Saturday, March 24, 2012

Powerage - Punk and the Global Apartheid

There is something to be said about a South African punk rock EP being published in France in 1985. Most of those things would start with questions. Why could an anti-apartheid album not be published in South Africa? Or was it better off being published in France? What links did the South African punk scene have with the European punk scene during this time? How were these relationships formed? The answers to these questions seem simple, but the more one looks between the lines a strange picture of unity within estrangement emerges. It is this picture that I will focus on, for the former questions cannot be answered accurately without interviews.

It all starts in the context of apartheid, a framework of forced segregation. By 1985 a significant divestment movement throughout the world had begun placing pressure on investors to disinvest from South Africa. The global community was in a strong reactionary phase to the apartheid regime. And in Durban South Africa a small pocket of white resistance was making itself heard within the global community of punk rock.

Positioning themselves as anarchists against the discrimination of fellow men, Powerage sang out against apartheid, but more so than that against discrimination. For it is the plight of the punk rocker to be discriminated unjustly against for their modes of dress, musical taste, and beliefs about “the system”. And it is in this judgement from “civil” society that a connection of unity can be made between an estranged group of white punks in Durban to those suffering from the oppressions of apartheid mandate. In a recent conversation with Ampie Omo trombonist of monkee punk band BOO! A similar notion came up 17 years after the end of Apartheid with small communities fighting for their identities - the right to keep their languages and customs alive. What he said was that (although I do believe he was references an earlier conversation had with Chris Chameleon) all these communities are fighting the same struggle, the struggle for their own identity, and while their identities, languages and customs may be different, they are fighting against the same concept. Afrikaans, Pedi, Tswana. And they must unite in order to conquer.

While the struggle during apartheid was seemingly different, it was a fight for citizenship and recognition, to be part of a larger whole. The irony, it seems, is that now that apartheid has ended small cultural groups are becoming estranged from their cultural heritage’s and are being forced to become part of the global community. To be educated in English, to believe with all their might in consumerism, and the goodness of monetary wealth. They are controlled by large scale border controls. They have passports instead of pass books. We all have passports. We are all stuck in a global apartheid. But the oppressor is faceless, it has become a system of laws and regulations – hedged by corporates with their own wealth in mind and the well-being of those enslaved during colonialism has become a situation of adapt or die. And the punks still sing out. The fools of modern society, except that nobody is listening or laughing. Their ears and eyes blind folded and deafened by media and songs about Jimmy Choos and lady lumps. If only Plato could see his golden lie in action today.

While the hatred bred in apartheid between whites and blacks in South Africa keeps them living in the past, blind to the larger injustices of the world. The new regime of neo-liberalism spreads its blind octopussy tentacles and segregates the world into first and third, richer and poorer. Better off and worse. And the words written in 1985 by a group of anarchist punks still speak true “We as a band stand against any discrimination of fellow man, we believe that everyone should live in a state of equality, no matter of race, religion, wealth, music and way of dress. We therefore stand against any law that denies a person equality, their human rights. We strongly oppose the laws regarding Apartheid in our country.” Except that now it is the global apartheid to which we can refer.  

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