Debunking SA’s myths

2016-09-11 06:04
Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh. Picture: Leon Sadiki/City Press

Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh. Picture: Leon Sadiki/City Press

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"Are you angry?" I ask Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh once we have settled at our table in a restaurant in Rosebank.

I ask because in the more conservative media in the UK, he’s painted as unreasonable, ungrateful and politically delusional for being one of the leaders of the #RhodesMustFall movement at Oxford University, demanding the removal of a statue of colonialist master Cecil John Rhodes from campus.

Ungrateful, because he is himself on a scholarship to Oxford, where, academically, the 27-year-old is a figure of pride.

He obtained a master’s degree with distinction last year and is busy with his doctorate on the creation of an African nuclear-free zone.

“I think anger was part of the reason for wanting to write the book,” replies the author-to-be, sporting round glasses and a formal jacket with handkerchief. He picks his words carefully.

“My anger really started reaching fever pitch around 2013, 2014. It suddenly became clear to me what the situation in South Africa was descending into, especially around the Zuma regime ... But now I’m in a strange kind of post-anger. One does feel a sense of helplessness, but, on the other hand, there’s a feeling that everything’s changing and everything can change.”

Soon after Mpofu-Walsh left the University of Cape Town, where he was president of the student representative council, the #FeesMustFall movement ignited.

He sees the book proposal that last night won him the City Press Tafelberg Nonfiction Award as part of the same spirit – kicking at the stories we tell of our nation’s transformation. It’s called Democracy and Delusion.

For the award – given every two years and the richest of its kind in South Africa – potential writers of nonfiction books must outline their projects and provide a test chapter. Mpofu-Walsh will seek to debunk what he sees as 10 myths in South Africa’s postdemocratic political discourse.

“In the first chapter, I deal with the [President Jacob] Zuma presidency. The myth is that we can ignore his legal woes. Then there’s the free education chapter, the myth being that free education is impossible. There’s land reform – that it threatens stability. The notions that the ANC liberated South Africa, that we have a free media. There’s one on Marikana...

“It’s time now, 22 years later, to say no, we haven’t progressed enough and, in many places, we’ve either stagnated or reversed. Many of the older generation, leaders and vice-chancellors and the like, are so soaked in this mythology of how they picked South Africa up from the cusp of disaster and have transferred it to this transcendentally better place. If you do anything to question them, you get attacked. Their identities are so rooted in this triumphalist narrative.”

Just before this year’s local elections, Mpofu-Walsh tweeted about his myths and received a huge response.

“I was testing it out, because this is how I’d like to get the book spoken about. Also, by making videos about the myths to be watched online.”

He plans to release a hip-hop album with 10 tracks, one for each chapter of Democracy and Delusion. Mpofu-Walsh raps as Vice V and his political tracks have received 400 000 clicks so far.

“I want to get young people talking about the issues,” he says, as he contemplates his salmon salad.

“#RhodesMustFall at Oxford actually gave me a little bit of hope because those battles are still capable of being won in South Africa. The statue came down and the Pretoria High School for Girls thing became a major issue. In the UK, people just refuse to engage.”

The tabloids were the most vicious. Daily Mail online ran articles like “Father of Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh broke up Nelson Mandela’s marriage”.

It’s only in the UK, of course, that Mpofu-Walsh is more famous than his dad, advocate and Economic Freedom Fighters chairperson Dali Mpofu.

Another myth that he would like to debunk is that his beliefs are his father’s.

“I neither want to distance myself from him nor be seen to be riding on his coat-tails. I’m immensely proud of him, knowing where he comes from ... But I do get tired of my agency being removed by always being Dali Mpofu’s son. I’ve always had a fantastic relationship with him, but I’ve never lived with him. If anything, my mum’s views have been more influential.”

Read more on:    dali mpofu  |  books

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