Is this a Racist publication well you decide
The books cover
Story by Khwezi Gule
Is Anton Kannemeyer’s new Bitterkomix collection, Pappa in Afrika, flagrantly racist or is it a lament for a continent ravaged by centuries of colonial rule?
Anton Kannemeyer is not racist. Like many South Africans and, in particular, recovering Afrikaners, he is caught up in a world that does not make sense. Not that apartheid made much sense. Eighteen years ago he joined forces with Conrad Botes to create Bitterkomix and boerepunk. Their abrasive humour ensured that the chink in the armour of Afrikaner nationalism developed into a gaping hole, a this should be seen as a progressive development.
I am less tempted these days to believe the outlandish claims by artists and critics that art is necessarily revolutionary, but if the Bitterkomix generation did convince some young men that apartheid was not worth dying and killing for, it was certainly a good thing. Whether that brand of acerbic humour is striking the right note today requires further reflection.
In Kannemeyer’s recently published Pappa in Afrika, an image titled Liberals (2010) is a retake of Zapiro’s Rape of Justice, except that in Kannemeyer’s version a “coon” is slitting the throat of a man one presumes is one of Kannemeyer’s alter egos. The alter egos populate the comic book. The rape victim screams: “Do something, Harold! These historically disadvantaged men want to rape me!”
The relationship between Zapiro’s cartoon and Kannemeyer’s is quite obvious, but with a few significant differences. Zapiro’s is a bit more literal in the sense that Zuma was accused and acquitted of rape charges, whereas Kannemeyer’s perpetrators are anonymous “coons”. Second, Zapiro’s victim is the mythological figure of Lady Justice in the form of a black woman. This is what sets Zapiro’s work apart from Kannemeyer’s in that the whiteness of the victim is a direct comment on the fears of whites generally, a theme elucidated in JM Coetzee’s Disgrace.
One of the questions that Pappa in Afrika raises is whether art that is somehow transgressive or subversive necessarily implies progressive politics. Pappa in Afrika is awash with imagery of African atrocities, the buffoonery of its leaders (Idi Amin appears a number of times) and corruption, but also the complicity of the West. In the world of art, as in the world of political and social satire, evidence that the audience is offended is seen as affirmation that the medicine is working.
It is not that Kannemeyer is ignorant of the privilege that comes with being white. But acknowledging one’s privilege is not the same thing as acknowledging the responsibility that goes with it. In a world in which artistic freedom and creativity are rightly valued above the instrumentalisation of the arts, “responsibility” is a dirty word. I am the last person to advocate that an artist’s creativity ought to be stifled in favour of political correctness, but that is not to say one ought to celebrate the cynicism of arrogant and intransigent products of racial privilege.