By Duane Jethro. I cut in the queue to buy cigarettes. The big guy behind me approaches and says, “sorry but I was in front of you”. I let him pass. But he’s not content. He turns and says, “don’t be like the Dutch they were like that. They exterminated all the indigenous people. Just look at Holland, its all flat, indicative of the flat, all conquering mindset of the people that live there”. A short, stocky dude, he’s clutching a pack of salt, rice and milk. I wonder where he comes from. “You should be more like the Spanish” he continues, “they are nice”. “Did you know the Spanish were the first people to conquere the Cape? They liked eating babies but they didn’t like black babies that’s why there are so many black people in South Africa”, he says. He speaks in deep monotones and has that wild eyed look that I do not want to test with historical facts. I am confused but nod, and try to avoid eye contact. He pays and leaves, but the confusion and anxiety of the encounter hangs like smoke on my shoulder.
Commemorations, death and memorials. These are the things I am struggling with later that same evening. The words splashed on my computer screen seem to speak with the same accent of the guy at the counter. Dealing with my thesis, I now try avoid eye contact, nod and keep saying yes. The stairs creak as my girlfriend comes downstairs clutching her phone. “Switch on the TV, president Zuma is going to make an announcement, they say”. I close the computer and switch on the TV. The public broadcaster is preparing for something big. Jacob Zuma is wearing black, and conveys the bombshell that is Nelson Mandela’s death in his own slow muddled way. We become teary and embrace. A little later, Barack Obama splashes onto the TV screen. We’re ambivalent, but he speaks with sincerity. Tears are now streaming down our cheeks. It’s all so confusing. We’d never imagined it would be like this. Lees verder →
As in earlier years, the controversy on the significance of the figure of ‘zwarte piet’ cropped up again. On those earlier occasions, we have posted both blogs arguing in favor of the ‘tender Dutch tradition’, and blogs stating that the arguments about the ‘innocent custom’ simply won’t do. This year we again, simultaneously, publish two contributions, by Duane Jethro and Rhoda Woets, questioning the guiltless-ness of the figure of zware piet.
By Duane Jethro It is that time of year again when, slowly, the Netherlands is being invaded by those loveable effigies of dark-skinned, red-lipped ZwartePieten. From Albert Hein to the Kapsalon, Rotterdam to Maastricht, little dark Pieten are colonizing inches of display space, as all across the Netherlands children wait anxiously for their white, bearded boss-man, Sinterklaas, to arrive from Spain and steam into cities and towns this November.
In keeping with the annual celebration, I have been asked to engage with the significance of the commemoration of Sinterklaas. I hope to use this opportunity to embark on my own intocht into the tradition, with the intention of dishing out intellectual snoepjes and cadeautjes that hopefully will add to the annual Standplaatswereld debate about the significance of that mercurial of Dutch folk characters, Zwarte Piet. Lees verder →
By Duane Jethro The 24th of September marked Heritage Day in South Africa. Inaugurated in 1996, the state figured this public holiday would afford South Africans the opportunity to critically reflect on the post-apartheid nation’s rich cultural heritage and diversity. Responding to this implicit appeal, on the 24th of September 2005, the Mzansi Braai Institute initiated the idea of reframing Heritage Day as being a celebration of the braai, or barbeque. Lees verder →
By Duane Jethro Ryan Anderson, writing for the anthropology blog Savage Minds, recently raised the question of the usefulness of authenticity as a methodological tool in the social sciences. Invoking Edward Bruner’s observation that, “authenticity is a red herring, to be examined only when tourists, the locals, or the producers themselves use the term” (Culture on Tour, 2005:5), Anderson argues that authenticity can be constructive in so far as it opens up possibilities for “empirical investigation [into] how different people create and imagine what is and what is not authentic”. Drawing on the controversial case of the Damon Winter’s manipulated photos of American soldiers in the Afghan war, for which the photographer won a prestigious award, Anderson’s post asks us to think about what criteria we should use to evaluate the authenticity of images. Lees verder →
Duane JethroSunday 8 August, 2010: I am on an expedition to find an elusive Sunday Times memorial in Soweto, Johannesburg. On the way, I drive through Vilakazi Street, passing by Nelson Mandela’s former home. It has been transformed into a museum. The precinct surrounding his former domicile is teeming with tourists and a host of locals plying a range of different commercial strategies aimed at cashing in on the spoils of the heritage venture. Further along the way, I pass the monumental Hector Pieterson Memorial and Media Centre, another heritage project erected during the post-apartheid era dedicated to the memory of the first student to have died in the 1976 student uprisings. Soweto seems to be brimming with new, rich heritage ventures mapping the formerly hidden histories of its former residents. The memorial I am in search of is not very different, having been dedicated to another forgotten memorable moment in time.
I perform a radical driving manoeuvre having suddenly spotted the artwork. The wheels churn up a cloud of dust as I swerve into the open plot of ground opposite Morris Isaacson High School in Jabulani section. Lees verder →
By Duane Jethro Since the conclusion of the World Cup, questions have been raised about what could be done with the vuvuzelas accumulated during the tournament. In response, the renowned South African cartoonist Zapiro offered a few creative, novel suggestions in one of his weekly sketches for the Sunday Times. These included deafened fans using their vuvuzelas as a hearing aid, following Paris Hilton’s lead and using it as a cannabis pipe, or as the case may be with recently sacked coach Raymond Domenech, using it as a receptacle for collecting change from the public while begging on the street.
Just as the vuvuzela’s uses as a material object were open to a multiplicity of reinterpretations, the horn has also lent itself to myriad symbolic readings that connected it to notions of culture, religion and social identities. In that case, we could perhaps find another, alternate use for the vuvuzela, using it telescopically to look back and scan the uproarious terrain of the World Cup and canvass some of the things that had been overlooked and not really heard. Lees verder →
By Duane JethroThe car company Hyundai has come up with a solution for those whom the expression “Feel It. It Is Here” has no real emotive purchase. In support of their slogan for the World Cup, “We bring the Gees”, the company has erected a 37 metre long vuvuzela on an abandoned flyover in Cape Town’s city centre. To affirm their commitment to pumping up the World Cup spirit, the instrument is not merely a striking piece of visual advertising, but sonically brings the company slogan to life as a fully operational noise making instrument.
Intended to be sounded off every time a goal was scored during the tournament, the giant trumpet’s sonic booms have, however, been curtailed by the city council on the grounds that it would seriously disrupt traffic at the major intersection below. While the project has been a failure in this sense, it has succeeded in promoting the notion of gees and linking it with vuvuzelas. Lees verder →