In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death, South Africa is a notably more battered, less idealistic nation than the one that existed briefly around the time of the transition to majority rule. In mourning Mandela, we have experienced shades of the euphoria and unity that swept South Africa following the successful democratic elections of 1994. Yet, the current mood of the nation is dark.
Ordinary, grieving people interviewed on South African television and radio over the past few weeks have generally argued that our riven, economically unequal and politically stalemated country needs to reclaim what Mandela stood for. We need better leaders, and better ideas to generate growth and equality. We have problems and, what’s more, we know that we do.
British popstar Annie Lennox clearly hasn’t been listening to South African radio or watching the television. Which is surprising, because she was in South Africa in the aftermath of Mandela’s death. In fact, she was the only international act to appear at a memorial concert in honour of Mandela at Cape Town stadium last week. The concert was one of those rare events in South Africa where people of all races and classes sang and danced their joyous way through anthems, struggle songs, pop music and generally tolerable speeches from politicians from across the political spectrum. And then there was Lennox.
She was the only act on the night who turned up late. Though only by five or 10 minutes, it was noticeable because it prompted the evening’s presenter to burble nervously over the unexpected gap in the programme. When Lennox did grace us with her presence, she was met with a roar of excitement from the crowd. Dressed in black pants and an ‘HIV Positive’ sweater, she was beautiful, glamorous - every inch the popstar. Except she didn’t sing.
Instead, she took up a set of bongo drums (yes, bongo drums) and began to rap monotonously, demanding at intervals that the audience clap with her to ‘give her their energy’. Everyone co-operated at first. Her chant began to take shape. South Africans, Lennox intoned, must practise safe sex. We must wear condoms. No more sons and daughters should be born with AIDS (‘clap with me, I need your energy’).