In Proudly South African Celebration!

2012-12-06 08:45

I won’t be surprised if ex-pat Saffers settled overseas, who read my last blog on crime here, smugly noted ‘My God, good thing we got out when we did!’

Yes, we South Africans do crime and corruption well, but this column will remind that there’s plenty to feel genuinely Proudly South African about: the spirit of a braai, family days spent under summer skies, trouncing OZ at cricket (!); social and political freedom; the Santa Shoe Box Project, the South African flag, ‘The Big Issue’ SA.

What we really have going for us, though, is that we celebrate the concept of ‘voice’ as we consistently fight against strait-jacket restrictions diminishing freedom of speech. In many cultures permission to differ is denied and as Deji Olukotun of New York PEN reminded on a recent visit to South Africa: ‘In some countries and cultures you can be killed for speaking out.’

Denial of voice fuels simmering resentment which explodes in an Arab Spring, a collective violence which can’t be contained. Or in personal frustration which leads to vicious outbursts. During these 16 days of Activism, as we raise awareness of violence done to women and children, we see this time too as an encouragement to find voice – to speak out in the hope that through sharing stories we feel less alone and we grow stronger.

Bearing the importance of voice in mind as I paged through the recently published Big Issue magazine, I felt the ‘proudly South African’ buoyancy which you might relate to if you waved a South African flag at the Soccer World Cup, or a cricket match or had one attached to your car aerial. This 2012 collector’s edition is propvol a myriad of home-grown South African talent.

Not only is it a ‘Tune of a Nation’ showcase, the collection of over 60 pieces – opinion, story, photos and illustration – is also a celebration of voice. It’s street-wise and relevant, with the likes of Hugh Masekela pledging to ‘devote his life to the restoration of heritage’, Eusebius McKaiser telling ‘his anxious truth’, Mandy De Waal talking of ‘her father’s laughing heart’. There’s no pretention – just honest, riveting SA reading pleasure.

‘Tune in to these pages,’ writes editor Melany Bendix, ‘and you’ll find drumbeats, bold brass, joyful ululations, war cries, harmonies that resonate, symphonies and jazzy jubilation. Sit back and immerse yourself in the rich and eclectic melody that is South Africa.’

Another proudly SA release is Alexander Parker’s 50 Flippen Brilliant South Africans. ‘You can’t have the bad without the good,’ says Parker, who penned the book as a companion to 50 People who Stuffed Up South Africa. He writes: ‘As Zuma vacillates while Rome burns, times are truly worrying. Researching the people in here, though, reminded me that we are a tough, resourceful, belligerent, talented, passionate and wonderful nation.’

Between the covers Parker includes a range of diverse personalities such as Mark Shuttleworth, the first African in space; Shaka, King of the Zulus; Brenda Fassie, Madonna of the township; Albert Luthuli, ‘the best president we never had.’  With cartoonist Zapiro’s unflinching eye capturing the exuberance of it all, it’s a delightful choice of ‘the naughty, the noble, the crazy, the controversial.’

As an opinionated lot, we might do well to learn a little self-restraint, to reign in our impulsivity and think more clearly before we blurt out whatever we feel compelled to express. Take Juju’s silly utterings, Tosh Polele’s unfortunate tweet, Oscar Pistorius’s sour-grapes tantrum at the Paralympics. But even as we put our foot in it (and who hasn’t?) this allows us the opportunity to reflect, to debate and ultimately to grow a more tolerant and robust society.

So to Saffers here, it’s good to celebrate whatever it is that makes us want to fly our flag. We live with crime, we fight corrupt politicians; much of the time we shake our heads in disbelief at failing systems. But we are gutsy scrappers; we write and share and let the world know that there is no skaam in self-expression. It’s through finding our voices that we become more able to listen to others.

And to Saffers far, if a nanny-state sometimes feels too muted, if you long for the colour, the vibrancy, the exhilaration of home, tune in to the symphony choir which is SA.

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