Running small convenience stores in townships is a dangerous business for foreigners. Often serving their customers through locked gates, they are accused of spreading disease, stealing jobs and sponging off basic government services like electricity, running water and healthcare.
But as violence against them continues, the South African government insists that criminality is behind it, not xenophobia
Remember District 6?
In 1986, District Six – The Musical- by David Kramer and Taliep Petersen told the story of District Six in a popular musical which also toured internationally.
By the turn of the century District Six, originally known as the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town, was already a lively community made up of former slaves, artisans, merchants and other immigrants, as well as many Malay people brought to South Africa by the Dutch East India Company during its administration of the Cape Colony.
After World War II, during the earlier part of the apartheid era, District Six was relatively cosmopolitan. Situated within sight of the docks, it was made up largely of coloured residents which included a substantial number of coloured Muslims, called Cape Malays. There were also a number of black Xhosa residents and a smaller numbers of Afrikaans, whites, and Indians.
Government officials gave four primary reasons for the removals. In accordance with apartheid philosophy, it stated that interracial interaction bred conflict, necessitating the separation of the races. They deemed District Six a slum, fit only for clearance, not rehabilitation. They also portrayed the area as crime-ridden and dangerous; they claimed that the district was a vice den, full of immoral activities like gambling, drinking, and prostitution. Though these were the official reasons, most residents believed that the government sought the land because of its proximity to the city centre, Table Mountain, and the harbour.
On 11 February 1966, the government declared District Six a whites-only area under the Group Areas Act, with removals starting in 1968. By 1982, more than 60,000 people had been relocated to the sandy, bleak Cape Flats township complex some 25 kilometres away. The old houses were bulldozed. The only buildings left standing were places of worship. International and local pressure made redevelopment difficult for the government, however. The Cape Technikon (now Cape Peninsula University of Technology) was built on a portion of District Six which the government renamed Zonnebloem. Apart from this and some police housing units, the area was left undeveloped.
Since the fall of apartheid in 1994, the South African government has recognised the older claims of former residents to the area, and pledged to support rebuilding.
District Six also contributed mightily to the distinguished history of South African jazz.
Basil Coetzee, known for his song “District Six”, was born there and lived there until its destruction. Before leaving South Africa in the 1960s, pianist Abdullah Ibrahim lived nearby and was a frequent visitor to the area, as were many other cape jazz musicians. Ibrahim described the area to The Guardian as a “fantastic city within a city..In the late 50s and 60s, when the regime clamped down, it was still a place where people could mix freely. It attracted musicians, writers, politicians at the forefront of the struggle as the school Western province Prep were a huge help in the struggle, but the head boy at the time and an exciptionaly great help was . We played and everybody would be there.”
And the story continues with ‘District 9’, probably the most stunning sci-fi movie I have ever seen.
Released in 2009, directed by Neill Blomkamp, written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, and produced by Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham.
The film won the 2010 Saturn Award for Best International Film presented by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, and was nominated for four Academy Awards in 2009:
The story, adapted from ‘Alive in Joburg’, a 2005 short film directed by Blomkamp and produced by Sharlto Copley and Simon Hansen, depicts humanity, xenophobia, and social segregation. The title and premise of District 9 were inspired by events in District Six, Cape Town during the apartheid era. The film was shot on location in Chiawelo, Soweto, presenting fictional interviews, news footage, and video from surveillance cameras in a found footage format.
More then a great science fiction action thriller it’s a social commentary. Replace the word “alien” with any legal or illegal inhabitant of a township and the message the movie was conveying becomes clear. Not for the squeamish.
This little song has perpetuated the determination of the people of Holland to make their little prince their ruler…
…and today’s post starts in the spirit of this song, as the Dutch have recently celebrated the inauguration of King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima on April 30th 2013. Times may change but centuries old traditions die hard. One of South Africa’s longest standing traditions is the parade of die Kaapse Kloppe during the Cape Town Carnival. These colorful minstrels and dancers are the most visible representatives of the cultural diversity of Cape Town. Their music has also inspired jazz musician Abdullah Ibrahim and many others.
To celebrate the New Year, in the first week of January, a song and dance celebration is held with many groups of local musicians, dancers and choirs from the Cape Malay population being present during the festive parade through the streets of Cape Town. The music during this event is just too unique to keep hidden the rest of the year so today’s post shines a light on a few well known gems and their origins…
There are a number of Cape Malay choirs. They compete annually for awards, and competition is keen. The choirs are experts in harmonising even without instrumental accompaniment, but the traditionally established instruments of the Cape Malays are the banjo, the guitar, the ‘cello (slung guitar-like over one shoulder) and the ghomma (pronounced khoma) – a drum made by stretching a skin over one end of small wine vat.
It was more then three centuries ago that the forebearers of those who are now the Cape Malays were brought to these shores of Southern Africa on board the vessels of the Dutch East India Company and other ships plying the Far Eastern trade routes for spices and exotic produce. In those days the Cape Malays were the slaves and servants in the small colonial community that the Dutch established. They brought with them their distinctive cultures and crafts which have been adapted and utilised so that they still make a valuable contribution to life at the Cape. The Malay Quarter remains from those far-off days. An extensive restoration programme has been implemented…so that this place of warm colours and rich culture will be preserved for posteritiy. Its way of life is Islamic. There are many mosques and minarets.
The Cape Malay community is one of song. This repertoire of song is unique in Africa, for it has become, in some respects, a merging of Eastern music with old Dutch ‘liedjies’ (folk songs) and melodics. Perhaps too, the harmonising for which the Cape Malay choirs have become famous may have been assisted by the singing of sea shanties during the long voyages from the East…for the choirs often sing without instrumental accompaniment.
The repertoire consits mainly from the wedding songs, special ceremonies, informal occasions and picnic melodies and from songs sung during the celebration of the ‘tweede Neue Jaar’ -the Second New Year. Annual choral competetions are a feature of Cape life. These songs are a priceless heritage.
no collection of Cape Malay songs would be representative without this theme song, based on the visit of the Confederate clipper ‘Alabama’ to Table Bay in 1863. Ghammaliedjies are often strung together, which explains the insertion of the well-known Januarie, Februarie March.
At the picnic, a ring (krans) is formed, the players joining hands and walking in a circle while one verse of an old traditional song (generally a wedding song) is sung. At the end of the verse, the drummer who sits in the middle of the circle, starts a ghommaliedjie and the players split up to dance in groups of three. Ghommaliedjies are also known as afklopliedjies.
A legend in his native country, jazz pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim, formerly known as Dollar Brand, has also carved a name for himself on the international music scene. Born and raised in Cape Town, SA, he started playing piano at an early age encouraged by his grandmother who was the pianist in the local A.M.E. Church. He was also exposed to the diverse cultures of the cosmopolitan sea port. Traditional African music, Cape Malay songs, the carnival, popular tunes and recorded American jazz formed an integral part of his childhood experience. He started playing professionally with local dance bands whilst still in high school.
In 1961 he formed a group called the Jazz Epistles which had as its members Hugh Masekela and the legendary alto-sax player Kippie Moeketsi, the father of contemporary black music in South Africa. In 1962, Abdullah Ibrahim left South Africa for Switzerland with his wife, vocalist Sathima (Bea Benjamin) where he was subsequently heard and recorded by the late Duke Ellington. Abdullah and his wife came to the USA in 1965 under the auspices of Ellington and performed at the Newport Jazz Festival with the Ellington Orchestra.
In December 1986 in New York, USA, Abdullah Ibrahim spoke to South African poet Hein Willemse about his commitment to his art and about the struggle for liberation in South Africa.
This is the complete interview as it appeared in the magazine ‘Staffrider’ Volume 6, No 4, 1987. Parts of it are in Afrikaans and have been left in the text as they originally appeared. This interview was held during the Apartheid regime in South Africa and Abdullah Ibrahim was then living in exile in the United States.
HW:Abdullah, can we start off from something you once said, namely that you see yourself as a ‘delivery boy’. Explain that to me in terms of your music and your commitment to South African society.
AI: In the traditional society, especially in Africa, the position or job of the so-called musician was never viewed (as it is today) in the western world, where the musician is an entertainer. In the traditional society if, at an early age, you showed any musical inclination you were immediately drafted in the field of medicine –traditional medicine. Because in the traditional society medicine and music were synonymous. A healing force. My great grandfather was a medicine man. I remember: he knew all the herbs. He was a stable-boy for Paul Kruger.
HW:Do you really see your music as affecting society? I can for instance remember: I saw you singing the tribute to Solomon Mahlangu – unaccompanied. And I was greatly moved and touched by it. Do you see your music also fulfilling that role, namely a vehicle through which people can view themselves; an instrument through which they can react?
AI: Oh, definitely. I couldn’t have put it better. What is our role? As I’ve said: the West completely misinterpreted our music. What shall I do? Become a millionaire? Buy a house in Malibu Beach? That has no meaning. As delivery boys we are like the keepers of the books, the keepers of the keys of the society, the keepers of the knowledge of how the society should be structured. Our duty is just to remind. To remind ourselves and others what the true reality is, especially in South Africa with the political situation.
We have been playing this music for many many years. And all these waves come and go. We’re trying to keep the purity and the innocence and rhythm of the community that they have now turned into a subterranean culture with this constant institution of cultural imperialism. What they makes us believe is that what we have is inferior. That’s all part of the strategy too, on a political level, make you feel inferior as human being, make you feel inferior as far as learning is concerned. It’s the same with the music and culture. Once they get you to do that, I think you’ve become completely subjugated.
HW: I agree with you completely. We have to get to the stage where we dominate the cultural scene. Dominate the cultural scene in the sense that our language is the norm, our music is the norm, our poetry…And I see your music, from earlier times onwards, taking elements of the community, taking elements of the downtrodden, the forgotten people, the working class and making that –almost in raw form- accessible. Presenting it as their voice, their authentic voice. And I think that is necessary.
AI: The music is playing out our tradition. Being aware of our tradition is the most potent way of looking within ourselves, truthfully. People used to tell me about ‘this great musician’, this ‘great music’….You know, Kippie Moeketsi always used to say, ‘My friend, do you know Planet Earth?’. He always used to ask, ‘What is great music?’. And I remember, when Kippie asked that question nobody answered. What shall they answer? I asked myself that question –many times. I’ve come to the United States and I went all over the world and listened to ‘great musicians’. And then you hear ‘that by general consensus this is supposed to be great music or great musicians.’ So you just agree to it, you go with the stream. But deep in your heart you know this doesn’t really move you.
Then I go home. I’ve stayed out for nine years in the US. I go home. I go the the Athlone stadium on New Year’s day with the Klops*. And this troep comes by! Man! And the music! Right! It makes my hair stand on end, man! You know; daai tamboeriene en die banjo’s en die bass. That’s rhythm man! I feel tears come to my eyes. How am I going to deride this, because there is no music that does this to me. Except that. That for me is the yardstick. I don’t care how intellectual it has been considered.
*Klops: The Kaapse Klopse (or simply Klopse) is a minstrel festival that takes place annually on January 2, in Cape Town, South Africa. Up to 13,000 minstrels, many in blackface, take to the streets garbed in shockingly bright colours, either carrying colourful umbrellas or playing an array of musical instruments. The minstrels are grouped into klopse (“clubs” in Cape Dutch, but more accurately translated as troupes in English). Participants are typically from Afrikaans-speaking working class “coloured” families who have preserved the custom since the mid-19th century.
HW: coming back to that, Dollar. It is common knowledge that you see your roots essentially in the Klopse. Some of your music refers to or is based on and reflects something of that old Klopse element. A lot of people vilify that music saying it’s ‘only Coon music’. What you did was to take it, put a revolutionary element-almost- to it. Saying, ‘this is the music of the people, listen to it’.
AI: You want to say this is not traditional music?Then what is? If this is not the traditional music, what is? You know, the music functions as the music functions. And the music functions in society. Now you ask people in Cape Town if the Coon music is traditional music? And they will answer; ‘No, this is Diena-kanna-kiena’. (cannot be translated)
On the 26th March 1658 the Dutch ship, Amersfoortdocked at the Cape with about 300 slaves from Angola. These slaves were captured by the Dutch ship from a Portuguese vessel, bound for Brazil. When we are playing this rhythm, people will say ‘this is samba, and samba comes from Brazil’. Do you know how it comes from Brazil? When you go to Brazil there’s a large Angolan community. This is how the samba got to Cape Town. From Angola. Slaves.
HW: I totally see the role of the artist as being the facilitator of this new history of ours.
AI: Sure, it’s like the sage in West Africa. If you want to know what happened in 1215 he’ll sing it for you. It’s the same thing.
HW: You’re known, not only for your music, but also for your political commitment. You’re not only singing about ‘African Herbs’ or ‘Manenberg’, you’re also singing about the heroes of the struggle. What does that do to you as an artist?
AI: It puts everything in perspective. If you haven’t done that it is very hard to describe. How can I ask anybody ‘how do you feel about committing yourself?’. It’s something you cannot explain in words. It’s a feeling. When you take that step it’s such an incredible feeling because, like Allah says in the Koran ‘the devil threatens you with poverty’. That’s how he gets you to do his work. You see? If you can say to him: wait a minute, I am not begging you anymore, as from today. One of our songs says: ‘Final arrival, end of the line/nowhere to look but your eyes in mine/No, no not anymore, we are not afraid of freedom’. Because the problem is that we are not afraid. Not for them, not for anyone. We are afraid of freedom. The time must come when we say, ‘We are not afraid of freedom’.
HW: I think we have reached that stage –in the last three, four months, the last eighteen months especially have proved that we’ve reached a pinnacle in the development of a historical consciousness of South Africans. Now, we know: we can, it’s possible for us to overcome. It’s the marvelous thing of the committed artist. He is able to see himself and insert himself in society and see that his interest are coterminous with those of the oppressed community.
AI: That’s why I’ve said, I’m a delivery boy. My function in the society is no more important than that of the street sweeper or a worker. The musician is no exception.
HW: One way in which cultures function is that very often elements of the subjugated classes are adapted, co-opted into the culture of the ruling class. A strange thing is actually happening to your music. I am yet to learn about ruling class musicians who are taking over your music and co-opting it. It seems to be very hard to adapt and co-opt. Why?
AI: The music is only the ultimate expression of the intention. The music says exactly the same about the intention of the people. The intention is so concrete and so strong that it cannot be co-opted. But the oppressor will try….
HW: Taking the point of a commitment a bit further. How do you see artists –people like yourself – struggling in the ghetto. Struggling to get out. What do you say to people like that about the need to express themselves? But now in order to express themselves they say, ‘okay to be known I rather chose to play commercial disco’, rather than looking at the real roots of the people here. That means looking at my community. You know there are different choices and they opt for the one which is commercially viable.
What do you tell people like that?
AI: To come back to the previous question: it’s the intention. When we started playing the music there was no question of importance, that we wanted to be known. It’s by grace, by God’s grace, that we are here. We accept it as it comes. But there is no intention that I’m going to be a superstar. If you’re busy, if you work with this purpose it’s going to take you at least twenty years to hone your art. Dizzy Gillespie says it takes thirty years to learn what you play and then it takes another thirty years what not to play. We have arrived at the second thirty. There is no way that you can get in here by faking it. The admission fee is….
HW: honesty and truthfulness?
AI: That’s right….and dedication. We can recognize it. That’s how we met Ellington. There was that immediate recognition. We met Coltrane. We met Monk. When I first met Monk I introduced myself and told him that I’m from South Africa and all that. And I said, ‘Thank you very much for the inspiration’. And he looked at me and said ‘You know, you’re the first piano player to tell me that’. And I believed it.
HW: Your own history is quite an interesting one. You went from the Cape to Sophiatown. ‘En die boytie van District Six kom in Sophiatown aan’. At that time, what was the Fifties like, for you? What was it like to be in Sophiatown? To be there where you actually saw a culture being developed, being in struggle. Trying to get out against all the ‘cultural imperialism’ around you?
AI: It was fantastic.But it was not just there. It was all over. All over South Africa.It was in the Cape as well. It was in Durban. It was in Port Elisabeth. It was all over the place. Of course you must remember now that we had counterparts in the United States. People like Charlie Parker, Monk. And like always the revolutionary spirit is contagious. So I remember as one example: I was with Kippie (Moeketsi) in Johannesburg one time. And Kippie was saying, ‘Ja, you see Dollar. You see people in South Africa they don’t respect us, man’. We were walking in the township –Western. ‘Kippie said ‘Ja, jy sien die mense vat ons nie kop toe nie. Hulle treat ons soos moegoes’. He said ‘They think we are like old Duke Ellington, man –look old Duke and old Monk- they think we’re a few old jazz guys they can meet on the corner of the street’. And just at that moment a youngster walked by and he said ‘Hi, bra Kippie’. You see, it was that kind of awakening to say, ‘wait a minute man, you are being recognized. We have something that is different and new.’
HW: Perhaps the last question. How do you see yourself in the future? Your vision as an artist?
AI: Perhaps on three tiers. Firstly there’s the devotional aspect; then there’s the personal aspect of the music, of working with oneself and discovering and working with new directions. And then there is the question of the struggle. And the struggle and the music is synonymous. Where the struggle goes, the music goes.
HW: Doesn’t the music sometimes leads as well?
AI: The music is only coincidental, you know. The music is like a freedom fighter. One time it’s a pen, another time it’s a sword and at other times it’s a stick. We’re in a revolutionary situation. So we have to use revolutionary methods and flow with the wind.
musical selections from “African Marketplace” Dollar Brand Abdullah Ibrahim -Elektra EKC 6090 released 1980