Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Ben Trovato

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The singing, dancing mother of all strikes

I am fascinated by the cultural differences that exist in this great country of ours. When I’m not busy being fascinated, it’s all I can do not to pack a bag, grab my passport and race for the nearest airport.

Black people have a rich culture that involves ancestor worship, traditional healing, lobola, ritual slaughter (cows, sheep, taxi drivers etc.) and settling tribal disputes with machete fights at dawn.

White people have a culture that is rooted in sport, beer, fear, litigation and emigration.

Although I am always careful not to stereotype anyone, I think it is important to point out that industrial action is also an integral part of black culture.

There were times when King Shaka’s impis would come to him, usually after getting their asses whipped by the British, and threaten to down assegais unless they got danger pay. Being a reasonable man, Shaka would set up a bargaining council on a rocky outcrop just past Ballito.

If, for example, the warriors insisted on a two goat per person per battle increase, and Shaka adopted an intransigent one chicken per person per battle position, the dispute would be resolved by having the complainants thrown into the sea.

Today, the CCMA has taken the place of Shaka’s Rock.

Getting back to our cultural differences. When white people sing and dance, you can be fairly sure they’re in high spirits and celebrating something or other – more often than not, their good fortune at having been born into the Caucasian race.

When black people sing and dance, there is no such certainty. What looks like a rollicking street party frequently turns out to be angry mobs of striking workers.

When whiteys feel hard done by, they suffer in stoic silence. Well, those who aren’t rich enough to move to Perth or stupid enough to join the Boeremag suffer in stoic silence.

Sometimes, one will come home from work, quietly murder his family and then blow his so-called brains out. Generally, though, they don’t do much more than mope around the braai mumbling racial epithets through mouthfuls of boerewors and beer.

Darkies, on the other hand, are always ready with a song and dance at the first sign of exploitation. This is where the confusion sets in.

To the untrained eye, it appears that the brothers and sisters are indulging in a bit of the old merriment, what with the ululating and leaping about. I have seen Nordic-type tourists join in under the impression that they have stumbled across some sort of primitive ethnic festival. Whipping out their cameras and flailing their little white arms and legs, they rolled their eyes and shouted happy gibberish in the hope that it would pass for Swahili, blissfully unaware that the natives were not so much joyful as they were restless.
To be honest, it might have been Swedish, but it sounded like gibberish to me.

I always get a kick out of strike season, even though walkouts are on the whole a lot less entertaining than natural disasters, which, I might add, we don’t get nearly enough of. Snow on the Berg comes a poor second to the stupendous adrenalin rush provided by a spine-rattling earthquake or pants-wetting tsunami. Those damn Asians have all the fun.

What has impressed me the most over the past couple of weeks, apart from Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi’s ability to keep a straight face every time she uses the word “comrade”, is the dexterity that some workers have when it comes to the toyi-toyi.

To the uninitiated, this may look like a dance inspired by antediluvian firewalkers, but it’s not. Far from it. Unlike the waltz or the marginally less gay tango, the complexity of the toyi-toyi lies in the synchronised vocal accompaniment that ranges from chanting provoked by the impact of economic injustices to screaming provoked by the impact of rubber bullets.

Watching the uprising from the safety of my lounge, it occurred to me that, while waiting for a government official to finish his pap ‘n sushi platter and accept their list of demands, protestors should hold informal toyi-toyi contests.

It would be a way of making a little extra cash, something everyone needs in these harsh no work, no pay times, while keeping warm at the same time. Perhaps the department of arts and culture would like to sponsor the competition.

My money is on those who do some sort of physical labour for a living. These guys can toyi-toyi second to none, getting their knees right up past their ears. Teachers, on the other hand, tend to swing their arms a lot but aren’t so hot when it comes to lifting their feet off the ground. That’s the price you pay if your idea of a workout is lifting crates of beer and impregnating schoolgirls after lunch.

Funnily enough, hospital workers have emerged as the dark horses in the toyi-toyi stakes. Not so much the nurses because most of them weigh a ton, which is odd given the quality of hospital food, but the doctors have it down to a fine art.

I particularly enjoy watching the specialists. They toyi-toyi with a clinical precision that is unrivalled. And their balance borders on the sublime. A gynaecologist in full strike goes a long way towards restoring one’s faith in the medical fraternity.

Then there are those who are so uncoordinated that they can’t wave goodbye without putting an eye out.
As a lapsed socialist born with two left-leaning feet, I strongly feel it is Cosatu’s duty to help give these borderline dyspraxics a fair shot at making it onto the 7 ‘o clock news.

It is high time that Zwelinzima Vavi accepted his role as the working man’s Arthur Murray. He needs to stop worrying about wage increases and focus on teaching white people to toyi-toyi.

Then, and only then, will the revolution be complete.