Is it possible to have good culture and bad culture? Or do some people just do a disservice to the culture they claim to represent?
These questions are key aspects of a debate that has been sparked by a series of “Afrikaans is Lekker” concerts in Australia and New Zealand by a group of South African artists.
Topping the bill is the controversial Steve Hofmeyr, of whom the concert organiser, Arno Nel, claims “has been the favourite of South Africans for over 30 years. He has topped the charts several times in his career, and will be singing all his hits”.
Just as he does in his shows in South Africa, Hofmeyr performed the old South African anthem, “Die Stem”, as part of his repertoire to starstruck fans at sold-out concerts in Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide, in Australia. He is currently in New Zealand, where a concert in Auckland was said to have been cancelled following an objection from a South African ex-pat in the New Zealand capital.
But this does not seem to have worried Hofmeyer – or persuade him to back down from his stated intention of singing “Die Stem” wherever he performs.
In a Facebook post, he wrote: Hehe! Ek doen as ‘n reël alleen Die Stem by my eie konserte. Nie oor die kunstenaars nie (my kollegas hier het geen probleem nie), maar oor hul ondersteuners.
Roughly translated, he is saying that as a rule he sings “Die Stem” as his own concerts. He seems to suggest that his colleagues on this tour do not have a problem with him singing it, but their fans might. Sharing the bill with Hofmeyer are Ricus Nel, Lisa Bronner and Emo Adams.
One of his fans, Alta Mostert, posted (in Afrikaans): It was a beautiful evening. We were so excited that we sat in the wrong seats. I had to swallow the lump in my throat a few times.”
And Mariana Nienaber wrote: “Proud of you, Steve. Thank you for the pride with which you carry our culture.” But does culture have to carry racist baggage?
“Definitely not,” says former Capetonian Beryl Crosher Segers. She says she’s disgusted by Hofmeyr’s views – and those who support him.
Crosher Segers, who left South Africa 24 years ago to start a new life in Australia, is determined to keep her South African roots alive. ‘I’ve never stopped yearning for the sounds, the rhythms, and the memories of growing up in Cape Town,’ she says.
It is clear to me that many people who left South Africa to start a new life here remain connected to their roots. But I realise too that there are some who have moved on and have cut all ties with South Africa.
“But everyone is free to make their own choices – and I have made mine,” she says.
Crosher Segers maintains her ties with her former homeland by promoting South African musicians in Australia. “For me it all started when I became involved with promoting events in New South Wales. From there, I was seconded to work at the Olympics, Paralympics and Gay Games. At the Gay Games cultural festival, I was given the task of bringing out a CT gay choir to Australia. But I failed to raise the money.”
In her case, failure made her even more determined to succeed. “I decided to start a business to specifically bring out artists from Cape Town,” she says.
“Marc Lottering was my first client, followed by The Rockets, Leslie Kleinsmith, Alistair Isobel, Tony Schilder, Glenn Robertson, Richard Caesar, Terry Fortune, Sophia Foster, and a few others”.
“When I failed to raise the funds to bring out that choir it stirred something in me. The yearning to experience the style of jazz that I danced to and the funny stories that Marc relayed on stage brought back so many memories. I wanted my children to know more about their background. I am so proud of where I come from, I love describing my childhood, the innocence before we discovered the horror of apartheid. Culture is what makes us unique, interesting individuals. To me culture is like an invisible cord between my family, friends and neighbours.”
“My culture is filled with music, dancing, food, sand hills, and homemade ginger beer; it is built on high moral standards and a sense of responsibility to uphold the traditions of our ancestors,” she says.
Dougie Oakes has been a journalist for more than 30 years, specialising in South Africa as well as the UK in sports writing, politics and features.