Monday, February 12, 2007

Follow-up on the De La Rey story

Tim Du Plessis has a much more hopeful take on the De La Rey saga than I have hitherto read. The suggestion that living "in gated suburbs and fortified houses" is tantamount to "inward emigration" is a little annoying. It is difficult to feel engaged in the country when you are constantly on high alert for your basic safety. But I guess I would have to go back to the original source of that idea to really take it up (how I wish journalism followed the same strict referencing standards as academia). In the interim, though, I am prepared to take that as no more than a gesture in the direction of other theorists on the white South African condition, and accept the article as a whole as a useful and positive contribution to a fascinating debate.

Also, here is Jetstreaker's comment on the story, as well as a link, from Jetstreaker, to Bok van Blerk's official website.

Reading some of the information on Bok's website alongside the news articles I have linked to already, I guess the concerns that the department raised were really more about potentially problematic uses of the song by extremists, rather than the song itself, and I have been a bit sidetracked by the latter. The song, as we have been reminded over and over, is not problematic in and of itself. But neither, I rush to add, is a basic Afrikaner solidarity generated around it. The reinvigoration of Afrikaner identity is critical to the future of diversity in South Africa. Claiming South African-ness, South African identity, is how young Afrikaners are going to develop a sense of investment in South Africa and its future. You have to feel proud of your place in South Africa's history in order to build on that for the future, and a sense of pride in a pre-Apartheid South Africa seems like a pretty good starting point, to me.

On the other hand, I do struggle with the whole idea of diversity in the first place, because creating groups, as Henri Tajfel and John Turner have showed, almost inevitably leads to conflict, and the idea of diversity, at least as a political ideology, is premised around the demarcation of difference. Being away from home, and working with people with a whole variety of different experiences from my own is invariably an enriching, and I am beginning to think absolutely necessary part of developing an independent intellectual life and the ability to think creatively and originally. That is very directly tied to notions of diversity. I suspect, though, that the problem resides in the creation of exclusivity, the idea that a culture is only "pure" or authentic when it is performed by what I will refer to as 'original culture bearers'. It is a half-formed idea for me at present, but it responds to my experience of what gets promoted by organizations like UNESCO as Intangible herritage, or by institutions like Carnegie Hall as South African culture (cf. my post on Jeremy Taylor's New York performances. Ag Pleeze Deddy was banned by the Apartheid Government for "mixing languages". Why then was the Graceland collaboration celebrated? (see Louise Meintjes wonderful 1990 article for more info. You need access to Jstor to get it via that link, but if anyone knows of an open-access version, I would be delighted.) Was it just a different historical moment?), or by the whole World Music industry, or even, historically, by the discipline of Ethnomusicology (though this is changing, or has changed, to some degree, at least).
Ok, so that is really just be thinking aloud, and doesn't read particularly easily, but as I intend to work on all of this much more over the next few years, it isn't totally irrelevant.

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