We have stories to tell & we dont need to pray to God to tell them

Two months ago the Hunger Coalition was formed to protest against the SABC broadcaster’s decision to cut local content and by doing so marginalise South African languages, art and cultures. Last Tuesday actor Sello Maake ka-Ncube joined the hunger strike [replacing Zamambo Tshabalala, a 24 year old industry novice who completed 30 days without food] with the following statement….

All I know is that I have always stood for something in my life. And this is one of those times that I have to do so. The cultural development that has suffered the brutality of colonialism and the ravages of Apartheid is presently choked by greed, mismanagement, and outright violation of my and my fellow countrymen’s human rights. It is so disheartening when the very fighters of Apartheid who have been given and entrusted the mandate to help us get our dignity back are the very people subjecting us to worse indignity and violation of human rights………….

When I heard the statement – “I didn’t get into the struggle to be poor” – you won’t begin to imagine the consternation I felt. And to think it was MY vote that put person in that position, with a mandate to level the fields and help in dragging people from the muddy slough of poverty. And now it’s all about HIM. I couldn’t, and still can’t, help but feel a numbing sense of despair.

I also can’t help but be reminded of an expression that many mothers would say to their children: “If you don’t wake up, you’ll end up feeding on the crap of your counterparts.” Sadly this crap has been misdirectedly dished up to us by those we think we share an affinity with.

South Africa appears to be on the verge of a free fall backwards, some examples: – attacks against democracy and the criminalisation of the poor and their right to live in the city; the growing alliance between the religious right and the ANC which ultimately challenges the constitutional rights of LGBTI people and not least of all the proposed “shoot to kill” policy under consideration during the 2010 World Cup. Anything to protect business and foreigners – from tearing down the homes of the poor, evicting market traders to putting innocent people at risk of death by shooting anyone who looks like they might be engaging in a criminal act – is this a thief? pick pocket, fly pitcher, shackdweller?. And even if you are a real criminal what happened to the right to trial and justice? Might even the decision to exclude local content be also related to the World Cup which seems to be the driving force behind so many policies – the cokacolaisation of SA.

But it’s not just SA where the Arts are under attack. In Nigeria the ewaBamijo Festival of dance is under threat because there has been a change of Managing Director of one of the sponsors, the Nigerian Central Bank. Choreographer and visionary founder of the ewaBamijo dance festival, Qudus Onikeku is fighting to save the festival while bureaucracy plays the fiddle…..

For the past one year, i have been running helter skelter to save ewaBAMIJO, my festival that will happen in Lagos by the end of October, when the idea of such festival came to me, it came with sudden revelation of the bounty of possibilities, opportunities and experience that this will present to a wide range of Nigerians, both artists, scholars and audience. With ewaBAMIJO, we hope to create a workable space – not just for dancing. A space for our bodies and mind to learn and grow, a space to share and celebrate oneness, a space where the impossible happens. A space where we could live, eat, create, play and share as a community, a community of artistes – A space that the custodian of our well-being, refused to create.

But it gets worse as other festivals are threatened with extinction

Just like ewaBamijo; FELABRATION is threatened, and much heartbreaking, the Lagos Book and Art Festival, CORA’s prime project is threatened by the recourse to cultural infamy at the National Theatre, which has reversed its yearly support for the project; and now asking them to cough out nearly 4.5 million naira to rent the halls.

Where would that luxery fall from? The “newman” there told them sincerely that he had not been sent to the National Theatre to come and promote the Arts OR CULTURE FOR THAT MATTER, but to rent out the halls, and he knows weddings and churches will be more profitable. Meanwhile, two of the banks that had also offered them a hand of support are not willing to discuss with them ‘for now’ – because ‘CBN’s eyes are all over them’.

None of this is happening in a vacuum – the attack on the Arts is part of the growing religious fundamentalism and a sterile leadership devoid of any imagination whatsoever – where weddings and church services supersede everything. Corrupt leaders who make fake deals with militants now shooting happy face photographs rather than guns. Tear away the layers of a million words and you will still not find the ordinary people who walk and wade through oil or whose faces are burnt by pit fires.

Follow the hunger strikes on Twitter: /hungerprotest

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