Cherrie-picking cultural values

There’s was something enormously pleasing about the announcement that Foschini are dropping the Stoned Cherrie line of clothing from their stores.

Not about the actual deed, I hasten to add. No one would wish the gorgeously talented Nkhensani Nkosi ill will, nor her fabulous brand. No, the fun bit was the alleged reason for Foschini’s decision.

According to the Sowetan‘s unnamed “insider”, Stoned Cherrie clothes were “too black for both white and black people. I think South Africans have moved from that African thing. They want something that unites them”.

How funny is that? Stoned Cherrie is too African for South Africans, whereas Superga is just African enough. Love this damn country.

And an even more hilarious suggestion is that the concept of “African” no longer unites South Africans, or at least not as powerfully as the concept of “cheap Chinese knock-offs”.

Now I’m not sure I trust this alleged reason for dropping Stoned Cherrie. A quick snap survey around the office leads me to believe that pricing plays a role in the lack of sales, and possibly the fact that Stoned Cherrie fashion is a little too complicated for the majority of shoppers.

But it’s still damn funny, especially (and you’re going to have to follow me on this tangent) given the recent statement by the beautifully named Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities.

The CFTPAPOTROCRALC, to use its short acronym, has rebuked Jonathan Shapiro—aka Zapiro, our beloved and litigiously susceptible cartoonist—for continuing to depict President Zuma with a shower coming out of his head.

They write: “Mr Shapiro displays an unbelievable insensitivity to the cultural sensibilities of all decent-minded people. His cartoons on the president appear to be calculated to attack the psyche of a people emerging from a shameless past in which successive oppressive regimes ruled. As if the shower on the head was not enough to vilify the president, Shapiro comes up with a cartoon portraying the president preparing to ‘rape lady justice’. How do we explain these cartoons of both the shower (which, in any case, involved a personal issue) and the preparing-to-rape action to our children?”

Well, assuming your children aren’t imbeciles—a large assumption, perhaps—you explain to them that our country is a fragile, young democracy that needs a vigilant populace, and that the metaphor of rape refers to, inter alia, the fact that some of the men of this country, and indeed continent, use rape as a corrective measure or weapon of war.

And that our constitution is continually under threat from self-serving or factionally aligned politicians, attempting to do to our people what rapists do to women. Deprive us of our freedoms, violently.

And that the shower head is to remind us that even the leader of a country can be woefully ignorant when it comes to HIV/Aids.

Cultural values change
The CFTPAPOTROCRALC’s contention is that Zapiro is flying in the face of the “cultural sensibilities of all decent-minded people ... Let us criticise, by all means, but let us do it the ubuntu way. Hate the deed, by all means, but not the doer.”

In the same way that Foschini have discovered that South Africans don’t necessarily want a homogenous idea of Africanness peddled to them, our cultural commission needs to realise that there is no fixed idea of what is culturally acceptable.

I have no problem with the idea of respecting the individual, but I do have a massive problem with public servants using that ideal as a shield for their own wrongdoings.

I also have a problem with any organisation that believes cultural values need to be enshrined. Cultural values are always evolving to match historical change, necessarily so.

I can’t see Tumi Molekane reining in his political criticism because of some archaic respect for a set of “decent-minded” cultural values designed to preserve power for an elite.

Equally, I can’t really fault people of any race for not buying into an idea of “African”, especially if, as with the CFTPAPOTROCRALC’s “cultural sensibilities”, that idea is as much about exclusion as assimilation.

Chris Roper is the editor of M&G Online.
Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisRoperZA

Chris Roper

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