For Youth Month #cocreateSA hosted a Changemakers Dinner with the Allbasters Production, a team comprised of both South Africa (RSA) and the Netherlands (NL) artists, authors, poets, social activists and MCs from Cape Town and surrounding areas. The notion of the Allbasters production arose as a result of a partnership between The Artscape Theatre, Afrovibes Festival and the Netherlands Consulate General in Cape Town. The term ‘Allbasters’ as titled by this production, is a play on words that refer to the idea that we are ‘All Bastards’ given the colonial history between RSA and NL. It is also a reference to the Afrikaans translation of the word ‘marble’ which symbolizes the act of looking through a marble as a window or mirror to reflect on one’s identity and shared history. This production through art, aimed to interrogate a narrative by exploring a shared history in a present time with the perception that history is not static but a dynamic part of life that is constantly changing according to how we choose to view it.
The Allbasters production uses the intense art form of Rhythm and Poetry (RAP), jazz and opera all inter-mixed into the Hip Hop culture to convey global messages about disadvantages perpetuated toward marginalised communities in SA and NL. RAP played a pivotal role within this production as the language of the youth, allowing them to mobilize and engage around messages that they are passionate about, often in a manner that is raw and strengthened with brutal honesty. This production aims to provide a space for reflection on those topics that are spoken of on stage, in a manner that is fearless, without nuance and which has the distinct factor of not marginalizing but unifying. It also allows for the fostering of a dialogue, often around difficult issues and the uncomfortable realities of a painful past, in order to pave a way forward for the future.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the 1976 Soweto uprisings, where more than 15 000 students gathered at Orlando Secondary School to participate in what was intended to be a peaceful march to protest. The students were protesting against the Bantu Education Act introduced in 1953 and which was established by the Apartheid Government, to implement Afrikaans and English as the language medium in schools. The peaceful march turned violent when the students were met by heavily armed police who subsequently fired teargas and live ammunition, leading to the killings of more than 100 students.
SA youth today -although no longer living under the apartheid system – face similar challenges to the youth of 1976. The legacy of socio-economic divisions caused by apartheid, is still evident in the present system. These divisions buttress the legacy of subjugation, by implementing an education system that does not include the language, history and curriculum of marginalised groups. The events of 1976 in the form of protests echoes in today’s youth. What June 1976 has taught us, is that it is the young that sets the tone for change.
The voices of the youth today spoke volumes through a number of protests. The University of Cape Town was met with The Rhodes must Fall protest which aimed to decolonise campus with the physical removal of colonial architecture, as well as decolonising the curriculum according to what is being taught and by who. This protest led to the removal of the colonial statue of Cecil John Rhodes on 9 April 2015. This protest provided a platform, as well as a lot of impetus and momentum for the Fees Must Fall Protest. The Fees Must Fall protest started at the University of Witwatersrand in mid-October 2015 and quickly spread to become the biggest student protest in democratic SA. The protest started as a response to the increase in fees at universities. The aim of the protest was to increase the wages of low earning university support staff who worked for private contractors in order for the universities to directly employ them.
Students also protested at Stellenbosch University for a language policy to deem English the primary language of the university, as opposed to the current policy where English and Afrikaans possess equal footing. The aim of this movement was to make the university more inclusive by discontinuing the dominance of the Afrikaner culture, and the historical injustices associated with it on campus. The university is currently being opened. It is evident that the youth of today embodies the same spirit of change however, with the continued authority and support of the constitution.
The issue of institutionalised racism as a product of past policies is not only present in SA, but can be witnessed on a global scale. Some examples include the xenophobia existing at Scottish Universities as a result of the United Kingdom immigration policies which vigorously deters international students from studying in Britain and which has enforced Islamophobia. Racism in the United States has led to the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement. The movement aims at creating a platform to fight anti-Black racism and stimulate conversation among Black people, as well as facilitate in the creation of a network that encourages social action and engagement. The movement started as an outcry at the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin in July 2013 and went viral after Darren Wilson, a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, killed Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager.
Discontent at decades of institutionalised racism is also witnessed in NL as mentioned at the Changemakers Dinner by minority artists who attended the gathering. Second and third generation Moroccan and Surinamese citizens, as well as other minorities feel as though they are not accepted as citizens of the Netherlands. The increase in Islamophobia and xenophobia has created much discourse in the Netherlands and has led to the targeting of the Turkish and Moroccan communities, labeling them as ‘ethnic problems’. Surinamese are however considered to be the most integrated minority in the Netherlands and have become symbols of successful assimilation. Another issue identified in the NL, is the tradition of the controversial Sinterklaas character Zwarte Piet, loosely translated as ‘black Piet’ during the Sinterklaas festival. This festival is proceeded by weeks of special programming about the adventures of the saint and his assistant and has sparked protest among Dutch celebrities including directors, actors and athletes. These advocates wrote an open letter to the broadcasting agency, asking that the character of Zwarte Piet be changed in order to fit a multicultural society by encompassing a rainbow of colours in the dressing of this character.
Lastly the topic of the subjugation of language and the identity attached to it, was a high point at the Changemakers Dinner. This form of subjugation has become a common practice within SA society, particularly referring to Afrikaans and Bantu languages. The basis for the co-existing of languages is enforced by this subjugation, and uses the strategy of creating a stigma for languages that have not been given this credibility or recognition within mainstream society. This not only poses a threat to the language but also to the identity associated with it; as identities are often suppressed in order to hold supremacy over the subjugated language.
Afrikaans is one of the 11 official languages in South Africa and has been accepted as a localized form of Dutch that was created in the 17th century after the Hollanders settled in the Cape. The history of the language of ‘Kaaps’ or ‘Cape Dutch’ has been disqualified in history. Cape Dutch started as a form of rebellion where slaves refused to assimilate and speak the language of the colonists and instead created a new creole to communicate with one another. It was viewed as a less pure version of Dutch and carried very little credit and status within the social hierarchy at the time but became widespread and soon outpaced the primary language of Dutch within the area.
After 1875, a first attempt at standardizing the language was started by an organisation of middle class farmers who were the descendants of the first Europeans to colonise the Cape. This group distanced themselves from the slave origin of the language and instead promoted it as the pure language of the Afrikaners which went on to become the language of the oppressor. The development of this language and what is perceived as ‘pure’ has been given dominance over the indigenous dialects -from which it was birthed- and is excluded from the formal and accredited boundaries of the language. This is still a pressing issue today that affects the development of the language as it will always be one step behind as the authenticity of its origin is continuously subjugated.
These discussions are the starting point needed to begin to understand the challenges faced among a younger generation. As African patriot Frantz Fanon stated: ‘Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity.’ It is with this valuable piece of wisdom that the Allbasters production will portray the following message: ‘We need to start looking at one another through a different lens, one which accepts the other person without prejudice or bias.’ In the same sense, although heritage, identity and language may sometimes separate us, the Changemakers dinner demonstrated that it also has a way of connecting us in a manner where we can cocreate a shared future together.