An Essay by Zebulon Dread
This piece was first printed in the Mail & Guardian, April 2001
It was the fifth consecutive year that I had loudly, brazenly and quite crazily taken it upon myself to go into the heartland of the enemy, the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees. To raise the hackles, the roof and the enemy’s ire through ribaldry and satire. To try to make somebody understand that the course of history has changed.
I wanted to make them laugh by using their own language with such succinct and lyrical nuance that they would stand awed by this kaffir who spoke Afrikaans better than most of them could ever dream of. They stood, awed and amazed, by this obese, flatulent and bombastic Hotnot who did not mind telling them that from now on they were to call him baaskaffir or else he would use his spear, carried along for all to see, to pierce their thick-skinned buffalo hides. They fled with their children when I, with demonstrative verbosity, used the Cape lingua franca to the extreme by telling them that they were naaiers (fuckers), fokken dom konte (fucking stupid cunts), varkvretende (pig-eating) honkies and a bunch of deluded idiots for thinking that Brother Jesus even took the time to listen to meat-eating beasts who cared more for their pit bull terriers than they did for their fellow black humans. The lyrical nuance of my writer-enabled Afrikaans had some of them drawing their children close to listen to how one should speak the language, only to drag them away forcefully when I wilfully swept into the “12th” official language that good old Cape lingua franca with all its concomitant swear words. Thick-skinned, cellulite-ridden and varicose-veined tannies would routinely mutter their “Sies! Sies!”, only for me to berate them for not saying “Sies!” when they and their husbands perpetrated the apartheid wars against the nation.
Icy glares from double-thighed, double-chinned and double-stomached males were met with sheer arrogance and a fearlessness that scared the carcasses in their overfed bellies as I would scream, for all to hear, that there they were again, the volk, the fokken volk, eating, drinking and talking kak (shit) as only they could. I would walk through their eating areas, like Hap en Tap, where one could buy a cardboard box filled with steak, sausage, kerriemaalvleis (curried mince), roosterbrood (toast), offal, beer, beer and more beer hence Hap (bite) and Tap (drink) and vilify them for coming to an “arts” festival and yet sit around all day and vreet, vreet, suip, suip (eat, eat, drink, drink), while all the time cajoling them to buy one Hei Voetsek!, the ultimate item in obnoxious humour. It was always the coup de grace to witness their intrigue swell to such a level that they, even against their better knowledge, would fork out the R10 and take with them a Hei Voetsek!, not knowing what to expect.
The cover of my magazine has a picture of myself, a giant, superimposed, black, dreadlocked man stepping over Table Mountain with a humongous penis being upheld by military helicopters. A side caption reads: “Hei djy Cape Town, your European imitation ma se poes, otherwise Holland se fokken moer.” I had them in paroxysms of distress as I paraded it blatantly through the streets. One tannie bravely took it upon herself to berate me in front of a large crowd only to be insultingly told the festival wasn’t her kitchen and I not her meid. I’ve taken up war with Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging-looking types, challenging them to a fight upon which I’d threaten to “toor julle swart [bewitch and turn them black]” or to use my witchcraft and remove their pencil-thin penises. Often they’d laugh uproariously and throw back ribaldry, playing along with my devil’s advocacy. Sometimes it was fun. Actually, it used to be great fun, but halfway through this year’s festival I threw in the towel and left, never to return again.
It was an e.tv journalist who asked me what the motivation was for my coming every year and while thinking and searching for an answer, I began to ask myself the same question. What was I doing giving street credibility to a festival that had, over the years, advanced little beyond the mundane middle-class mediocrity that personifies the Afrikaner and his viewpoint of the arts? My black face would find itself plastered in many media giving the notion, maybe, of some inclusivity, whereas, if truth be told, there is practically none. This is a festival that demands that Afrikaans is spoken by everyone from traders to artists and street urchins performing woeful Christian songs. I myself engaged fully in this Afrikaans, though in the form of cultural terror, until I felt the chains of neocolonisation pulling too tight at my throat. I was playing into their hands, giving their language credibility beyond what it really deserves. I questioned Nelson Mandela’s coming here! What was he doing overstretching the hand of reconciliation to those who had, have, no notion of ever reconciling with their African nationhood? Is reconciliation going to remain just an old man’s sentiment or will these people ever change their behaviour? I was in the toilet when some young bucks entered and one asked the other if he had seen that “fokken kaffir” with his naked body on the cover of that magazine, when I shouted, “You naai, that fokken kaffir is sitting here,” upon which they fled. I witnessed the “sies” tannies remonstrating with coloured people drinking in public (“Julle moenie hier drink nie [you mustn’t drink here]”) while all over the town their young bucks were walking with their beer, wine and spirits getting pissed and very irritating and no one said a word. It can be said, with impunity, that these young bucks saw little of the artistic fare and came primarily for the drinking binge these festivals allow in the name of art. I saw the anger of the coloured beggars who this year stole to their hearts’ content after years of simply watching their town being invaded by an avalanche of Boer arrogance. I saw the coming of the Christian train and their particular brand of religious oppression – what are they doing at an arts festival? – and the banal fare put out by the Afrikaanse Taal en Kultuurvereniging with never a black face on stage. As for being a national arts festival, please, think again before using that term so loosely. It is an Afrikaner Boerfest, a tannie and oompie affair at best. Breyten Breytenbach summed it up very succinctly when he said that the festival is “die bont begrafnis van die Afrikaner [the motley graveyard of the Afrikaner]”. He was one voice with the ability to perform, one who spoke the true colours of art. And what did he get? People leaving his shows were not capable of accessing his talent.
Yes, it is a graveyard and one that I shall not visit again, for truly, in my opinion, these people are going to take ages to grow and I’ve lost patience with their vulgarity. Enough is enough. What about street theatre and its survival amid the monstrosity and banality of Huisgenoot, radiosondergrense, Sarie and every conceivable marketing idiot plastering the streets with the vulgar sounds of Dozi to a point where the damnable noise is everywhere? Is anyone out there thinking? Arts festival? Sarie? Rooi Rose? Die Burger? Naspers? These are the bastions of Afrikaner mediocrity raping and pillaging what could have evolved into some semblance of discovery for the volk. But it is just another piece of their own brand of banality, making a senile volk even more so. It was Breytenbach, again, who rallied against the penkwakke (fatuous hacks or so-called arts journalists) who fed the volk more froth with their inability to reflect the truth and scope of the arts. What, he wanted to know, are their qualifications? What indeed? All hats off to the Marthinus Bassons, the survivors and activists, who continually give the volk something to think about, who try to embellish this boerewors parade with something of an intellectual quality beyond the petty, miscellaneous froth called “dramatic art”. This is not a national arts festival and never was. I for one feel emptied of my effort and drained by those oxygen thieves who take so much, yet offer so little back to artists who need the challenge that allows them to continue their forays into the mind. The rape will undoubtedly continue, but how many true artists will remain standing?