‘Twas a Celebration?

2007-12-11 15:11
Afropolitan – A recipe for success?

I was fortunate enough to attend the Lifestyle SA Festival: Celebrating Black this weekend, where we were celebrating the new identity or brand of the black person within the modern, cosmopolitan world: the “Afropolitan”. I was fortunate not because of the level of entertainment I received or degree of pampering my ego and I enjoyed, but fortunate in that, just after finishing a book by Ngugu wa Thiongo and reading some chapters of Steve Biko’s “I Write What I Like” I was immediately confronted with an issue I had been wary of looking into, simply because of its complexity and of the fact that it is an ancient conversation from which we seem to be benefiting little – the issue of the definition of the African culture.

As we entered, we realised this was a very exclusive event, meant only for the crème-de-la-crème of black people. An air of luxury, wealth, comfort, beauty and class awaited us. It became clear to me that some part of me yearned for a life like this. It was also clear that companies sponsoring this event stood to benefit. The age-old saying that “a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” was starting to ring true - my mind and indeed my heart was open to their elegant products. I enjoyed a fresh cup of double espresso from Property Factor, only the most scrumptious and rich tasting cake from MTN, a glass of champagne and some interestingly presented finger snacks from Lexus.

The performances by the comedians, musicians and the fashion show deserve to be applauded for the quality of entertainment provided.

However, the heart of the event was the panel discussion, which aimed to present to us this idea of “Afropolitan”, a brand that is to define the up-and-coming lifestyle of the black man in the ever-evolving global and cosmopolitan world. Their goal, as supported by the entire air of the festival, was to showcase African excellence, elegance and luxury. At this point, my mind was flooded with emotions and questions. What is this lifestyle we’re celebrating? What is black - or even African - about this suggested way of life?

The discussions concluded that Westerners bring their technologies to the table. Technologies meaning engineering, medicine, industry, military intelligence and a host of other things meant for the development of the human race. Our contribution to the world is our customs and traditions, and with these we are going to shape the evolution of this world. So we should just emulate the white man’s lifestyle, add our customs and traditions, and there we have it: the modern black cosmopolitan lifestyle, or Afropolitan, as it’s coined.

It is thus fairly obvious then why the white man would never need to congregate and celebrate his own lifestyle; we already do this for him on a daily basis and we certainly went all out this weekend. From an early age, we were taught to aspire to the white man’s lifestyle, with the lessons of table etiquette we received. Our entire outlook on life is influenced through our schooling, with all that Shakespeare and Yeats and Einstein and Newton and the bad Hitler and the good Winston Churchill, and oh let’s not forget the devil and his hell as the final destination for us rebellious sinners who have rejected the saving grace of Christ – the way, the truth and the light. We have now become the centre of our own lives; our sole purpose is to accrue as much material goods and money as possible, sometimes even at the expense of others. Is this the black lifestyle we are celebrating? How can we be so proud of ourselves, even to a point of celebrating with jubilation our absolute mimicry? Perhaps the time has truly come to really engage with that age-old debate about the definition of African culture. As a generation that is economically successful, I firmly believe that rather than celebrating our mimicry, we should focus our efforts in the elevation and development of the rest of the black people of this country, and indeed Africa. Our cause goes much further than bringing the excellence, elegance and luxury out of the African lifestyle. To quote Steve Biko “… in the long run, the special contribution to the world by Africa will be in the field of human relationship. The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial and military look, but the great gift still has to come from Africa – giving the world a more human face”.

- Boitumelo wa ga Nkgudi ya Napo

What others had to say:

When I first heard of the concept of celebrating black I was ecstatic! After many months of bitching and whining about the fact that Cape Town is still a white man’s land – I thought it’s about time black people made themselves visible. We need to dispel stereotypes and myths about black people, learn to be comfortable in our own skin and we definitely need to embrace our new “afropolitan” identity. But the more I got acquainted with what Lifestyle SA Festival – Celebrating Black was really about, I was saddened by how elitist the whole event was. To me it seemed as if we were saying our worthiness is measured by how big your bank account is. In the past we were discriminated against because of our skin colour, but now there’s a new form of class discrimination emerging amongst the black folk. Nevertheless, we applaud Zuki, Zuki and Shiru for showing us that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. The event was well-organised and I enjoyed all the performances! These sistas have inspired many of us to start our own projects, businesses etc. Thanks for that!
-Tiisetso Tlelima

Straight up - the Mother City can be quite insular and cliquey. It’s also common knowledge that black people in the mother city are few and far between. Hence the question “Where are the black people in Cape Town?” But what people are actually asking is where the nouveau “Black Diamonds” of Cape Town are. Well, if you were fortunate enough to have been at the swanky CTICC this past weekend, you would have had a chance to finally mingle with the elusive and elite of black Capetonians. The festival had awesome artists such as jazzy Jimmy Dludlu, Mxo, Lira and comedian Loyiso Gola. The Premier of the Western Cape Ebrahim Rasool stamped the event with his approval and the deputy president, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka graced the ribbon cutting launch. She also made a pertinent speech about embracing identity with dignity and not at the expense of others. Too bad that the weekend reeked of class-ism.
-Gugu Mkhabela

What a great concept! Africans celebrating together with music and meat. The Lifestyle SA Festival: Celebrating Black had everything we could have asked for: Lira, Jimmy Dludlu, MXO and Freshlyground rocking the mic and an Mzoli tent for some nourishment and socialising. The event was well organised, entertaining and worth the time. Too bad the rest of Cape Town didn’t come out and support it.
- Nomfundo H Mbaba+Tshabalala

The recent Lifestyle SA festival was a celebration of being black and African culture, but also being in the black – in the sense of having a large bank balance! We bring you a few perspectives on the event. Read them, then have your say.

Watch the video mash up!

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