Struggle, the beloved artist

Culture as a weapon of struggle is back. It’s more sophisticated. It’s a bit more grown up. And its practitioners probably will not like the label. But it’s here. And not a moment too soon.

The struggle against apartheid was a struggle for human dignity, for life, for democracy, for non-racialism, for gender equality, for a new morality premised on the greater social good.

That struggle is still with us. All that has changed are the conditions under which this struggle is being waged. And nowhere is this clearer than in the Aids movement. For the struggle of people living with HIV/Aids, their families, their friends and supporters is a struggle for human dignity, for life, for democracy, for non-racialism, for gender equality, for a new morality.

The protest art parallels with the Eighties are astonishing. There are new freedom songs. There are Aids exhibitions. Aids poetry evenings. Aids plays. Aids film festivals. Art auctions for some worthy Aids cause. Aids craft projects to support people living with HIV. Artists are being called upon to use their influence to mobilise support for this struggle. There’s a huge international concert to raise awareness and funds for this struggle, except that this time, it doesn’t happen in London, but right here among us. And there’s the patron saint of the struggle, Nelson Mandela, leading from the front yet again.

Just like the Eighties, one’s social and artistic life is increasingly connected in some way to “the struggle”. Attend the launch of Zapiro’s latest cartoon compilation, and this modest mensch is donating the evening’s proceeds (matched by his publishers, Double Storey) to the Treatment Action Campaign’s (TAC) treatment project. The funds raised that night would pay for the anti-retrovirals for one person for a year. An exhibition opens at the National Gallery, and there’s the crusading Pieter-Dirk Uys who’s educating a whole generation through his Aids struggle theatre, delivering the opening speech. The weekend is taken up by the excited chatter of people who attended the 46664 concert, who might not have given a toss about Aids before, but who are now indirectly linked to the “the struggle”.

Then there was the launch of two books, one an academic book, The Moral Economy of Aids in South Africa by Professor Nicoli Nattrass, and Long Life — HIV Positive Stories by the Bambanani Women’s Group. What an uplifting experience! Ordinary women telling emotional stories of survival. Simple, but moving drawings and photography celebrating life. No SIPs (Self-Important Persons); just a room full of modest doctor heroes who work in extremely challenging conditions, activist heroines who do not give up despite the odds, committed academics lending intellectual muscle to the Aids struggle, backroom artists equipping the voiceless with the creative means to speak powerfully, and scores of ordinary people of all colours who are concerned about winning this new struggle.

There is an organic, unforced non-racialism reminiscent of the Eighties. There is a deep sense of humanity; people are here for each other. Here is ubuntu in practice rather than as a cliché in some hollow moral regeneration pamphlet. Individuals are freely acknowledged and celebrated for their contributions irrespective of their colour. Leaders are respected for what they have done, rather than for positions that they occupy and that demand genuflection. The songs are vibrant. There is the confidence of people taking responsibility for their destinies. Here is a little oasis of what the struggle for a non-racial, non-sexist democracy was about. This is but one of the legacies of the TAC.

It is ironic that far from the modern palaces of power with their “what’s-in-it-for-me” morality and the distant cathedrals of empty moral-speak, a new morality is being forged that affirms life, that celebrates others and gives expression to the values of non-racialism and democracy, in the midst of a deadly disease that is passed on primarily through sexual activity. And in the midst of all this, music, visual art, theatre, craft, literature, film and dance are singing in protest, moving to life-affirming rhythms and painting fresh visions of what could be.

Subscribe to the M&G for R2 a month

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

And for this weekend only, you can become a subscriber by paying just R2 a month for your first three months.

Related stories

2019: The ones who left us

From Uyinene Mrwetyana, Oliver Mtukudzi to Xolani Gwala, Mail & Guardian remembers those who have passed on

More battles ahead for domestic worker unions

Florence Sosiba, speaks to the Mail & Guardian about how important domestic workers are and exclusion in the COIDA

“Life has been good to me, considering where I come from” – Xolani Gwala

Just over a year ago, veteran radio presenter Xolani Gwala’s cancer was in remission. He spoke to the Mail & Guardian once he was back on air.

Kanya Cekeshe’s lawyer appeals decision not to grant him bail to the high court

Kanya Cekeshe’s legal team filed an urgent appeal at the Johannesburg high court on Tuesday against Monday’s judgment by magistrate Theunis Carstens.

Leader’s principal aim to build IFP

Gravitas: Velenkosini Hlabisa brings his experience to his new post as leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party.

Police Minister Bheke Cele addresses Jeppestown

Police minister Bheki Cele visited Jeppestown on Tuesday to speak to business owners and community leaders.

Subscribers only

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

Q&A Sessions: ‘I think I was born way before my...

The chief executive of the Estate Agency Affairs Board and the deputy chair of the SABC board, shares her take on retrenchments at the public broadcaster and reveals why she hates horror movies

More top stories

DRC: Tshisekedi and Kabila fall out

The country’s governing coalition is under strain, which could lead to even more acrimony ahead

Editorial: Crocodile tears from the coalface

Pumping limited resources into a project that is predominantly meant to extend dirty coal energy in South Africa is not what local communities and the climate needs.

Klipgat residents left high and dry

Flushing toilets were installed in backyards in the North West, but they can’t be used because the sewage has nowhere to go

Nehawu leaders are ‘betraying us’

The accusation by a branch of the union comes after it withdrew from a parliamentary process

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…