Writer: Rithuli Orleyn
Photograph: Musa N. Nxumalo
It’s a known fact that Blacks don’t have land and are therefore without the primary source of wealth. But Blacks are talented as fuck. There is no reason why so many of us, 13 million we are told, must live under the so-called breadline. Blacks are so driven they come to Jo’burg, live on a couch (at a friend’s place who is long gatvol with their black-ass), subsist on insults, survive backstabbing, undiagnosed depression, and miraculously end up producing your favorite TV show or starring on your controversial TV series – all because they were asked to write a few songs and voila a Viola Davis intense-brilliant Vathiswa Ndara actress is born/discovered/recognized ( add ‘self-taught’ when you recognize how amazing Black people are, even against odds…. perhaps because of how odds are stacked against us).
A Viola, in her mid-to-late 40s emerges underneath the contracted musical score. A Dr Malinga from no-where mesmerizes the nation as his years trot to the grave. We, the nation, the audience if you like, are the Jonny-come-late to these amazing godly creatures. Take a black person, anywhere on God’s blue(s) earth, a Black who went as far as standard two -grade 4…. for my born-frees and former Model Cs- (don’t scratch your head, you do know of an exceptionally talented person who hardly completed primary school – the president of the republic, is actually not the exception, but rather the rule when it comes to Blacks who defy the odds of falling through the cracks. And ghetto/blackness cracks are no ordinary cracks, they are great canyons with insatiable appetites for us all).
So you get Blacks, talented as fuck, better than Vusi Nova, much better than Ifani, rotting away. Blacks who sing far much better than Lira and J Lo, packing 2kg frozen chicken at Farmer-White Chicken. Filmmakers holding a stint at a local Internet Cafe (owned by someone other than an entrepreneur from the community). You find novelists and essayists at a debt-collection call-centre. Your children’s nanny from Slovo squatter-camp with a bachelor’s matric certificate not studying but cleaning after so-called middleclass spoilt brats, all because no one went before them to inspire and open doors for them, no-one went ahead to make restless their imagination. Because Msobomvu (then), NYDP/DA (now) only sponsors projects that lack imagination. They will give you money if you want to set up a butchery or want branding for a cleaning tender company. And they will send the guy who wants to start a real competitive ghetto-bred relevant-content broadcasting station (with innovative infrastructure to cut costs) from IDC (I don’t care) proverbial pillar to MDDA dumb doff pillar.
Now I speak here of land in terms of wealth or property. Mostly I try to avoid those terms. But let’s indulge this land-property dimension a little. Land is property we don’t have, that’s a given. But our talents, in the arts, at least, produce copious property-equivalents. Take for instance copyright royalties, publishing rights, and registered trademarks (we all know about please-call me intellectual labour invention that’s worth billions, and we also all know about The Apartheid Museum trademark that’s worth billions). Those two billion rand worth Black inventions aren’t the only ones. I know of young people who invented battery devices from studying YouTube videos, others invented television infrastructure that confounded Prime Media bosses. All that imagination by restless young Black goes to waste because people who are supposed to take these young people by the hand look forward to state tenders and political connections for get-rich-quick schemes.
Let’s go back to the easy music examples. If artists owned their publishing rights, by the time the artist’s song features in an advertisement for 15 seconds it collects between R50 000 to R 100 000 depending on whether you are Jonas Ngwangwa (with Grammies and Samas) or Mgarimbe (with dololo nominations). Same with your song featuring in Tsotsi. My point: with little horizontal imagination from our already hard working people and vertical support of that imagination we can get our people above breadline and off the grant-grid into proud thinking innovative successes in their varied pursuits kind of grid. This ability to know that radio and tv are playing your intellectual-labour property and the content you are watching on tv and are reading at school comes from your neighbourhood, Papa Ramps, Mgqolozana, Phakama, Jackie the poet, Mpho, Sbu, Zongi, and Thando, will cultivate not only belief and trust in one another’s ideas, but will concretely sustain our projects, lives, and give birth to more rewarded and rewarding innovations. Land? We will have to kill a fathafuka for land, but we must run to our people for harbour, people who are not so weakened by hunger that they can be bought to derail our historic mission.