I’m an artist. Not the drawing type – I can’t draw to save my own life! Still, I’m an artist. And I don’t mean I’m one of those who write poetry that only makes sense to me and my boyfriend (only because he cares about me). I’m not one of those artists who like to hang out in Newtown smelling of armpits and hustling my way through life while wearing brown and khaki second-hand clothing. No, not that type of artist!
My thinking is… I’m free-spirited and I’m game for that “freedom of expression” blah blah warra warra. You can write what you like, I’ll buy you a pen and notepad, and say what you like… I’ll give you the mic and you can pretty much do whatever on earth you like. I am with you! But here in Africa my artist-ness will only go as far as these African boarders of respect and culture go. So basically, I’m only free to a certain extend. In my books, it completely makes sense and is not a contradiction at all.
Let me explain. With the backbone of the fact that I am African and have been raised in an African way, I will say and do anything I want, but with that Africanism as my guide. I’m not primitive in my thinking. I wouldn’t want my boyfriend to get into a Zulu stick fight in an attempt to win me over or anything like that; a good movie and conversation will pretty much do the trick. I have evolved with the times sure, but the basic things that a black mother or grandmother will teach a child still remain facts to me. Things like greeting your elders when you enter a room even if you have no idea who the hell they are, or you don’t back-chat when spoken to by someone senior. That will not change no matter how good my English accent will ever be. This simply means that I know to respect my elders no matter how stupid I think their choices are. I’ll keep my opinion of how whack my granny’s choice to walk instead of taking a bus to town all to myself – yes. Let’s not pretend our leaders and elders are all geniuses, but as an African child, I know not to do a painting of a man old enough to be my dad’s dad, no matter how creative – naked – and put it up in a gallery.
If I were to live in… let’s say… Europe I’d act like the Europeans do in terms of the way in which things are done to show appreciation, dignity and honour towards their governors, presidents, mayors and other leaders. I could never go to England and diss “Liz” (Queen Elizabeth)! If their ways conflict with what I believe in so much, perhaps leaving to stay in a place more accommodating to my thinking is more ideal, don’t you think? With that said, when in Africa do as the Africans do! Perhaps it is okay and somewhat “cool” in the Western world to disrespect the people who have been elected by the majority of the country as leaders. But in Mzansi…nah!
If Zuma was white, and let’s say, maybe his name was John err… Mitchell, and he was from a white majority political party called the Freedom Front, would we seriously think so little of him that we’d plaster a shot of his genitalia for the world to see? I think not. Would we seriously hold debates on whether or not it’s okay to have such pictures up? No. Would a whole country come to a standstill over a picture? No. In Africa we have a certain way of doing things, and we as black people will stand our ground at keeping the theme of Respect standing. And if it means we get Kung Fu-d and head-butted while white people sit back and watch on the telly, so be it!
Poppy ‘Pops’ Vilakazi