Don’t touch me on my context

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This year is election year in South Africa, and we can already hear the politicians doing their voice training exercises and tuning their instruments to the political music they are going to entertain us with in an effort to get to the top of the charts. The season of wild promises and even wilder attacks on their political enemies is upon us. Lies and ill-considered utterances will fill the air, and more clowns will strut the stage than you will find in a three-ringed circus.

A favourite device in the political clown’s bag of rhetorical tricks, when they are embarrassed by ill-considered utterances, is to claim that they are being quoted “out of context”. This type of defence relies on a particular theory of validation. It asserts that what a politician says, when divorced from the “context” in which it is said, is not what is meant, and to regard it as such is invalid and hence unfair. To restore their “real meaning” requires a consideration of the “context” in which it is embedded. Context is a validator of meaning. Not what is said, but what is meant, is what should count.

Fair enough, you say. However, providing the required validating context soon runs into problems of its own. That is because the step of delineating a context must itself have regard for an antecedent validating the context in which it is in turn embedded. And so on down the line. Learned professors of philosophy call it “a regression of validations”, and not only politicians suffer from it. We all do.

You can’t go back in time to kill your grandfather with an axe because you dislike the historical context he furnished you with. If you could, he could have done the same to his grandfather, until the only ancestor remaining to provide you with a validating context would be lonely old Adam playing with his snake in the Garden of Eden.

You can’t go back in time to kill your grandfather with an axe because you dislike the historical context he furnished you with.

It is like the old lady who, when asked how she would account for planet Earth’s stable orbit around the sun, offered the explanation that it is steadied resting on the back of a giant turtle. And what supported the giant turtle? Another giant turtle, of course. “It’s turtles all the way down!”

In the case of politicians, it has become commonplace to regard their context-dependent utterances as “hot air” and, furthermore, as “hot air all the way down”. A Senegalese saying has it that “politicians tend to fart through their mouths”. Listening to our context-deprived politicians is like farting in an echo chamber. You know that you will never hear the end of it.

A politician without a “context” is like a man without a shadow. He or she is like a soluble fish in an ocean that threatens to dissolve into its featureless waters. It is a politician’s context that casts the shadow that renders him visible and prevents him from being dissolved into the tranquillity of insignificance.

This appears to be especially true of politicians who like to utter their political profundities in the operatic format. Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema can serve as examples. When they shake their ample jelly rolls and give us a rendition of songs like “Kill the farmer, kill the boer” or “Umshini wam” in their rather pleasant singing voices, they are not uttering a command to their followers actually to kill anybody.

In the context of the struggle to free everybody, these songs had a context that provided them with a purpose. So they say. Now that the struggle is continuing in a post-apartheid context, they sing it like people sing “Auld lang syne” at New Year festivities – to recapture the nostalgia of a time when they were noble warriors for freedom and before everything got screwed up after they actually gained the freedom to which they aspired.

These songs, in a now transformed context, only appear to have vindictive intent.

These songs, in a now transformed context, only appear to have vindictive intent. In reality, they are a teary lament for a lost context. Politicians who have lost a validating context behave like rich old women who take the lead-encased, embalmed bodies of their deceased husbands on aimless world tours because they don’t want to admit that the old boy has passed on into the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller has returned. Likewise, politicians like Malema and Zuma dredge up the corpses of apartheid and wrestle them back to life so that it can provide sustenance for an emaciated context eaten away by the facts of life.

In a 1970 song, Melanie Safka bewailed (in a song) the bad fortune she had had with one of her earlier songs, and this very lament became her signature tune. “Look what they have done with my song, ma, look what they have done to my song,” she wails. “It’s the only thing I could do half right, ma, and it’s turning out all wrong, ma, look what they have done to my song.” She made a fortune with a song about the misfortunes of her song.

The Julius and Jacob clowns chorus regaling us with stories of their heroic struggle set to music is tilling the same vineyard. However, their songs are beginning to suffer from context deprivation syndrome, as things are turning out all wrong, ma, and the electorate are starting to realise that those songs were the only thing that they could do half right, ma. “Kill the boer” and “Umshini wam” are slipping on the charts, ma. We are not killing the boer softly with our song, ma. But we are boring them to death with our song, ma.

Is it not time for them to return to the political centre stage with some context-enhancing, stage-managed coup de chanson as the coup de main to restore their faltering context?

What could serve the purpose better than to make a musical comedy out of apartheid?

What could serve the purpose better than to make a musical comedy out of apartheid? It has not been done before, and the struggle against apartheid was so successful that it deserves to be celebrated in a musical comedy. Take a page out of Mel Brooks’s spoof of The Third Reich with his “Springtime for Hitler and Germany” production in The producers as a guiding model.

In Carl Niehaus, they might have acquired just the man to act as a new choirmaster. With his profound brand of proletarian religious sentimentality and his penchant for making Faustian bargains with the devils who have the deepest pockets, he could again – with such a production – come into the reckoning for the “Last Just White Man Standing” title when the Grammy for “Farce of the Year” is awarded.

Let Verwoerd, in the first act, strut onto the stage and, with a camp wriggle of his cute little tail, let go of a fart while singing, “En hoor jy die magtige dreuning oor die veld kom dit wyd gesweef,” followed by PW Botha and a castrati choir with “Die lied van ’n volk se ontwaking wat mense laat sidder en beef”, while long-legged dancing girls in jackboots fire blanks from FN rifles at the audience. A schmaltzy violin introduces a whiff of homeland heimwee by scratching out old favourites like “I left my heart in Gazankulu” (to the music of “I left my heart in San Francisco”) and “Return to Venda” (to the music of Elvis’s “Return to sender”).

Oupa Gqozo strums “It’s O’Kei to rule the Ciskei” on a homeland-made ramkietjie met nog net een snaar, while Lucas Mangope, dressed in a tutu designed by the archbishop, stages a mock battle choreographed by Constand Viljoen. A shadowgraph of the Bushman Brigade, joined by Buthelezi’s Zulu warriors going off to the Border Wars in armed Casspirs, flits across a white background screen to the sound of the cannon in the 1812 overture by Tchaikovsky.

We see the lonely figure of an AWB officer striking the Vierkleur to the music of a Cape Malay band, marching across stage while singing, “Uit die grou van Bonteheuwel, uit die slik van Seekoeisvlei.” And from the wings, we can hear die dieptes van ons see en die kranse wat antwoord gee. Mandela makes a dignified appearance, performing “Jailhouse rock”, while Winnie launches into a charming little cameo as the little match girl trying to put the stage props alight.

Helen Zille and the Botox Babes from Cape Town deliver a rousing version of “O moenie huil nie, o moenie treur nie, die Stellenbosse boys kom weer”, after which one can hear a sad Steve Biko crooning “I’m dreaming of a black Christmas” offstage.

And then the pièce de résistance. The music rises to the strains of “Send in the clowns” as Julius and Jacob roll in, mounted on the bonnet of the clown’s car, waving their umshinis and “wham-whamming” in syncopated beat with the backfiring of the car engine. One can see Malema’s red beret shining like a clown’s nose in the glow of a restored context, and Zuma’s corpulence bouncing about like a snoek just landed on a boat, as they enter the stage singing, “Give me back my enemy! Give me back my context!”

The audience clap wildly as they, like all nature lovers do, wipe tears away at the sight of lions being restored to their pre-1652 natural habitat. As the curtain falls, the entire stage is cast in the yellow glow of a returning golden age, where injustice and inequality will be unknown and everybody will be free to go hunt with Marx in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening and criticise after dinner without becoming a hunter, a fisherman, a cattle baron or a bourgeois Jew from Trier.

Jacob will probably, after the show, take his newly restored context home with him so that he can fondle it under the shower. But that is his unalienable right.

Every man has a right to be buried snugly wrapped up in his own context.

Even if he is a politician.

Also read:

LitNet Akademies Weerdink ‒ "Kill the boer": Hoe moet hierdie woorde in 2022 verstaan word?

Vryheid van die pers en die EFF

Vryheid van spraak: hoe vry is dit?

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  • Van van die man wat my 50+ jaar gelede geleer het wat die woord "epistemologie" beteken: Die skerpste - en boonop mees entertaining - opstel wat ek die afgelope maand gelees het.

  • Rainer Kussler

    "The effervescent Jannie Gagiano" (Albert Grundlingh) at his vintage best. Give that man a couple of Bell's, ma!

  • Reageer

    Jou e-posadres sal nie gepubliseer word nie. Kommentaar is onderhewig aan moderering.