Struggles of cultural activism in the context of neoliberlism

KC JOURNAL NO 21 MAY 2009

In this article, Taryn Mackay shares the challenge faced by cultural activists

“and what of mandela’s south africa? otherwise known as the Small Miracle, the Rainbow Nation of God? South Africans say that the only miracle they know of is how quickly the rainbow has been privatized, sectioned off and auctioned to then highest bidders. within 2 years of taking office in 1994, the African National Congress genuflected with hardly a caveat to the Market God. In a rush to replace Argentina as neo-liberalism’s poster boy, it has instituted a massive programme of privatisation and structural adjustment. The government’s promise to redistribute agricultural land to 26 million landless people has remained in the realm of dark humour. While 60 percent of the population remained landless, almost all agricultural land is owned by 60,000 white farmers. Post-apartheid the income of 40 percent of the poorest black families has diminished by about 20 percent. 2 million have been evicted from their homes. 6 hundred die of AIDS every day. 40 percent of the population is unemployed and that number is rising sharply. the corporatisation of basic services has meant that millions have been disconnected from water and electricity…

President thabo mbekie is still called “comrade” by his colleagues in government. in south africa, Orwellian parody goes under the genre of Real Life.”

arundhati roy when the saints go marching out they have encroached, they are taking our spaces…we are going for our okapis…street culture, gutter art that thrives on the margins, has declared space wars against the powerful…against the greedy that make deals in lofty offices on our behalf…on those who thrive and feed off the poor in the interest of personal wealth and greed…

the overriding impact that the machine, Babylon, the matrix, neoliberalism, whatever you want to call it, is that it encroaches on our lives and removes options, possibilities, choice and freedom…

below we have identified some of the key struggles that face cultural activism operating within this bankrupt world order…

connecting the dots to ideological warfare so the situation in the continent and amongst the poor of the world is dire…reality is brutal and every day the stone crusher of a machine grinds over and eliminates another few thousand casualties who were not resourceful, sophisticated or cynical enough to make the transition to the next plateau of survival…people are being killed, brutalized and forced to live under inhumane conditions…

and so…what is the meaning that cultural activists make of the moment… “i’m changing the world through my art…my creative work is my contribution to the struggle” is the general word on the street…

But is this enough???

given the current context cultural activism has needed to make sense of why art, why culture in a world saturated with many struggles and many causes…the cultural activists has to spread consciousness that allows the ghetto artists to abandon notions of individualism and embrace community despite a history of exploitation. has to hold out the option of struggle as we do battle with the context of fortune and fame…has to assert the need for organization ideology has been used and is being used to build group consciousness, built on honouring differences, division, disharmony and discord. our society at a point whereby we are disciplining ourselves in such a way that is consistent with the machine and what it needs to ensure its survival and existence.

this self-imposed separation builds indifference, false superiority and suffering. a situation where the “losers” of the system are oppressed, exploited, starving, homeless and illiterate. a system that has been carefully constructed through thought, word, action and propaganda.

yet we interact as if the system is natural, normal and necessary.

cultural activism is the conscious realization that we should seek to engage and better understand the forces at play in our world. we build the idea that there is nothing inevitable about how our society has been constructed. it is the result of systematic, carefully and personally designed choices…

but what has been built through choice can be broken down, dismantled and rebuilt by new choices.

we believe that we can live differently, we can build another life. our approach to building this alternative reality is to first increase conscious awareness and acknowledgement of the current levels of exploitation, then to facilitate the development of new concepts, of how to view, structure and organize our society and finally to create the capacity to implement these definitions and dimensions.

as cultural activists our contribution to the vision of a better life is through the cultural intervention. the certain knowledge that if any meaningful change is to occur in our world, it will be birthed from the realisation that we can live differently, that we are powerful.

that new and emerging, indigenous, conscious street are powerful tools of rebellion…

encroachment & space wars

so here we are, the freak, rogue, unconditionally rebellious, mutant army that operates using organic organising methods and irreverently asserts that “we are the realest mutha fuckers ever born”

<tupac shakur>

and we have hopes and dreams, plans and schemes and above all our struggle rises from and unconditional love for our people…

we are the babies of the bullshit 1994 transition, the ones searching for the spear that our loser forefathers dropped in the mad rush to get whatever token offering was being handed out as power and greed found a new consensus…

the youth, the generation x or y or abc …not so sure anymore which is which and which means what… and we are all those things they say we should be::: we are proactive, we organize, we are community and volunteer based…surely the resources of our government, our city and even the menial corporate social investment budgets of corporations should be ours for the picking…

instead what we find is a context hostile to organinsing…the simple act of having a meeting in jsek (Johannesburg) city is very close to impossible for the poor. the newtown cultural precinct is the single most destructive concept to culture in the city. they have outlawed all forms of gathering, chilling, meeting, smoking… “hey wena! You can’t sit there! don’t you know we cultivating that grass for the hotel we planning!” so to be part of the cultural precinct you need to be part of the cultural elite…u need to buy overpriced “african” books and drink bad “brazilian coffee” and dine of “sophiatown cuisine…”

by systematic decisions::: the eviction and forced removals of the homeless, closure of the workers library & museum, the illegalization of grass sitting…the city of johazourdousburg and it’s friends at the development agency have moved culture out of newtown and perniciously reduced the capacity of any one to use this central, open and free space as a organinsing possibility.

base camp & survivalist strategies and so we organize in the context of a system that chooses to assert and perpetuate scarcity…

for all our irreverence we too bow down to the Market God and pay homage. in all our planning there is always the question of sustainability…and many noble ideals are offered on this alter…

one of our projects/ organizational strategies is the concept of basecamps…liberated zones that we create in the context of a world shutting us out and closing doors…7 observatory avenue is one such space…a living space for some activists that avail some places of the house for the organizational needs of cultural activism and transcendent art. increasingly the pressure that has come from the poor and desperate within the community on the space is for a place to live, for shelter and accommodation in a city that evicts and outlaws homelessness all at the same time. our responses to these requests have highlighted the survivalist texture of our organizational identity.

while we aim to situate our movement amongst the poor, those who have nothing, those in society’s black holes, all those who are exploited and ground down by the system, we have acknowledged that there is a difference between charity and solidarity. we have had to acknowledge that there is a difference between helping people survive in this context as opposed to helping people to break what is oppressing them and put in place new systems and approaches that work in their favour instead of against them.

we also acknowledge in real terms the constraints of our capacity. clear of what we can support and what the organizational vision/dreams/plans/hopes of a broader community are, we unflinchingly and unapologetically choose community above individual desperation…the consequence::: a mother of four is homeless in yeoville…

inside/outside

and while we build a new world we still have to operate within this one…

because private space is the only option left to us, we have to face issues of rent, bonds, maintenance, infrastructure, food…the list continues…

for this reason, many activists, stalwarts in the movement have to go into the mines to sustain the organization with the pittance they receive from the machine…and when the machine gives $$$ it takes time, energy and capacity…

so we operate with inside/outside strategies…and both are challenging because when you have time you don’t have money and when you have money you don’t have time…and there’s no real way to crack this conundrum in the context of the market and its persistent pressure…


Fatal error: Call to undefined function get_the_author2_meta() in /home/khanyxqe/public_html/wp-content/themes/mh-magazine-lite/functions.php on line 319