How racist is South Africa

Racism in the South African cultural scene

Social upheavals, historical revolutions and sustainable social changes often first announce themselves in art and culture before they make it onto the political stages of the world. Clever minds write plays, books and music on the topics that concern them and often find ways to circumvent censorship and oppression.

Pieter-Dirk Uys has been on stage for over 50 years

In South Africa, the cabaret artist Pieter-Dirk Uys is such a voice of freedom - and has been for decades. Like hardly any other artist, he accompanied the transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa with a lot of wit and humor and poked fun at all political personalities. Best known, however, is the fictional character Evita Bezuidenhout, who he invented - a kind of white "it girl" who made a name for herself as a political activist in the 1980s.

"Back then, I had to go on stage as someone else than someone with whom those in power didn't know what to do with. So I just disguised myself as a woman. That caused confusion," Uys said in an interview with DW. "Because the police did not understand who to lock up for violating the censorship prevailing at the time: the fictional character Evita - or Pieter-Dirk Uys."

Under the former President P.W. Botha was in a state of emergency in South Africa during the 1980s

Under the South African President P.W. Botha was declared a state of emergency in the country in the 1980s, which resulted in many censorship measures. Many black protest voices were arrested by the apartheid government; there were even secret murder squads. But when white South Africans like Pieter-Dirk Uys violated this order, the rules weren't always taken seriously: "In the end, all they could do was laugh at themselves and their absurd laws. This experience showed me that you never can may underestimate his enemy, "said Pieter-Dirk Uys.

The high price of freedom

The enemy - apartheid - has been buried for 25 years. Nevertheless, Uys is worried about the future of his country, where populism is getting stronger and stronger: "Apartheid - that was genocide, there was war and lies. That was a virus with no prospect of a cure. Today we live in a democracy After 25 years we still have our freedom of expression. But as Evita says: 'Freedom is the lightest feather that flies away in the softest wind' ", says Uys. "You have to work on freedom every day. If apartheid has taught us anything, it is this."

As Evita Bezuidenhout, Pieter-Dirk Uys makes fun of South Africa's elites

While Pieter-Dirk Uys lets his fictional character Evita campaign on stage, in real life in South Africa the election campaigns are in full swing. Each party wants to distinguish itself as a savior. Social grievances are used as a political currency to rekindle fears and win new voices. There are very few white South Africans who support the policies of Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa's president. Some even go so far as to turn their backs on their homeland.

An artist who left Cape Town to try her luck in Germany and who does not want to make her name public told DW that she felt she was being pushed out of the market in her home country: "I have been in South Africa many times and clearly I said that I'm just too white to perform at festivals or certain stages. That's why I decided to leave the country. "

Especially performers of Afrikaans-speaking music had to get used to the new South Africa. The world used to be at their feet, but now most of the television shows programs in the nine official Bantu languages ​​of South Africa.

In the rainbow nation of South Africa, some white artists are now finding that contemporary audiences simply reject them. Others, however, consciously come to the Cape of Good Hope to start over there after decades of apartheid.

White Museum of Black Art?

In 2017, for example, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (also called Zeitz MOCCA) opened in Cape Town - the largest museum for contemporary African art in the world. The permanent exhibition consists of the personal collection of African art of the former PUMA managing director, Jochen Zeitz.

Time and again there are clashes in South Africa, which are mainly supported by the populist parties

"The creativity of African art and the diversity of the cultures of Africa have always inspired me. I never understood why there was no institution, no large museum for it in Africa, and so (...) the idea was born," Zeitz explained in 2017 Interview. The Zeitz MOCAA has become a major tourist attraction in Cape Town. However, it also came under fire because only white men have influence as advisors in the leadership league. Jochen Zeitz rejects this criticism. "We live in a globalized world and have to overcome black and white clichés. We are only here to create opportunities," said Zeitz. If it were up to him, there should be more opportunities for colored cultural workers in South Africa. The reality is different.

The Zeitz MOCAA shows African art - from white donors

The fight for the spotlight

Younger artists in particular have to experience that it is difficult to find a job after studying or to make ends meet financially. The 36-year-old actress Noluvuyo Mangoloza lives in Cape Town and tries to build a living there in the growing media industry, whether in commercials, TV series or films. However, she mostly finances her livelihood by working behind the camera, for example as a location scout or as a production assistant.

When asked by DW, Mangoloza said that even today it is difficult for colored South Africans to achieve professional success or even the big breakthrough. "When whites say that their chances are being robbed, I honestly ask myself if this is supposed to be a joke. They have a lot more options, especially here in Cape Town, where there are so many whites who all know each other . "

Noluvoyo Mangoloza smiles in front of the camera, but is disappointed in many ways with the new social order in South Africa

When she moved from the Eastern Cape Province to Cape Town in 2003, where there are hardly any jobs for young people, she was told that the film industry was only for whites. "But that's not entirely true. There is already enough work here, but you have to fight for it."

Noluvuyo Mangoloza says that she used to work as a cashier in the supermarket in order to fulfill her dream of becoming an actress. Mangoloza welcomes projects like the Zeitz MOCAA, but admits that private initiatives alone do not go far enough: "We need more financial resources. Be it to finance our studies or to boost our careers. We want to be taken seriously. Give give us a chance for more paid internships and more apprenticeships! It's damn hard to always have to fight for everything. "

With each other - not against each other

Pieter-Dirk Uys is aware that his fight was completely different. He has been on stage for more than 50 years - most of the time with great success. He is a grateful, meek person who is well aware of his special privilege: "Without the generosity of the majority of South Africans I would not be here today. Because millions and millions of blacks could actually have used their right back then to hit me against the wall and to kill for the crimes of apartheid. As a white, Christian-Jewish African, I was partly responsible for it. I also benefited from all of this, "admits Uys.

"But I also believe that this sense of guilt can be a positive thing. You can use your feelings of guilt to ensure that these terrible crimes are not repeated and that people accept one another and love one another. After all, reconciliation is something you always do with others shares. Nobody lives only for himself. "