The Wrong Ideaby Andrei Van Wyk / Images by Paris Brummer / 31.01.2012
Between 2006 and 2008 Fokofpolisiekar was probably the most influential rock band in South Africa. People of every race have listened to, and enjoyed their music. Their lines were powerful, filled with depth, challenging conventions within traditional Afrikaans culture, and South African culture at large. They took a critical look at concepts such as Tradition, Angst, Despair and the Christian Faith. But more importantly, their lyrics supported the idea that Afrikaaners, and whites in general, are “African”. Being African transcends race or culture. Fokof lyrics called for a kind of unity, poetically pushing Afrikaans culture off it’s pedestal, arguing that the Afrikaans people aren’t the perfect race, the way many conservatives have tried to make it seem. In the documentary film Forgive them for they know not what they do Hunter Kennedy, Fokof’s primary lyricist, states:
“…And I think after a while we just realized that no one really knows… you know… and we were pissed off that people actually acted like they have answers, when no one actually has. So I think that’s how we felt cheated… like… ‘Fuck you for putting us through this, why didn’t you tell us that you didn’t know either.'”
This was Fokof’s Zenith. The rejection of Afrikaans culture as an ‘ultimate’, or objective, truth which everyone follows blindly. The urge for people to question the post-apartheid Afrikaans suburban norm; to poke, prod and provoke in the search for a common reality.
But today I’m an alien at Fokofpolisiekar gigs. It used to be a place where a sense of acceptance ran freely, where thought was rational and just. Now I find myself eavesdropping on conversations that have the word “kaffir” peppering the badly structured sentences, cut short every time my presence is felt. There’s a feeling of detestation and fear within the voices of these kids. This fuels an anger running through a revived backward ideology. Somewhere along the road of massive commercial success, the band’s message seems to have been misconstrued. A reactionary audience that misses the “question everything” nuance and the rejection of failed ideologies and rather inteprprets Fokof as an exercise in reinvigorated Afrikaans nationalism.
The band sought to open a new mindset for Afrikaaners, but that has been taken and abused by a generation willing to capitalize on the dated ideas of Anarchism and ‘necessary’ self-destruction. Before, their lyrics have been seen as criticisms of Afrikaaner Conservatism, but lines have been bent and twisted. Like:
“Ek’s net ‘n toeris; in my geboorteland;’n gekwesde dier in ‘n hok op antibiotika”
The poetry has morphed from displays of dissatisfaction with personal circumstances to a call to arms against an enemy that doesn’t exist. These lyrics are interpreted by many as a call to build a pride within one another. And the most dangerous thing that could arise in our country, now, is ‘pride’. When pride is brought into the interactions between the individuals of a particular race, the ability to sincerely critique one’s own circumstances and beliefs is lost and reduces the chances to move forward inclusively. It most often leads to a violent hatred towards everyone who holds views which are considered different, or foreign, to your own belief system, caste or culture. When something is ‘foreign’ it is clearly an indication of one’s ignorance. And, in that, the band has fuelled a new breed of Afrikaans conservatism. This sense of ignorance is evident in the beliefs of many who interpret Fokofpolisiekar as an expression of Afrikaans nationalism.
Insecurities about the ‘new South Africa’ has been a defining characteristic in the development of the post-apartheid Afrikaaner youth. Concepts such as BEE and land reform and the threat of dispossession have left many disillusioned with the new social order. A sense of pervasive alienation lingers where nationbuilding was supposed to happen. Fokofpolisiekar’s lyrics that engage so directly with this post-apartheid Afrikaans malaise, from a personal perspective, can easily be twisted into a polemic for a new Afrikaaner struggle in a South Africa run by a post-liberation black government. And in doing so, they have completely lost the point.
But there has been a crack in the wall of the bands influence. In 2006 Wynand Myburgh wrote ‘Fok God’ on the wallet of Afrikaans singer Bobby van Jaarsveld during a drunken, barroom debate about relgion. This caused a massive uproar amongst the conservative Christian community and, in turn, propelled the band’s name to a much wider audience.
Today the band’s main audience are young Afrikaaners in suburbs and small towns dotted around South Africa. And although this makes up a large and bankable constituency, the fact remains – their following does not even make up a quarter of the country’s population. Coloured people, native Afrikaans speakers, are excluded from the Afrikaans national identity and do not, for lack of a better phrase, give a fuck about Fokofpolisiekar. There are very few coloured people who actually see Fokofpolisiekar as influential or groundbreaking. Nor do they see the significance behind their music. And while some have realized the true artistic merit in Fokofpolisiekar’s music, the band is frequently categorised on the shelf with other best selling Afrikaans treffer musicians like Steve Hofmeyr and Nicholas Louw.
And yet, despite it’s true revolutionary intent, the music of Fokofpolisiekar has little to no influence over the majority of South Africans and seems increasingly misconstrued by their own constituency. And in the absence of a truly inclusive national identity, many have lost faith. A generation of youths, across the colour line, living in radically different and divided environments, drag their feet with a similar bitterness. Those in the suburbs and the townships share similar feelings of nihilism and apathy. Worlds apart they search for something different. Something they haven’t found yet.
*All images © Paris Brummer.