Monday, August 25, 2008

T.Musicman - the worst concert organiser in southern Africa, greedy and contemptuous?

Anita Baker, the American singer, made it to South Africa, gracing her world-wide fan base with one unique concert. South Africans love music and the 6 000 or so tickets sold quickly, even though prices were high, ranging from 300 to 500 rand.

The promoter announced a state-of-the-art concert hall, a newly furnished hall at the Nasrec convention centre, south of Johannesburg. I was a bit sceptical when I read this because Nasrec is rather infamous for dull political meetings in airplane hangars and not top notch concert venues.

The concert was set to begin at 7pm on a sunday evening. As we walked into the hall at 6pm, and began looking for our seats, our spirits were a bit dented. Ordinary plastic chairs, hastily arranged in rows, were a far cry from the promised state-of-the-art concert venue. A young woman informed us that our seats were not available because stage equipment took our spot, apparently they did not know about this in advance, and they would add seats on the side for us. We insisted on centre seasts for this is what I bought, not side seats. So we were seated closer to the stage, a bit on the side. Not bad, we thought - we had a good front seats and could not complain.

Many more people streamed in and they could not find seats either. More seats were brought in yet never enough to satisfy all the people with no seats or seats behind pillars from which they could not see much. I mean, who would buy seats behind a pillar for R300?

Tempers flared up as angry fans who had tickets for which there were no seats engaged listless ushers in shouting matches. People scrambled for seats and fist fights broke out.

A clueless Masechaba Moshoeshoe, a normally swift and accurate radio host from Kaya FM, one of the sponsors, besides the Sowetan newspaper, took the microphone by 8pm and appealed to civility and promised seats for everyone. Her admonishment that we show our best side, friendly and non-violent in the face of adversity, did not do much to accomodate disgruntled fans. The mayhem continued as more people streamed in.

Clearly, many more tickets were sold than seats were available.

A stand-up comedian was rolled out to divert attention away from the disaster and placate the fans before Anita Baker eventualy would come on stage.

8.45 and the concert began. Ouf, what a relief. Nevertheless, fans walked around with chairs, looking for better spots and blocking all the aisles and making movement impossible. It was better not to think about safety hazards.

As the diva belt out her beautiful songs of love and passion, she used the time in-between to instruct the technicians to adjust the sound. She had to do so for a full 45 minutes and finally gave up. One could not hear the horns, and her voice was submerged by the crackling of an inadequate sound system.

Realising that people had no seats, she expressed her compassion and encouraged her fans to complain with the promoter. We needed to know that it was not her making!

So went the concert of an international top act, for the first time in South Africa (and probably for the last time) - a greedy and contemptuous promoter cheated the artist and her fans out of a unique experience.

How was that possible? How come Kaya FM and Sowetan, to established media organsiations, teamed up with a shoddy, thuggish promoter with no respect for the artist and the fans?

Was the concert not an example of what goes often wrong in South Africa? People in positions are only interested in making a quick buck, no concern for fairness and delivering service enters their mind. In other words, thuggery is an accepted and tolerated way of doing business. As long as no one takes exception to this state of affairs, and makes their voices heard, Sout Africa will remain mediocre.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What is wrong with these students?

As a graduate of Wits University and a former member of the University Council, representing graduate students, I take university governance issues and students politics seriously.

With all the pressures that are on South African universities, it is no surprise that expediency, incompetence, lack of will and dedication, and maladministration take its toll. Students are at the bottom of the value chain within the university, and they always pay the price for these problems.

Inadequate resources, unfair treatment by people in authority, and disrespect are just some of the negative experiences that student life entails. Add to that the problems of financing, the lack of academic support, and the low rate of success and the high drop-out rate in universities can be explained. Hence, student representatives take these issues most seriously: they affect the students' life and decide over their success or failure.

In his inauguration as the new Vice-Chancellor at the University of Cape Town, Max Price bemoaned that students are not concerned with other issues. He said:

“It upsets me that we don’t see students protesting about corruption in government, or about attacks on the constitution, or about the way SA treated Zimbabwe.”

Yes, of course, student leaders should make their voices heard about important political and social issues, of local and global reach. But with so many things going wrong for students within their universities and with the very basics of tertiary education not guaranteed, how can Price expect them to focus beyond the university, before they are properly supported to succeed?

The more sinister interpretation of this statement is that he does not want students to be involved in the running of the university and make a contribution towards improving it. My experience with university administrations is that they only want student input in governance when it suits them, but when they point the finger at failures, mistakes and problems, they are dismissed as rabble-rousers and thoughtless imatures who need to be told better. Indeed, a long way to go for South African universities to change the mind-set, away from 'mother-knows-best' to consultation and inclusiveness.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Mahmoud Darwish, 1941-2008

I sadly acknowledge the passing away of Mahmoud Darwish, poet, writer, intellectual and political activist. I discovered him by coincidence some years ago while watching a French tv programme, one of those about culture and poltics that the French do so well.

His poetry reading and his interview talk were spell-binding. He spoke in simple words, yet profound. Or perhaps it was just the translation in French that brought out his Arabic in such a manner. Even though I could not understand what he said, it was beautiful to listen to the sound of his words in Arabic.

As people like Darwish disappear, I wonder if there are men and women to take up from where he left off. Do we still have people of moral integrity, with sensibilities for the human condition and active in politics, engaged with and part of society? Or is it that today, the issues that we confront, no longer lend themselves to such activism?
Read his obituary in The Guardian.