Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Who needs a roller coaster?

Sheesh, being a bleeding heart idealist who takes on Quixotic challenges is SUCH hard work!

I poured heart and soul into COPE for three months leading up to the elections. I won't go into it all again, as I have covered the reasons in past posts, but it seemed so vital to me to challenge the big majority of the ruling party, as the writing was on the wall that our hard won democracy was under threat from individuals intent on their own personal gratification.

I heard yesterday that the person I spent most of that time helping returned to the ANC in a fanfare of publicity. He had warned me it was imminent, and given me his reasons.

Beneath the politically correct "tell me what you want to hear and I'll say it" approach of the ruling party lies a sinister reality that is not openly discussed. The bottom line is, if you are black and in business, you either need to belong to the ANC, and part of the crony system, or you can forget about getting work.

So people who joined COPE because they believed in change, freedom of political association and a healthy opposition to keep the politicians honest, find themselves out in the cold. They face 5 years till the next election, in a fledgeling party that has little funding and is unable to offer them paying positions, so they have the agonising choice between feeding their families or following their ideals.

In some cases it is even worse. Assinations have already taken place here, and the authorities were "unable to make arrests". My friend has been threatened (not the first time) that if he does not support the ruling party he will be killed. So much for democracy and political tolerance, South Africa might wear a veneer of it, but it is wearing thinner by the day. Anyone who believes in the facade of South Africa as a beacon of hope, showing that true democracy is possible in Africa (I was one of them) is delusional.

All that said, and I do understand the huge pressures to return and take up the cushy job offerred, I still feel betrayed. I also doubt my ability to judge people. Was he just an opportunist all along? And if he was one of the Mbeki-ites who saw no future in ANC politics, and hoped that COPE would nicely fill that gap, so he joined for a position in the new party, only to leave when there were not enough to go round, how many others have the same agenda?

I am left with the horrible feeling that I wasted three months of my life, sacrificed time with my family etc to help a bunch of opportunists. I suppose time will tell how many genuine people stay behind and don't cave in to the pressure, for whatever reason. But they will do it without my time or effort, I'm moving on to my next windmill!

Speaking of which... the art gallery. It is a community art centre, non profit organisation, run by volunteers. It has been going for 90 years, and at one time was a highly respected player in the Port Elizabeth art scene. However, as happens with so many similar organisations, the people who are able to volunteer (either because they have the spare time, money or passion to do so) are not necessarily the right people for the job, they are just the ones who are willing to do it. (I include myself in that statement.) So internal politics and scrambling after ever decreasing funding had eventually reduced it to a pitiful shadow of its former self, hardly making a ripple in the art world, just limping along trying to stay afloat. It is, quite frankly, regarded by most leading artists as a place for blue haired whites to sit around painting flowers, so it was neither supported by leading artists, nor the black community.

Along came yours truly, full of Quixotic zeal to turn it around. Make it relevant to all artists, help those in the poorer areas to exhibit, source funding, get mentors among experienced artists.... draw the top artists back by raising standards... yadda yadda yadda, you get the idea.

But I have encountered a Catch 22 situation. I rushed off and networked with all the non-white artists I know. I invited them onto the committee. (I must make it absolutely clear, the invitations were not based on skin colour, as token blacks, but because the people I approached have a lot to offer, are skilled artists and communicators, and as a bonus they have good contacts to help get the word out that our services are open to all.) I asked for contact details so I could send out invitations to exhibit. You know what the response has been? "How many blacks are on your committee?" I answer 1. The reply?
"Well it is obviously still white dominated, so I'm not coming on the committee." (The same has happened with exhibitions.... the invitations were ignored, and so at exhibitions the remark is... "see, it's still for whites!" ) ........... so I need blacks on the committee to send a message that we are not a racist organisation, but they will not join because there are too many whites on the committee....

I was therefore delighted when an young black artist from a remote rural area in the Eastern Cape said he had sourced funding, and hired the gallery. When the due date was approaching, I suddenly got a call saying he was now exhibiting at Fort Hare, and would not have work ready in time so he wanted to postpone. This is not how one treats a gallery who is mounting a solo exhibition, but because of the whole "bleeding heart trying to accomodate the emerging artists" thing, I gave him the date he asked for in July, and used the gap he created to renovate the gallery.

After no response to my calls and e-mails for the past two months, I finally got a letter yesterday saying he was cancelling as he can't get funding... (he already had it so I assume it was used on something else.)

Now, apart from the inconvenience of finding a good exhibition at short notice, and all the work involved to change the press releases, etc, the worst thing is what this has done to my efforts to bring about a change in perceptions of the gallery.

I assumed some of the people who have been on the committee for years were just clinging to the past every time I encountered resistence to my efforts to draw in artists from other cultures. But I am beginning to realise most of them are simply dissillusioned because past efforts to do so have failed. And this simply reinforces that resistence. So the next time I want to help emerging artists, I will again have to battle through all that negativity, from both sides. On one hand the dissillusioned ones will not want to open us up to being jerked around AGAIN and on the other, those who do not know all the inside stories will look at the gallery and say "see, all whites still...." aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrggghhh!

I never thought I would have to beg people to make use of facilities that are being offered to help them, but it is OVER! From now on, no favours, no special treatment. Business is business, you make the grade or you don't, same as anyone else. We will help where we can, to mentor and network for funding, and offer open exhibitions, but that's it. I suppose that means we will continue to carry the label of "colonial relic"... pity, because that is so far from the truth.

I felt so dis-spirited by all this yesterday, i went and ordered a pizza and a chick flick, and had a small pity party, but all I got was heartburn!

Windmills are pretty, but tilting at them wears a bit thin, the damn things just don't budge! So in a week's time I'm dragging my tired and disillusioned butt off for a holiday. Hopefully I will return refreshed and ready to tackle the next windmill that rears up in front of me... but for now, they must all just spin on unchallenged, enough is enough!!!


Firefly said...

Sue, you are such a passionate parson and do put everything you can give into enything you take on. I won't go ionto the political thing as I know exactly what you are saying. People are after positions rather than after what is best for the people.
As for the gallery. I want to say something that needs characters like &^$, (*^& and *&%#. You have put so much into this gallery and if there is one person out there who is willing to take on the non racial fight in art it is you. Pity people are so closed minded. Maybe this needs to get into the press so that your plight can get out there. I bet there will be some benefactors out there willing to get involved. Good luck.

Laura Albertyn said...

Big hug!!

Just my personal take on this - you are chiselling away at years and years of oppression and stereotyping - so what you have done might seem like a little in the big picture but I know it's part of breaking the walls down ultimatly!!

I think a holiday is very much in need!! Wish I could get a Sue hug!! Love ya

Ali Honey said...

It sounds like a huge uphill battle. Take heart, take your holiday, rethink but don't destroy your self in the process. I don't know what to advise, but thinking of you anyway. Hugs, Ali.

MyPE said...

We have moved on to a mature democracy and I still shudder when things are polarised as being black or white.

There are South Africans benefiting from the ANC - period.

In the past only a certain section of our population benefited from a Nationalist Government.

My impression is that more people benefit from this ANC government than the last Nationalist Government. It is our task to ensure that we do not allow a narrowing of the benefit to occur as what happened with the Super Afrikaners - read the book, 'The Super Afrikaners' it is an eye opener as, what is presented there could already be happening here.

Remember that our present government only had the previous government as life coaches and learned from them.

As a liberal person you have to try extremely hard to do things that build up and that are not a handout. Along with that it is extremely difficult to change the status quo when you are situated within areas or societies that are seen to be part of the old structure.

If I had a solution to that conundrum I would be holding the Nobel Peace Prize right now.

We need to demand excellence in all that we do - you will find that people will respond to you setting a high standard, and aim higher. This alone will ensure that we as a society move past the petty smokescreens that we throw up around the questions of race and gender equality.

"Look at me I am human and I bleed, I have the same worries as you and I just want to be happy."

Don't give up Sue, change focus and one heart at a time - the rest will follow.

Oh, and about the press - could I re-publish your feelings and replies on MyPE?

callyjean said...

I have friends who were VERY involved with COPE, but since have returned to their 'normal' jobs, and have become very negatived about the party with they were so passionate about a few months ago - just how loyal where they???

Suzi-k said...

Thanks for all the input. i went out of town today with a great friend and excellent listener, to her credit she started out in a good mood, and we both came back in one, so she really helped me get my head straight, thanks Jules! And it is good to come back to some sound words of wisdom.... I will carry on, less zealous, more considered, a step at a time.
And MyPE, you are so right, it is time to stop worrying about quotas, and just always go with the right person for the right job... I wish it was that easy, to become colourblind, and i don't know how long the process of redressing the imbalances of the past must go on before we can all just be colourblind and get to that point.

CJ, I don't doubt their sincerity, I think many of us who were idealistic and naive have been disillusioned by the goings on behind the scenes, and have a sort of "let me know when all the opportunists have gone and I might find some enthusiasm to put some more energy into this."

Pamela said...

Hi, this is really interesting to a distant Brit, currently suffering political upheaval of a different sort. But it is in some way connected to what seems to be the ultimate human weakness - self protection (which extends to protection of the family and close friends) whenever the opportunity for advantage occurs. I do wonder if there is an ancient, primeval, need/reason for this? But it has also become clear over here in the last weeks, that some people rise above it and find a more morally based path. So fight on, and please continue with the blog, I stumbled across it looking for info about perhaps visiting PE and it has given me an amazing window to peep through. And I do try not to get too depressed about the blue skies, honest!

Suzi-k said...

Pamela, hi, I do hope you come to PE, it is one of the best kept secrets in South Africa. It is often eclipsed by Spectacular scenic Capetown, or vibey adrenilin-rush Joburg, but it has the best beaches in the country and so much to offer... I hope you spotted the link to Port Elizabeth Daily Photo on the sidebar.... Firefly is doing a great job of showcasing the city and surrounds there, and you should find plenty to attract and inform you there.

Pamela said...

Good morning, yes I do look at the PE Daily photo site, and it has convinced me to try to get there on our next trip over (sounds like we are jet setters but in fact my husband lived in CT for several years so its really popping out to see friends!)

MyPE said...

Pamela, just to convince you even more have a look at A Reason a Day to visit Port Elizabeth - also a sterling contribution by the Firefly.