political turn because our president attended for the first time, and presenters and award winners maybe felt the need to make sure he knew exactly how bad they "want the land back". 

Apart from the presenters who didn't speak English for about 95% of the time, every second award winner tried to make some kind of political statement about getting the land back. Even when one of the presenters arrived in a typical Boer Safari suit, getting the crowd to chant with him, "we want the land back", "we want the land back", I still had hope that this was only in jest, although I did suspect that the crowd meant every word they said. 

The lowest point of the evening though, was when a Radio Sonder Grense presenter started speaking in Afrikaans and the crowd started jeering and booing loudly. This is where it dawned on me that something was terribly wrong. 

I felt proud that the Afrikaans speaking winners, in fact, only spoke English in their broken Afrikaans accents and when Francois van Coke gave the presenter a kiss backstage I thought that was great and at least told a story of the attitude of most Afrikaans people in this changing country of ours. I didn't realise it at the time but that weird, uneasy feeling I had when walking out of the auditorium was the first time ever I had felt unwelcome in my own country.

Now this is probably the point where you are thinking, "That is exactly how 90% of the country felt during apartheid" (and I am tempted to add in there "up until now"). And I get that. That is why it is so hard to write this letter. 

My first thought during the weekend was how absolutely horrible it felt not to feel welcome because of your language or skin colour, and that is probably something that every white South African needs to experience to understand exactly how bad apartheid, and the effect of forcing people to speak your language, was. 

It is a terrible feeling. But still, seeing that I am always the naïve, positive one among my friends who defends the ANC fairly easily when it comes to the way they are dealing with the land issue, I just need to say this out loud. In the same way AfriForum, Steve Hofmeyr, Julius Malema and the like are dealing with our country's current situation is not the right way to go about things, what I experienced this weekend was also not right. 

Surely, the only way for us to create a better, more equal and sustainable future for everyone is to be inclusive in how we approach big events like these, to respect all cultures and give them the space to be a voice in South Africa; and to as far as possible keep politics out of a place where artists are putting their hearts and lives on the table for other to scrutinise and comment on. 

As I said in the beginning, maybe I am indeed not as liberal as I thought. And maybe I am indeed way more sensitive than I thought and most of the jeering and land remarks were made in jest. More importantly, maybe this is just how it feels to be part of a society where you are in the 8% minority. 

If that is the case I am open to learning and changing. I will even change my culture if needs be as I believe it is something way more fluid than most Afrikaans people would like to believe. But even then it doesn't take away from the fact that somewhere in my gut, something felt terribly wrong during #SAMA24.

Here's to a better #SAMA25!

Peace and love.


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.

Read more on:    samas  |  cyril rama­phosa  |  land

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