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Culture, Reality

We Are Family

by Kudi Maradzika, images by Jaime Smith / 15.07.2010

Welcome to Africa-South! Land of neon-bright hopes, where dark forces of discord make ongoing love to beauty and light, so every day there’s an explosion of energy to make a Star Wars battle sequence look as primitive as VHS. We gave birth to music and dance. Right here is where the exotic and the tragic mix – we do paradoxes better than perfection. We teem with despotic dictators and living legends. We got voodoo and white sangomas. We got boiling hot open-air markets and air-conditioned malls. We contradict ourselves – very well.

Here a track like “Weekend Special” can bring a party back from the dead. Brenda can lift a crowd like Lazarus. Where else is a band named after a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (Desmond and the Tutus)? Where else does Hakuna Matata mean something more than Disney? The beat sounds a little different here, and no matter what, it goes on and on and on.

The beat is truest and loudest in the urban Serengeti – those watering holes where different nationalities come together nightly in a giant goulash of humanity. These are modern day Towers of Babel – playgrounds where corporate magnates rub shoulders with street-sweepers. Black label in one hand and a Blackberry in the other. In Cape Town, its Mzoli’s, in Jo’burg its Sedibeng — places where energy lifts a crowd, intoxicating and engulfing, disco inferno’s under the African sun.

Tourists have poured in from everywhere lately. Feverishly clicking cameras, thirsty eyes soaking up the landscape, finding wonder in the commonplace, joy on the streets. Never knowing what to expect. They seem surprised that we know who the LA Lakers are. And even more surprised that Zimbabwe isn’t a small town in South Africa.

That assumption is about as smart as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement that partially clothed women cause earthquakes — guess he hasn’t been to Rio de Janeiro in summer. You can’t blame them – like us they learn about the world second hand. We welcomed them. It’s a World Cup, right. It runneth over. So we welcomed their requests for directions and their weird accents, their annoying mispronunciations and their need to constantly over-explain everything—hello we live here, you’re the visitor, of course we know what an internet cafe is, so much for giving you the right directions to the nearest one!

For peace and prosperity’s sake, we sucked it up and smiled, all the while muttering swear words under our breaths in 16 languages. Annoying visitors aside, Africa never fails to entertain. We got radical extremism, comedic politicians and octogenarian dictators whose thirst for power is nothing short of desperate. We laugh at our shortcomings but as soon as an outsider does the same, we get protective, like a family gets protective over a “special” kid who stays in the attic and only eats yellow food!

As Leo D once said, in the worst Afrikaans accent in history, “This iz Afrika!” Some have therapy, we have boerewors and beer. Africa still has a long way to go and the concept of afro-futurism hasn’t taken hold yet. Partly because it’s a weird amalgamation of terms that conjures up imagery of crop-circles and hieroglyphics. We also haven’t committed to developing Africa in a sustainable way. Whilst we might snigger at Madonna’s brown baby obsession, and Oprah’s school for mini clones, we could learn a lot from the notion of investing in Africa’s future and potential.

Here we write what we like – life in constant flux. Mentally, we’re a lot like the ubiquitous minibus taxis that insist cities and streetscapes mould themselves to their convenience. One thing however remains constant — this is our country, let’s make it work – as long as you don’t emigrate to Australia, we’re cool. If you’re already there, find someone else to send you real biltong and Nick-Nacks. This family of ours sticks together – that’s how we roll.

All images © Jaime Smith.

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