I’ve just recently got back from the Grahamstown Festival. It’s the largest arts festival in southern Africa, apparently. Although I was working, I managed to see quite a few “shows” – some fantastic contemporary dance, lots of plays, some jazz and hip hop, and lots of art.
But forgetting all that stuff, for me it was the like a crash course in 1) how white and black South Africans interact and 2) the huge gap between rich and poor here. First I found myself hopping around in a running conflict within a specific group of people. There was this whole thing where the White Authority was treating the black folk like kids, and the black guys acted like kids. I know this seems like a grotesque and neat exercise in stereotyping, but I was there, and it was exactly like that. The black guys complained they were being treated like kids, to which the White Authority reacted, ‘Well, you act like kids.’ And they were both right. And, I don’t know, I can only make my own sense of it, but I think that it was a manifestation of everything they were indoctrinated with in their early life. The black guys were rebelling against the White Authority. Unfortunately, the black guys were the main losers as their rebellions were stopping them from benefiting from being at the Festival. It was teenagerish. The White Authority meanwhile tried to dictate to the guys what they should do, where they should go and what they should want, without trying to understand how they were feeling.
This was expressed in patronising language and weird parenting-type behaviour, which was ridiculous as the black guys are all adults. The White Authority got increasingly frustrated at the rebellion. It was a vicious circle of behaviour. Inevitably of course, the shit eventually hit the fan and there were tears at bedtime with all sorts of culturally-different toys being thrown out of the pram. I realise that I have a cold streak because while I was trying to mediate (with some surprising success – I never thought of myself as having any tact or negotiating skills, but turns out I do have a modicum) I was also almost relieved to experience this manifestation of shite apartheid indoctrination. I can sense it everywhere here, but I’ve rarely experienced it being played out.
Grahamstown is in the Eastern Cape province, one of the poorest provinces in SA. And you can’t miss the poverty. Gangs of very young kids wandering around trying to make a few bucks during the one week festival, mostly by covering themselves in white powder and acting like statues – kind of gruesome. Street kids, wearing worn-out, thin clothes that don’t keep them warm in the middle of winter (as it is now). So many of them. Then I went to a restaurant one night. Quite fancy with someone tinkling on the piano. Everyone in the restaurant was white and oh-so-well-heeled. All happy and enjoying the art binge. And outside the door were little skinny cold kids asking for a Rand. Inside I felt like I was in a scene pre-French Revolution, with the masses looking in at the obliviously rich. As Desmond Tutu said last week, it’s surprising that there isn’t a revolution here. This immoral and inhumane divide between the rich elite and the poor masses will surely not be tolerated indefinitely. It pisses me off so much I’ll happily wrench open the till in that restaurant come the day.