THIS YEAR marks 30 years since the banning of the ‘Towards the People’s Culture’ festival by the Botha government in 1986, with a festival event appropriately titled Marking the ’86 People’s Culture Festival
The original festival was meant to gather prominent artists in a collective response to the injustices of apartheid whilst deploying the arts as a tool for social justice. Instead we all found ourselves on the wrong side of the law, as the de facto military junta behind the Botha government clamped down on student resistance to apartheid, unleashing strong-arm tactics that would result in the banning of artists and musicians.
A pivotal moment, I remember walking down Loop Street, Cape Town, having just received the news that the festival which included bands such as Smoking Brass and Raakwys, had been banned, and thinking, now the @#$& has really hit the fan. It came as a big shock, still in my debut first year at UCT, and merely a member of a Nusas sub-committee, (signed up upon orientation), assisting with the festival, we found to our horror, that the colour of ones skin was absolutely no protection from the ‘State of Emergency’.
If a bunch of white, privileged students, including Ivan Toms could get banned en masse, where would it ever end? If music was illegal, where was the humanity in the system we were opposing?
The suppression of the festival radicalised students, many of whom ended up participating in covert underground operations. It also lead to the creation of the Kagenna Project & Earthlife Africa, as the reality started of ad hoc bannings, the police invasion of campus, the very next year, and the eventual outright banning of the End Conscription Campaign two years later.
Not broken in spirit, there would still be many underground festivals, and secret arts venues where students for instance pretended to go to a Woman’s Rights or Gay Rights party, only for it to turn into a full-blown Anti-Apartheid Event, replete with appearances by banned & underground MK cadres.
Love affairs would occur across the barricades. Spies on campus would be uncovered. A dirty tricks campaign would manifest itself. We would get regular visits from the special branch or stopped and searched by the apartheid military, those infamous conscripts in casspirs, as the State of Emergency made itself felt, even in leafy Atlantic garden suburbs.
This 10 December 2016 we will mark the banning through a series of events that include a market, musical performances, live installations and a symbolic lantern procession through the streets of Salt River.
Organisers of the commemorative event, Cornerstone CEO, Noel Daniels, said on Friday, “This event will not only mark the banning of the festival, but will also comprise a symbolic unbanning.”
Acclaimed Cape Town songstress Tina Schouw will reflect on the halcyon period in the 80’s.
Another iconic 80’s band Raakwys ( featuring Valmont Layne, Andre Sampie and Aki Khan) will perform songs that look back at just how far we’ve come along on the road to freedom.
Mthwakazi will ‘honour the sense of ceremony with her mesmerizing and haunting hybridized style of music’ which is apparently a crossover between Xhosa Indigenous Bow music and Opera.
Sylvestre Kabassidi will close the night with sounds from his native Ponte Noire, DRC.
The full programme is as follows:
16:00 Market opens
17:00 Performance by Tina Schouw
19:30 People’s Education participatory liberation songs intervention
20:00 Lantern procession through Salt River (lanterns available for purchase at the Market)
20:15 Performance by Mthwakazi
21:00 Performance by Sylvestre Kabassidi
Parking is available at 121 Cecil Road, Salt River for R10.
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FOR Desmond Tutu, the 1989 Peace March was a “tipping point”, for Allan Boesak, it “wasn’t about getting permission, it was about marching for peace come what may”. Those who were in the front of the 30 000 gathering which became the last “illegal march” under apartheid, at least in the minds of the majority of people who were there — a supreme act of defiance against the regime of FW de Klerk — appear to contradict today’s revisionists who at once focus on the failure of the government to suppress the march as evidence of the president’s noble intentions (which had yet to manifest in tangible policy) while writing off an act of insurrection by Cape Town’s Mayor at the time, Gordon Oliver.
Oliver is a Unitarian and thus his views are not readily given the kind of credit they deserve, at least so far as the Anglican Church is concerned. I attended today’s commemorative event hosted by St George’s Cathedral and was swept up in the highly emotional interfaith service which appeared to unite various strands of the Abrahamic tradition. From a Call to Prayer by Yusef Ganief which utilised the supreme acoustics of the venue, to the closing hymnal of Birkat Khohanim — a Judaic paeon to Peace sung by Jessica Thorn — the whole event struck a raw nerve. I was simply and elegantly brought to tender tears by the Cape Cultural Collective, this after a candid speech by the Cape Flats’ Cheryl Carolus who surely embodies the youthful rebellion of the time?
It is easy to forget the kind of political will which exemplified itself in People’s Power and which made the United Democratic Front (UDF) such a revolutionary force in South Africa. One can always slip into neat semantics of the kind which gets people Nobel Peace Prizes and forget the fortitude and determination which marked the crowd of “students, business people, domestic workers, civic and political activists; of every race, faith, age and class”, some of whom had witnessed the Purple Rain debacle ten days earlier and the chaotic start of a defiance campaign spurred on by the problematic all-white election — a velvet revolution was also occurring in Eastern Europe (which would result in the End of the Cold War and fall of the Berlin Wall).