Image: Valentin Salja

Over the weekend, one of the people I follow on Twitter posted a video with a pair of over dressed villagers with some motor neuron issues — they appear to have trouble keeping their hands still. And they sometimes managed to not speak in unison. They were going on about villagers being marginalised or some such and they made a point of being descendents of the hard working indentured labourers who got to the holy land 160 years ago. They were patently aggrieved and their appeal was to ask people to boycott public spaces on some random date in the midst of the December season.

The comments brought out a minority of responses that supported the video makers and the majority mostly did an eye-roll at the video and its low grade identity politics. The video reminded me of the Shetland pony riders from my initial Lockdown post and I was curious to know if the video makers were possibly Midrand residents. A few hours later my question was answered when the initial poster (she of distracting mane fame) posted a follow up exchange with the brains behind the operation, a local comedian with a ‘string of sold-out shows at Sibaya’. The epitaph gives a decent indication of what is considered success in the village — but that’s a blog for another day.

Reading through the back and forth exchange, the comedic thinking of the comedian was revealed — if you did not grow up or live in one of the Apartheid era townships, you have no grounds to speak about Indian(ness) in South Africa. Oh well, it was not Midrand residents this time, it’s Chatsworth. Whatever, the former is just a proper capitalist version of the latter — with colder winters and where the dealers pay their tax to SARS and private security instead of the local mobster and the Police.

It feels almost against my will but this Twitter exchange has me more in it’s grip than I had registered when I first saw the tweet. Maybe it comes from spending more time in the East Coast fishing village and tuning in more actively to what people say when speaking to each other. The majority of villagers I come into contact with in my (admittedly sparse) daily life speak of one voice, heart and mind. Their age, gender, race and social class mean little — their common focus is the narrow (and let’s be realistic here and say traditional) identity politics.

It feels lonely here and that might be why I was finding some refuge in the Twitterverse. Yes, I know — but it’s 2020 and you’re allowed to find more resonance with people online than are living next door to you or that you share genetics with. A moment of clarity reminds me that it has ever been so — and thus everything about the overheated comedian and the video become clearer. I called up a friend and we watched the video together and our responses were comfortingly mutual. Like old lovers meeting again after finding themselves conveniently in the same city and single.

Firstly, the actors in the video are over-dressed and poorly so — but we agreed that such a statement would likely result in charges of being haters of traditional dress. Nonplussed by such an accusation, we were unanimous that going around in an orange bedsheet was also not a fetching look. In the end, we decided that a lot of traditional gear is overwrought like the emotional baggage it comes reeking of. Except maybe the kikoi or the Greek toga — but we almost instantly recoiled from the mental image of a Village Regular in a toga. No, we cannot unsee that mental image either.

Secondly, the actors should not carry all the blame — they got a bum script to start with and the writers should come in for a roasting here. The chief writer is likely the above mentioned local comedian; and he’s a self-professed authority on Indian(ness) — not unlike how Germans accepted a certain Adolf or South Africans a certain Hendrik as their Supreme Cheese. We agreed that this self-proclaimed and widely accepted big boss mentality is above our pay grade. We’ll just wait to see what other gems pop out from this alumnus of the Goebbels School of Drama Writing for Maximum Fuckery.

Moving along we noted that overall production quality was low but many MTN to MTN minutes later, we decided that the low production quality was in keeping with the low grade identity politics being peddled and was in fact spot on.

Finally, it was the statement made by the actors that their ancestors arrived as labourers and their families had lived and thrived here in the holy land at the southern end of the African continent for 160 years now; that was the most fascinating to both of us.

One hundred and sixty years later and still they’re going on about who has the authority to speak about Indian(ness).

Quaint and textbook insular as you can get — with your clothes on. Which very nearly got us entirely distracted and switching to a video call but we resisted long enough to conclude that the actors and their sell-out comedian leader will likely garner support for their campaign amongst other equally aggrieved and insular villagers — after all it’s 2020 and anything is possible.

Maybe even regular issue sanity will prevail and the comedian and his troupe will recover from their Tourette’s.