December 10, 2013

Mandela's Memorial, Politics, and Sensationalism

Although I have felt somewhat removed from the grief and mourning surrounding the death of Nelson Mandela, I am left curiously empty today after covering the memorial.

Tens of thousands of people gathered at stadiums across Gauteng, and in select venues across the country, to watch together the memorial from their television screens as it was broadcast from FNB Stadium near Soweto.

South Africans of all creeds left their jobs for the day, and the celebration that came out of the event – that came from an event where everyone was expected to be in tears and mourning – shocked everyone, the world, and even me.

But I wonder how much money was spent in this charade? Would Mandela have wanted such pomp, such amazing amounts of money spent on a memorial that lasts only a few hours, or would he have wanted our government to put children starving in families who couldn’t afford to attend memorials in his name first.

And of course, there was no escaping from the politics of the situation. Over 100 dignitaries and world leaders made their way to the main event, and it was all dripping with politics, like a hot knife dipped in honey. Many people celebrated their South African-ness – their belonging to the rainbow nation that Madiba gave his life to create – but many arrived in the colours of the party they supported: the ANC, the EFF, and possibly many others. And this political sentiment was echoed by a small contingent of people who decided to make their voices heard on this day, which should have been a day of reflection on how far the walk is still for us as South Africans.

The booing of President Jacob Zuma was unnerving – this is the man who had the support of masses of people during his rape trial – are we all so fickle that from one minute to the next we can support the man of some random powerful, charming, and influential person’s choosing?

And the genuine joy the crowd expressed for US President Barack Obama when he took to the stage to express his condolences and tell the world what Mandela meant to and for him made me but shake my head. His speech was magnanimous – it was inspired – it was poetic and artistic – but I cannot escape from the feeling that his speech, and everyone else’s was politicking. Even if only subconsciously. The speeches and tributes with their repetition of how loved Mandela is all over the world, how his message of love and forgiveness is inspiring, all overshadow the harsh realities of the heads of states’ own countries: America’s families are reeling from the loss of their young men, killed in the Middle Eastern fields in a war that makes no sense; China’s population hardly experiences a day of clear sunshine and air; India’s women are under constant threat… Certainly, every country has its problems, but the mere rush to sate the need to attend the memorial, to show face, reeks of politics. At least the Czech prime minister was honest.

Everyone gasped mentally when Obama shook the hand of CubanPresident Fidel Castro – what an amazing man, to forego decades of disagreement and infighting to shake the hand of one’s country’s enemy! It’s all about politics. It’s all about the give and take of politics. Now Castro will have to make some sentiment of his own, and each person will try to one-up the other, and warming relations will be swept away by the undercurrent of resentment because of the lack of honesty.

The media’s coverage of the situation is almost compulsively obsessive. Every detail is painstakingly reported as though everything is fraught with meaning. Barack Obama’s speech was available within seconds of him finishing his reading, and news sites published it as fast as they could. Were they the first to have it up? What are the page views like? Perhaps this is a reflection of our now-culture, but is this what the media has become? A means to follow the crowd; to enjoy what the masses enjoy; to express only popular opinion; to ‘like’ only what is ‘liked?

Is this what the media has become? A means to sensationalise every happenstance; to allow dozens of journalists to be posted outside the house of an ailing old man – yes, an amazing icon, but still, an old man, certainly tired of the fickleness of this world - waiting for him to die so they can be the first to report it; a means to indulge in the horrid pornography of grief; to rub the wound with salt; to indulge in the sadness of billions of people, all for the sake of a page view and an advertising campaign?

I take as comfort the fact of the South African reaction to remembering Nelson Mandela – a reaction that had its tears, its clutching and wringing of hands, and its tributes, but also a reaction that was filled with joy and gratitude for being given the gift of knowing Mandela, for living on the same piece of continent that Mandela lived on, for being able to share once again their revered hero with the world.

It is this reaction that cannot be sensationalised – it is pure honesty, and South Africa will no longer be sensationalised.

{Image Credit: By Pvt pauline (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons}
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December 6, 2013

Mandela's Death: the ANC's Ace?

I can hear the slogans for South Africa's general election next year already: 'Honour Madiba and vote for his party'; 'Mandela gave his life, all you have to do is give your vote'.

It is an amazing coincidence that the death of Mandela comes just as some of the major issues over the last few years with President Jacob Zuma in power come to a head: Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's report over the improvements done to the President's private residence in Nkandla is expected to be utterly damning; the arms deal commission should come to a close; the Marikana massacre is still on everyone's - especially the Economic Freedom Fighters' - minds; Zuma's cabinet has been plagued with wasteful government expenditure in the billions; the head of the ANC has been implicated, though this is unproven, in a landing by the Guptas - a family close to the government - at what is supposed to be the most secure air force base in the country; the e-tolls have just launched in Gauteng; ... and the list goes on.

Surely if there was an opportune time to distract South Africans, who are sick of the news of corruption, hearing that our schoolchildren fail to read and understand the most basic sentences or can barely add - though they're in high school - and preparing for a festive season that will, as always, empty their pockets and leave them exhausted for the New Year, this was it.

And who would not vote for the ANC now? It is the party of Nelson Mandela, the party he spent his life defending and promoting, the party that brought democracy to South Africa.

Only a few months before the general elections, and amidst overarching cries for President Jacob Zuma's impeachment, this might be the Ace up the ANC's sleeve that will get them another four years at the helm of South Africa's democracy.

Mayhaps the ANC is simply lucky that such a thing occurred now, in the midst of the discontent. But there is a 'conspiracy theory' making the rounds that Madiba actually passed away a long time ago. This is the result of a single news report from an American newspaper that claimed their sources said he had passed away, and after a few weeks in hospital, Mandela's family was involved in a fracas about graves in Mandela's homestead in Qunu and in Mandla Mandela's chieftaincy. There were even reports that a grave was being dug in Qunu.

Whatever the truth, I am just pleased that Nelson Mandela's spirit finally has peace, after being in pain for so long, being hounded by the media in his old age and ailing years, and dealing with a family that from all accounts seems obsessed with making money using his legacy.

Regardless of the truth, an icon has passed away, and I offer my condolences to those closest to him, and to the world for having lost an inspirational man.

Hamba Kahle, Nelson Mandela. May you be in Peace.

{Image credit: South Africa The Good News /  [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons}
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December 4, 2013

UIP SA, Next Year's Movies, And Barry Ronge

Credit: Facebook\UIPSA
I attended UIP SA's end-of-year function on Monday to hear about how the company fared in the last year and take a peek at some of the expected films for 2014.

But as with any other gathering of people, it was really the dynamics between everyone that was the most entertaining, rather than the actual function itself.

UIP SA is the distributor of Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures films, and as such has had the opportunity in the last year to promote a diverse range of films, such as the likes of 'Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom', 'R.I.P.D', 'Despicable Me 2', 'Fast and the Furious 6' and 'Les Miserables'.

After a lineup such as this, one can expect great things for 2014.

Ahead of the sneak peek for next year, we were treated to an appetite-inspiring breakfast buffet of cereal and fruit, chocolate, pancakes, omelettes, croissants, muffins, juice, and coffee. The perfect reason to indulge! It was a popular part of the event: one journalist returned to the table at least four times.

The event took place a day before the official launch of Sanral's e-tolling system on Johannesburg's roads, so naturally this reared its ugly head, inspiring the general banter of the morning: a brave soul stood at the front of the viewing cinema, and demanded that anyone who had purchased an e-tag should leave immediately, as they were 'sell-outs'. The guests seemed to agree - not a single person emerged as an e-tag purchaser, and the impression was that most of the people seated enjoying their free breakfast were not interested in supporting the user-pays system. I wonder if the reason for this overarching negative sentiment amongst journalists is because they are the most well-informed about the situation?

I was also interested to see the racial dynamics at the event. Which was, not much. Most of the journalists, bar at least one, were of the caucasian persuasion, bringing me to speculate on whether this was a true reflection of journalism in South Africa.

Meanwhile, everyone patiently awaited the arrival of a most auspicious guest: Barry Ronge. It might have been coincidence that it seemed that nothing would take place unless he were there, but everyone seemed to spring into action upon his arrival. Strangely enough, I planted myself alongside the seat that was being reserved for him and which he has apparently been sitting in for 17 years, if I remember his statement correctly. It was a strange atmosphere as he arrived - everyone seemed hushed in their own state of reverence, despite the fact that many people in the room had already met him. In spite of a seat being saved for him, he seemed very modest about it, audibly wondering why people had saved it for him.

I am allowed to be in awe; I had never met him before, and he made an effort to speak to me as well, swelling my pride just a little. He told me how this time of year was a nightmare for him, as he had to rush around making sure he'd seen all the festive films and written reviews for them before everything closed down for the season.

Looking at the line-up of films for 2014 has me excited for at least seven of them. Those I'm most excited about are below.

Credit: Facebook\Anchorman 2Anchorman 2

Grab your Scotch and prepare for the return of Ron Burgundy! The first film has a cult following, and a sequel has been touted since the release of the 2004 original. Finally it arrives on South African cinemas on January 10. Here's the trailer.
Credit: Facebook\Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

I love horror films and ghost stories, so this one really struck my fancy. It's one of those home movies-type of films that have taken the horror film industry by storm (obviously because one doesn't need a large cast or particularly amazing equipment), but this one looks like it has some great special effects and an interesting story to boot. Here's the trailer.

Credit: Facebook\Noah Movie

Russell Crowe is one of my favourite actors, so to see him in another film of this magnitude is quite exciting. He always brings something tender and introspective to his roles, and I doubt that this will be any different. The special effects look excellent, and it looks as though they've added some exciting events and talents to the traditional Bible story. Here's the trailer.

Credit: Facebook\NeighborsMovie

Starring former Disney boy Zac Efron and that king of comedy Seth Rogen, this film looks like a great rollercoaster of laughs. Seth Rogen plays a family man who would like to impress the fraternity who has moved in next door. But things take a turn for the worse when the frat boys, led by Zac Efron, take their partying a step too far. This is a classic sabotage comedy that had me laughing just during the trailer. I hope they didn't show all of the best parts... Here's the trailer.

Credit: Facebook\47Ronin
47 Ronin

It appears that Keanu Reeves knows how to make a comeback! The last time I saw him was in the film 'Man of Tai Chi', where he was, unusually, a (very good) villain. This is an action-adventure story set in a Japan-like world. A treacherous warlord has killed the leader of the samurai and banished them, and now 47 samurai, bent on vengeance and restoring honour to their kind, approach Reeves' character Kai - a half-breed - for help. But the warlord has some beasts and witchcraft up his sleeve. 47 Ronin looks to make use of the best CGI, and I love martial arts films. Here's the official trailer.

Credit: Facebook\TheBoxtrolls
The Boxtrolls

This one looks very cute. An animation from the people behind 'Coraline' and 'Paranorman', the film is about an orphan who is raised by the Boxtrolls, underground collectors who live in the sewers, and his attempt to save them from an exterminator. Here's the trailer. I just saw the teaser in the preview.

Labour Day

Ugh, a love story, I hear you say. But admit it: sometimes you really just need a good cry, even if it's the dusty cinema to blame. Josh Brolin is an escaped convict and Kate Winslet is a depressed mother who struggled to live a normal life. She and her son give him a lift and are forced to allow him to stay with them over the Labour Day weekend, but as they learn his true story, and the search for the convict intensifies, they start to run out of options. Here is the trailer.

Other films expected in 2014 include Robert Redford's 'All Is Lost', 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit', 'The Best Man Holiday', 'Ride Along', 'Transformers: Age of Extinction', and 'Hercules'. UIP was also to distribute 'Fast & Furious 7', but after the death of its star Paul Walker over the weekend, plans have been thrown into disarray.

To conclude, I will paraphrase the statement of UIP SA's managing director Peter Dignan that there is nothing like sitting in a darkened cinema with your fellow humans, sharing a laugh or a gasp as the film you are watching draws you in and lets you forget your cares and worries, just for a moment.
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