From how do you do to FU!

Thinking Out Loud02

The panel pose together after the heated debate. Photograph: Carol Kagezi.

Eusebius McKaiser, Chris Thurman, Andile Mngxitma and Aryan Kaganof talked to a full house at Festival about the South African public sphere and the really big issues that underlie, circumscribe, generate and drive debate (in short: race, inequality and land (re)distribution). This many years post-apartheid we’re in the awkward space of not only disagreeing about what the issues for debate are, but how we hold that debate, and even in some cases (Mngxitama and Kaganof) whether we want to be in the debate at all because it looks and sounds too much like it did in the apartheid space. Take just one interchange: the case of David Bullard and his Twitter behaviour. McKaiser feels there are points at which someone in the public sphere should simply be told to f*** off (and the feminist chair agreed). No niceties about continuing to parlay with opinions and attitudes that need a makeover and come from people who really don’t listen. Twitter and the blogosphere have made our interchanges hostile and aggressive, surely (the chair again), we need to hold onto respect for the other speaker, a willingness to listen? This point was challenged by an audience member from Palestine who pointed out that ‘respect’ can be code for telling the oppressed to behave nice and not get disruptive about the rules of play.  And then there’s the issue of when to withhold speech and when to tell someone to shut up because they are actually too loud and too present, and they posture out of a take-or-leave it public persona — surely one should calibrate a response rather than just talk in the same tone, strength and style all the time? And finally, perhaps talk just can’t do the total job we want it to do. Perhaps we should rather make films? (Kaganof whose pieces Night is Coming: Threnody for the Victims of Makana and An Inconsolable Memory are showing on the FilmFest). This is the one place in the country (said the maybe overly-invested chair) where talk was a minority pursuit among the arts.

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