In The Name of Culture: The Politics of Funerals

In The Name of Culture: The Politics of Funerals

You’ve seen them. Those incessant funeral policy infomercials, yes the very ones that forced me to put my foot down and abandon the morning ritual of watching soapie repeats. One can only take so much, you know? What does one see? Stereotypical depictions of black people at a gravesite wondering where the next loaf of bread will come from, followed by the insurance brokers offering an attractive R1 200 pay-out of groceries every month. Yay! You know what they say about stereotypes though…

The short story “Painted Sorrow”, written by a so-called novice writer from a small town made it to seventh place in the South African Writers’ College competition in 2011; an accomplishment considering the two hundred-odd entries. Please note this is not a post about the author or her achievement in this regard, but about the theme of the story: The glorification of funerals, the deceased and the politics of funerals. We are guilty of glorifying even the worst of sadists and criminals in death, not wanting to put a foot wrong when we recite that eulogy- because they have transcended into the world of ancestors. This is not to suggest that black people are the only ones guilty of this but heaven knows we like to hang on to detrimental facades as a society. How else can we explain the “chief mourner” term? Make no mistake; the knives will come out when a dead man’s mistress and estranged wife fight for their “rightful” place on the mattress, not forgetting the legendary wail. The rising cost of commodities, e-tolls and fuel levies lead to a conversation between me and the other ladies in my house. Though a lot of the time Africans are at a financial disadvantage, our reluctance to make things easier for ourselves is apparent. Truth be told, culture is largely to blame for that. Hence the conversation saw us envisioning a time when sandwiches and tea would replace the status-quo of slaughtering a cow. Nobody will have that, not even when funeral food is notorious for messing with one’s digestive system. How many of you are frowning slightly at this suggestion? I’m not. It’s cost effective, think about it. Easier said than done, just the image of gossiping neighbours calling you stingy is enough to send one right to the bank for a personal loan.

Perceptions about what others think continue to cloud our judgement of reality. Funerals have changed appearance, where there was once genuine mourning and empathy now is rampant superficiality and spitefulness.  Isn’t the best place to meet a potential suitor a funeral these days after all? And isn’t the best place to get sloshed the after tears gathering? Just saying folks. Don’t get me started about cremation, which is not much of an option. Not even over-populated cemeteries can convince cash strapped folk otherwise. The local tabloids remain the best option to plead poverty and canvass for a “decent” funeral. The number of people at a funeral is another crucial element for a “memorable” funeral. The more, the better. It has to be so memorable that one remembers that imported mahogany casket with its brass handles. One woman, for example, commented albeit proudly about her child’s coffin not being able to fit through the door because of its size…oh, and what about the scores of people who showed up at the burial, the cars!

A sense of community and socialism have for centuries been etched in African culture. This admirable facet ensured the longevity of people through support structures. Proper support structures and mutual understanding are still as important and can be instrumental in carrying any community forward. Culture, like everything else, need not fade but needs to adapt and evolve. In these tough economic periods, funeral policy insurance brokers and parlours

continue to make a killing. Who pays?


The Curious Case Of Arthur Mafokate



How coincidental that the morning I was having an internal debate about whether to go with the commemorative Human Rights piece for the 21st or with the Arthur Mafokate one, I heard the devil himself on Metro FM’s First Avenue. Towards the end of the interview he mentioned that weekly newspaper, City Press, would also be printing their interview with him. So great minds think alike, yes? I must admit though that I was in turmoil because finding the perfect angle was rather elusive.

Arthur Mafokate is an uncanny subject, so to speak. Not the conventional sort of man I would be likely to profile. My interests range from politics to business, food to lifestyle, music and almost everything really. It is rather odd that within this wide sphere of interest, his is a name that does not pop up often.

It is disappointing to admit that until now I have had these considerations because Mafokate is, after all, a businessman with strong political values (if his relationship with the ANC is anything to go by).

He remains a firm believer and promoter of his product which continues to be run-by –the-mill music. This is the stuff entrepreneurs are made of, so said a man named Mongezi Makhalima (in no particular reference to Mafokate though). So perhaps I ought to have more respect for the man.

Resilient is the best word to describe Arthur Mafokate. More than eighteen years experience in the music industry without as much as a worthy nod from industry bodies like the SAMAs takes real guts.

Of course as per his radio interview he still maintains that independent record label artists are grossly overlooked in favour of those from major record labels. The saga continues. The one reason I decided to write a piece on the man is that, once again SAMA fever is upon us.

The recent announcement of the nominees in various categories left some artist with a bitter taste, and rightfully so for some. Arthur Mafokate? Well, this is a peculiar one.

If after more than eighteen years in the industry all that an individual fights for is to be nominated in the Best Song category then something is amiss. Never mind Best Male Artist or that Best Female Artist and not even that Best Dance Album, it’s that much coveted Song Of The Year accolade that Arthur wants.

The independent versus major record label debate can continue for as much as is allowed but the crucial thing that Mafokate continues to ignore is quality. When quantity takes centre stage and becomes a priority then quality is often than not compromised.

With Mafokate, this manifested itself in the exodus of artists from his stable who felt that the man has an acute lack of appreciation for quality, for individuals who take their craft seriously.

What he continues to pelt out is music that seems to have been manufactured in a Chinese factory. This is not only an insult to whoever consumes the music but it makes a mockery of the time, effort and dedication that Mafokate has invested in his company over the years.

He continues to make music and is innovative in the dance music scene, that we recognize, but whether his material deserves the kind of recognition he craves is a bit far-fetched. Many artists have come to understand the concept of the customer being king, especially in a period where CD sales have taken a nose dive due to the rising popularity of downloads.

More effort is now pumped into producing quality and paying attention to detail. Arthur Mafokate is possibly one of the most formidable entrepreneurs in the entertainment industry but his attachment to mediocrity is    a stumbling block to him realizing his full potential.

THE Fall Of The Great Pain (In The Arse): Bidding Farewell to Julius Malema




What Julius Malema was born into -as many of us were- is a world governed by a complex set of rules: A world of etiquette, norms and values. He was born into a world governed by the principles of morality, equality and justice. South Africa took fairness to another level through its constitution, one of the most liberal and all-encompassing in the world. As it would occur, even in the year 2012 anything outside the bounds of proper-ism is still considered unorthodox. If you are lucky, you may be referred to as revolutionary. At least Julius did not wait for anyone to bestow this ‘revolutionary’ honour on him; he simply became the self-styled king of everything…well, revolutionary. Over the years that Malema has been at the forefront of South African politics critics were quick to dismiss him as a juvenile delinquent, ill-disciplined and lacking in many respects. This was, in comparison to the sort of bile he has spewed at his opponents, very kind. No, the man does not mince his words and that much we know already.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan said that one must never say “more than is necessary”. Malema’s greatest asset, his tongue, garnered him unrivalled support within the ANCYL ranks and catapulted him further up in the ANC but proved to be his greatest enemy in the end. He spent a lot of time saying more than was necessary. He spoke out of turn and left us with many a cringe worthy moment. His was a campaign to be seen and definitely heard. Of the charges that ANC top brass slapped him with his bringing the party into disrepute appears to have struck the wrong chord most. Although the timing of his impending expulsion is suspiciously convenient, there is no arguing that indeed Malema made a nuisance of himself.  His and the Youth League’s stance on controversial issues such as regime change in Botswana, support for Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe and the nationalization of mines earned him more detractors from within the ANC itself. Whether Malema singlehandedly brought the party into disrepute is another melting pot altogether. If anything, the man offered himself to become a scapegoat for the rot that has become the ANC today. Politics is a dirty game and it gets dirtier in the months preceding the succession debate.

Back to the question at hand, where am I going with this? What could the words etiquette and values possibly have to do with Malema? Everything. Joining my fellow countrymen I sat in front of my television to hear Julius speak about his tenure as ANCYL president and what it meant to now face such bleak prospects in his political career. One thing worse than Thabo Mbeki’s humiliating axing in 2008, has to be facing expulsion from the ANC. Watching that made me aware of two things: One, that Malema is an individual perfectly capable of articulating his thoughts, a visionary. I say this because he stated that he is studying towards a “diploma [sic], degree in Political Science”. Same thing yours truly studied, so maybe the guy has two brain cells he can rub together. Agreed? Secondly, and more importantly he did not wish to play by anybody’s rules nor does he want to be a hybrid of the politically correct society that South Africa has become. We are guilty of walking around on egg shells and exacerbating the vacuum that exists in confronting pertinent issues and in active participation.

Etiquette is synonymous to doing things properly in the exact order, just as others would expect. This is not at all synonymous to Julius Malema, and to an extent rightfully so. What we need to realize is that the man is by no means stupid. How can one be possibly stupid while surrounding himself with some of the most experienced and learned minds in the country, unless it’s a case of being at the right place at the right time? Yet there is great irony in not wanting to be pigeon-holed and typecast but being a part of an organization. The foundation of any organization lies in shared vision and common goals. It thus proves problematic when individuals shift from that core. Through Mbeki and Malema we have witnessed that the organization is, in fact, bigger than the individual not vice versa.

Julius Malema was NOT born in an ideal world. Many, like him weren’t: A lot of whom were as much fighters as they were gentlemen. He was in the early 80s and grew up to witness pivotal moments that steered the course of our history. A great deal of which he admits changed his life and sealed his future. He may have been caught in a time capsule where disorder and rowdiness ruled the roost. As you prepare to solemnly reflect on your political career, Mr. Malema, please remember that there is nothing that violence –and noise- can achieve that proper and mature dialogue can’t.

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Great minds…or is that..small, minds think alike?

Quite the coincidence that “Queen of the Manner”and yours truly should decide to start a blog in the same week. “Queen of the Manner” is, of course Queen Moroka of  that near disastrous soapie Generations…and I say disastrous because at least the producers have now enlisted the help of one Melusi Yeni. That hunk-of-a-dish has certainly brought sexy back, and did I mention that a man who looks good in a tailored suit absolutely melts my pot? Laughs. But as far as the similarities  between myself and the so-called Queen of the Manner (and did I also mention what a terrible name that is for a blog?), that’s as far as it goes. Though I would like to see my work speak for me as hers has. I’m probably not as exciting as she is. For one, I decided to call my blog callmegomo. Simple, yeah? For the plain reason that I’ve had people mispronounce my name for as long back as my mind can take me. Those who know me authentically call me Aki, I hear it’s autumn in Chinese. Well, at least I’m not lost in the wilderness…not totally anyway! Believe me, having three names in one’s ID is no easy feat, including one that might have belonged to the Queen of England’s hundredth cousin. Chuckles.

My name is Gomotsegang Motswatswe. Trust me, my journey is not at all bland either, so if you please, come with me…