Pather’s Point: Hlaudi & Don Stink Of Apartheid Habit

gitanjali patherApparently Don Laka in an open letter on the Lotus Facebook page threatened to “shutdown” Radio Lotus if they don’t play 90% local music. That’s quite a threat. Does he have that power? Did I blink and miss his appointment as Minister of Communications or whatever ministry has oversight or in this case NOT, over the Public Broadcaster? Or maybe the Board has finally gotten round to implementing The Public Protector’s recommended action which was the dismissal of Hlaudi (also the High Court) and maybe they have appointed Don Laka as the Group Whatever CEO or COO?

We live in a country where we pay taxes, an SABC TV licence and every other kind of arbitrary tax because we are SOUTH AFRICANS and the law demands that those of us who work full-time or part-time comply. And we do.

The Constitution and the Freedom Charter enshrines the rights of every South African including minority groups like the Indian community. Those rights were severely impacted on during the Apartheid regime and most of my generation can’t even speak our languages, which could be Hindi, Tamil, Telugu or Urdu. Those languages were not taught at school and while there were a few community language schools, most South African Indians don’t speak their languages apart from reciting prayers, understanding basics like greetings or the use of particular words that describe “Indian vegetables” like bitter gourd, which is called “Karela”, or okra which is called “Bhindi”.

So Indian South Africans lost their rights to speak their languages through no fault of their own. I mourn that loss because

language provides the filter through which we see the world, how we frame and describe it. We mostly use the language of the oppressor. For some reason in all this discussion of who suffered more and who was oppressed more, South Africa has forgot that most important fact.

Yet the Indian community is a traditional one that nurtures its traditions, cultural practices, religion and other practices that are uniquely Indian. It is not a homogenous community either since there are major differences between different language and religious groups. Even within one religion like Hinduism …it is practiced differently according to whether a family follows the Vedanta or Sanathan way and even within a single family, the practice of Hinduism may differ if a person is a Sai devotee or worships Hanuman or Shiva.

The South African Indian community is the largest settlement of Indians outside of India. Its multi-faceted nature mirrors the immense diversity of their ancestral home India.

Bollywood films and music are a unifying factor whether it is Hindi or Tamil movies and at family occasions or parties, everyone can recognize a Bhangra song. Indian films and music draw on a number of genres and musical styles from classical carnatic music, to ghazals, Qawwali, bhajans, the trance like tunes of Sufi and yes it can all get mixed with pop, house, rock and every other tune that can be lifted from any other culture.

Unlike other language and ethnic groups in SA, the Indians comprise a tiny little percentage. And as artists know, 0.002% (mere conjecture) of these would qualify to call themselves artists. i.e. dancers, actors, poets, writers and yes musicians.

Musicians are those that can sing, arrange, conduct or compose or play an instrument. Let’s say if the Indians are a minority, then Indian artists are a minority. Oh and as a community, we love to sing like other non-minority groups except the majority of this minority do it badly: at family gatherings, in the bathroom, in front of their mirrors when they’re pretending to be Shah Rukh or Deepika Padukone and while they are driving.

That is how it should be…

As a minority community there is just not enough talent to record music that could provide 90 % of local content like Don Laka would like. That is an inescapable fact that can be deduced through logical reasoning.

Don Laka, Minister of Arts & Culture Mr.Mthethwa and COO of SABC Mr. Hlaudi Motsoeneng this morning at a briefing
Don Laka, Minister of Arts & Culture Mr.Mthethwa and COO of SABC Mr. Hlaudi Motsoeneng this morning at a briefing

So what does that mean for the Indian community who may not understand all the popular music that they love and listen to from India over Lotus FM airwaves? Does this policy mean that if they want to listen to Indian music … they must buy the CD or download their favorite singer/song/film album? Should they just tune into another radio station to listen to another language that they don’t understand?

What does it mean for their rights as a “major” minority? Shall we change the constitution Don and Hlaudi? Do the facts mean nothing? Or maybe there is some kind of talent “incubator” that we know nothing about that is going to spew forth the dulcet tones of “Indian” musicians overnight?

I know a handful of professional Indian musicians who play or sing Indian music. Most sing covers from Indian filmy music at weddings and other such functions. There are other very talented musicians who play instruments and even a female qawwali singer…

I know a few talented Indian actors…. generally unemployed because there are very few roles written for Indian actors…luckily we don’t have an Indian TV channel because what we would do with that conundrum?

I love Indian music and I can sing along with the best. I don’t understand 90% (!) of the lyrics but what the hell…its music and it’s my right to sing in a language that is a painful reminder of how much I have lost because I don’t speak or understand it properly.

I don’t tune into Lotus radio every day but when I do it’s mainly for the music. So what happens with the 90% local content for the Indian community and Lotus FM? Do the self-appointed culture gurus pull the plug?

This sounds like race and cultural oppression to me and worse still, it is piling insult on injury given our history that the DON may not know or may not be interested in knowing.

I am a really proud South African and as an artist and cultural activist completely behind a strong bias towards local content. But threatening to shutdown Lotus FM given the facts is tantamount to denying South Africans their cultural rights. Apart from being a South African, my ancestors came here as indentured labourers to work on the sugar cane plantations and I wear my lineage proudly. In the days of the struggle, I was also Black.

The Indian community was part of that struggle…an important part and while it may be a minority, the Freedom Charter and the Constitution protect those rights.

So while we must implement policies and strategies that protect South African artists and their rights to affirm our multicultural society, let’s do so judiciously and with thought. Don Laka’s pronouncements on the status of Lotus FM don’t add to the quality of any debate and smacks of a cultural imperialism that was very familiar during Apartheid.


About Gita Pather

Gitanjali Pather is the Director of the Wits Theatre at the University of Witwatersrand.

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