Letter to New York times concerning racism in Cape Town


Dear Ed,

In a Divided City, Many Blacks See Echoes of White Superiority” article published March 22, 2012 refers.

One can certainly answer Polgreens’ question in the affirmative: “Does this nation’s celebrated rainbow end where the mountain meets the sea?” Yes, as the experience with the Robbie Jansen-Jimmy Dludlu controversy has proven, (see below) there are two Cape Town’s — the one a supposed liberal bastion against, shudder, one-party control by black Africans, the other a conservative throwback to the previous whites-only regime, in which petty apartheid, for all intents and purposes, remains.

Cape Town for all its racially charged allure, and struggle with integration may be home to “Goema” a distinctive beat and local style of Jazz akin to the New Orleans association with Dixie, but the predominant sound is the two-step of Afrikaner volk musiek,The subversive sound of the “goema” or hand-drum which bears its name, is synonymous with the annual minstrel or “kaapse klopse” parades but the Goema of the Capes’ many taverns and districts is still largely forbidden.

The Cape has a history of its own, but it also shares folklore with the American South, reaching far back to the emancipation of slavery.  The lateHotep Idris Galeta, a South African Jazz great, placed this first contact of our fellow countrymen with black Americans and black American music, as “the 30th of June in 1889” when “the minstrel troop of Orpheus Myron McAdoo’s “Virginia Jubilee Singers” from Hampton Virginia appeared in concert in Cape Town.”

Much of this interwoven musical tapestry is tragically being lost, as Jazz music becomes just another tourist commodity along with the annual Cape Town Jazz Festival, which is currently being hosted by the City and which is simply another commercial attraction for the middle class, rather than a broad venue for the expression of an eponymous and indigenous, local style of “holy music”.

An incident which occurred shortly after the opposition Democratic Alliance gained control of both the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape in 2006 is illustrative of the “subtle and sometimes hard to pin down racism” which affects one of the world’s premier long-haul destinations.

I am the author of a short piece on Cape Town jazz music legend, the late Robbie Jansen. The interview dismissed as “too controversial” by a Cape Town based apartheid-era media company, Media24, has been the subject of ongoing litigation.

Most recently I was denied leave to appeal by the Labour Appeal Court of South Africa, this despite evidence of bias & corruption on the part of the judge, but am still in the process of raising funds so that I may appeal directly to South Africa’s highest court, the Constitutional Court. I believe the decision to be an infringement of my rights as a journalist and as an individual, in particular my right to pen articles that are inclusive of the nation’s complex racial identity and to not suffer editorial sanctions on the basis of racial profiling of readership.

The article which I consider groundbreaking for its time, and one of the few interviews conducted with the saxophonist before his death, provided space for Jansen to declaim on the 2006 SAMA music awards and more specifically to dialogue with a black Jazz guitarist, one man named Jimmy Dludlu, whom Jansen candidly referred to as the “George Benson of South Africa”.

Although dismissed as nothing more than “music politics” and “not the type of article one would find in a community newspaper” readers my recall South African Jazz musicians being forced to play behind curtains during the apartheid era. The struggle anthem “Manenburg is where it’s happening” on which Jansen appears, was often played in illegal mixed race Jazz venues, which once dotted the city in a subversive undermining of the apartheid regime’s claim to racial and cultural superiority.

The regime’s hatred of Jazz music has a parallel in Nazi race superiority, — as Josef Skvorecky so aptly reminds us, fascism and hatred of Jazz has always coincided: For one, there are all those “hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people.”

It comes as no surprise then that the censorship case also involves anti-Semitic comments made by the management of the People’s Post to the effect that “Jews have no business attending mixed race entertainment venues on the Sabbath,” – which is why, as a Progressive Jew, I sued for unfair discrimination amongst other things.

The same company also cynically referred to the demographics of the Cape Flats, as a “coincidence of homogeneity”. The Cape Flats is a place where people of colour affected by the forced removals which followed the destruction of District 6 — a place so rich in Cape Town’s multicultural Jazz history – were brutally resettled against their will. In other words, the company which it turns out, still refuses to apologise for its part in supporting the apartheid regime, is “merely in the business of making money” and if this means upholding the legacy of the Group Areas Act, which segregated people along colour lines, by playing to a racist demographic, then so be it.

These comments recorded in court documents now appear to have the official blessing of South Africa’s judiciary. Underlings should not question their masters and Jews should be in Shul on Friday night spinning their dreidels instead of listening to Jazz.

When it comes to the laissez faire “sunset” deals made by the previous regime, it is thus moral conservatism, not any one political parties grip on power, for instance the DA now claim to be like the US “democratic party”, which remains with us at the end of the day, and which impacts upon those living in the Cape and elsewhere. The remarks by Cape Town mayor Helen Zille regarding “education refugees” from up North, have thus come at a time when people are feeling exceedingly uncomfortable about the schizophrenia of the provinces as the national debate focuses around new proposals for the return to a unitary state.

I therefore humbly request financial support from your readers for the restitution of justice in an application before the South African Constitutional Court in this matter.

Yours faithfully,

David Robert Lewis

[David Robert Lewis is a writer and activist. His work has appeared in Amandla, Grassroots, South Press, Vrye Weekblad, New Nation, Afrol Online, Design Indaba, Adbusters and Music Industry Online]

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3 comments

  1. Pingback: Cape Town World Music Festival Boycott « Medialternatives
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