Songs now more about psychotic ambition than social harmony

It has been almost 12 years since the release of struggle documentary Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony. Sifiso Ntuli, a cultural activist and the prime figure in its conceptualisation, said he had just been thinking about it when I called him to discuss the changing meaning of the struggle song in South Africa’s political landscape.

"In Tanzania, when we were in the [ANC training] camps, a younger friend of mine, Jackie, who was a communist, used to watch us singing as we worked and say: ‘I won’t do that. Only the hungry sing, and they sing for their supper. I’m only interested in fighting the boers.’

"What is happening now is literally that and the flip side of it [is that] people are literally singing for their supper. The freedom song now is used as a weapon against particular individuals. The stomachs are full now, so why sing about Mandela?"

Ntuli believes we are witnessing the watering down of the struggle song as people have come to believe that apartheid is dead. "When we sang then, we saw the freedom song as being about who we were, our traditions, you know … about Shaka and Sekhukhune and so on. It was about passion. They say in times of social crisis, culture best expresses itself."

Asked whether he considers the current sociopolitical climate to be a social crisis, Ntuli said: "We are in a social crisis, yes, but we lack the conviction to stand up collectively. So the songs no longer express who we are as a people. They are now based on psychoses.

"I was at an ANC rally the other day and there was a DJ spinning freedom songs, which basically sounded like gospel songs. I thought to myself: ‘It’s not about machines.’ There is a reason why Jewish people still sing their prayers. It’s about memory, and not everything is about an iPad.

"[The EFF’s] idea of economic freedom, for instance … we have hardly achieved real freedom and they are already jumping the gun. At its core, it’s about who is going to drive what Merc and who will occupy which palace. Look at how obese they are. Have they ever followed the agenda of the leaders who came before us? I mean, is it really all about Zuma?" 

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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