Carmen, koeksisters and the president

Passion, power and sex wrapped in fab music: see U-Carmen eKhayelitsha.

I couldn’t disagree more with Mail & Guardian reviewer Khubu Meth (Friday, May 13), who finds it irrelevant to 21st-century South Africa. What could be more relevant to a country where, according to the Human Sciences Research Council, a woman is murdered by her partner every six hours, than a story where the heroine is killed by her lover?

In just one week in May, three family killings left 15 dead. Last week, the toll was more than a dozen.

Twice in Pretoria I have seen bloodstained sidewalks after such killings: in front of my daughter’s school and two blocks from our house in Waterkloof.

It used to be an Afrikaner thing.
Now it is creeping across race and class. It seems not a week passes without men—white, black and every shade in-between, rich and poor, employed and unemployed—murdering their wives, children and anybody else who happens to be around, then shooting themselves.

And why, of all things Afrikaner, does this repulsive trait have to cross over, instead of, say, making koeksisters, a much sweeter endeavour?

High school teachers should take their students to see U-Carmen and afterwards discuss violence against women, gender roles, healthy love, sick love and power dynamics in the couple and society.

Obsession and possession are the toxic cocktail of male love in Carmen. If Jongikhaya cannot possess Carmen, no one will. He kills her.

The plot pits against each other man and woman, the rebel and the conformist, the underdog and the powerful, the system and the outcast.

In the original opera located in the 1880s, as in today’s movie, Carmen—the woman—is about freedom, about challenging male power and shattering stereotypes. It is about a woman living by her own rules—and dying by male rules.

South Africa had her own Carmen. She self-destructed last year and I am still in mourning. Ma Brrr was in many ways like Carmen: she defied stereotypes, flaunted her polyvalent sexuality and plugged her sexual drive into her music. She lived on the edge. She took risks. She dared us to love her in spite of her flaws. She hurt herself more than anybody else.

Now, as in the 1880s, society has problems dealing with such women. Brenda Fassie, supreme live wire, turned her energy inward, into self-destruction. Carmen turns Jongikhaya’s obsession into her destruction.

Carmen affirms the sexual power of women, yet the reviewer finds it “cheapens and vulgarises” black women’s sexuality.

Wait a minute. That sounds like President Thabo Mbeki going ballistic whenever the words “African” and “sexuality” are joined, (mis)reading criticism of the African male whenever rape and having multiple sexual partners are connected to Aids. Behold the New Prudes, uncomfortable with sexuality unless it is shaped and controlled within a heterosexual patriarchal framework. Gimme a break. Can we celebrate consensual sexuality without guilt, but with a condom?

Among all the many Days, shouldn’t we have a Day of Glorious Sex?

Does Carmen cheapen the sexuality of Spanish women or Cuban cigar makers? I don’t think so. In the Latin world, Carmen is one of the most challenging and sought-after roles to play in opera, film, ballet and theatre—the über-urban rebel and temptress; passion, Eros, seduction and defiance rolled tightly together as a cigar against a woman’s thigh.

The villains in Carmen are the men, the captain and the sergeant. Not her. She has more cojones than anybody else.

Sure, she is no saint. There is ambiguity in her character. Carmen provokes. She is proud and stubborn, not a passive victim but an accomplice in her own fate. Hers is the chronicle of a death foretold. She is doomed. She knows it and will follow her destiny. She will die, but she will not live by someone else’s rules.

One person who surely had a shock watching the movie is the Minister of Health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. No, Carmen does not cook a paella with olive oil and garlic, although she likely would, given her Spanish heritage.

Instead, the movie heralds South Africa’s next epidemic: obesity. Nine out of 10 people on the screen are overweight or obese. Was it a casting requirement? Granted, Pauline Malefane carries her oversized self like a diva, sexy, gorgeous and confident that the impossibly tight pants are strongly stitched and won’t burst.

Sartorial skills aside, the minister must ponder how the public health system will cope with galloping rates of obesity-related diabetes, hypertension, heart attacks and back problems.

Nutrition will come the rescue. As you know, the minister gives sound nutrition advice. She just has the wrong target audience.

HIV-positive people should eat nutritious pap, beans and groundnuts with their anti-retrovirals. Everybody else should have veggies sprinkled with olive oil.

Boys should learn to fry koeksisters instead of firing a gun, Mbeki should speak against rape and wife killings with the same conviction he acts against corruption, and Ma Brrr should still be with us.

Client Media Releases

#Budget2019: Helping SMEs with their travel budgets
Warehousing the future: all tech and no people?
Fiscal sustainability depends on boost in growth rate
#SS19HACK: Protecting connected citizens in the 4IR