Racist in South Africa
Of course I am not a racist. The very idea of unfair discrimination against others, for whatever reason, deeply offends and nauseates me.
But then, my artwork says I am proud to be labelled a ‘racist’, not that I am proud to be one. I say this under duress because I, and so many others in South Africa, have been branded ‘racist’ by inept politicians, particularly by our former president, Thabo Mbeki and the current one, Jacob Zuma. Our apparent wrongdoing stems from the fact that we have taken a stand against the terrible crime wave that has our country in its grip. White persons complaining about maladministration and criminality in government are ‘racist’, and frequently get told to leave South Africa and go back to the countries ‘their kind’ comes from.
The items from my list that might earn the ‘racist’ reproach are in themselves good and honorable if one understands that one has a social duty to eradicate crime, lack of education and training, breakdown of civil administration and so on. Those who wish to see a better life for all ought to take a stand against the things that are messing up the country and their efforts should be applauded, not punished by disingenuous invective.
Be careful what you say when your friends or family are killed, you might be on the receiving end of those who ought to protect your basic human rights. Watch out next time you complain when your electricity is repeatedly cut for hours on end. You could, and often will, land up being a ‘racist’.
During the 2012 London Olympics South African athletes managed three gold medals, two silver and a bronze. I was suitably delighted. Unfortunately that same year I checked out the rise of murder and discovered that Honduras was the only country that had more violent murders per capita than us. Ironically we somehow managed a silver medal. Sadly, a number of my close friends and some family have been murdered and I dare say there are very few South Africans of which the same cannot be said. See my artwork DUBUL’IBHUNU at: http://www.willemboshoff.com/…/artwor…/ DUBUL_IBHUNU_2011.htm.
But, on the crimes table we have one solid gold medal to our credit. We are the top country when it comes to rape. It upset me terribly when I learnt that the average South African woman stands a far better chance of being raped, some of them being raped repeatedly, than learning to read and write. I thought we were a democracy, but with a president lucky to escape the rape charge brought against him, it turns out that we are a veritable phallocracy.
As it turns out we are also a kleptocracy – a country ruled by a gang of thieves. Our Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke out publicly against the corruption, crime and injustice that has spiralled out of control. He has angered the powers that be to the extent that he was not allowed at the funeral of our beloved Nelson Mandela. I wholeheartedly applaud his brave stance and fortunately for him he has escaped the ‘racist’ epithet. I have been careful not to use words like ‘white’ or ‘black’ in my work. I am prepared to stand up for all South Africans equally and I have a long track record of abhorring apartheid and the injustices it once brought and often still brings.
Why then, am I prepared to be a scapegoat in making an artwork that might easily be used to lynch me? I do it for two reasons. In the first place I use it to encourage debate. I intend it as a trap for those with a superficial take on the complex South African situation. Hopefully I shall ferret out the self-assured, misguided souls who see all injustice as the result of white, apartheid domination when in fact moral weakness and the ability to fail are part of the challenges of life facing each and every one of us. Their real concern is to squeeze the social situation for all it is worth and not really a concern over human rights. A desperate sense of professional hegemony comes to mind. My second reason for making the work is rather personal.
For most of my artistic career I have used my work to expose injustices I feel deeply about. Sometimes, I have quite an internal conflict before making a risky work. A voice inside me will argue that I am committing artistic suicide and that if I make and show troublesome work, I will be ostracised by the artistic community or the people at the receiving end of the work. Then, another small voice comes from very deep and far away. It will tell me that if I don’t make problematic work I would be a coward of the worst kind and that I might as well stop making art altogether.
So far some RACIST IN SOUTH AFRICA plates have been sold and the reception has been positive from visitors to the exhibitions where it has been shown. Of course a negative reaction has been experienced from those with political axes to grind and brownie points to score. The most angry response I have experienced is a reverse kind of racism in which all whites are sworn at and wished dead.