5 November 2008

South Africa: Musicians Sing Ruling Party's Praises

Johannesburg — ELECTION campaign preparations assumed a musical tone yesterday with the launch of an initiative to promote the African National Congress (ANC).

A long line of local artists have signed up for a "defend the ANC" campaign meant to encourage South Africans to vote for the ANC in next year's general election. Described as the brainchild of the artists themselves, the initiative is being run in conjunction with the ANC Youth League (ANCYL).

Expected outcomes were a compilation album and a musical. The campaign would also produce a fashion range, paintings of former ANC luminaries and the establishment of an audio-visual department to record party activities ahead of its centenary anniversary.

Participating artists ranged from old struggle voices such as "the people's poet" Mzwakhe Mbuli to younger crooners as well as controversial artists such as Mbongeni Ngema. Other names included Blondie Makhene, Mafikizolo, Thebe, Oscar "Oskido" Mdlongwa and Kelly Khumalo.

Early this week actor and TV personality Hlomla Dandala said he was helping the ANC breakaway group attract young voters.

A primary target of the "defend the ANC" campaign will be young people "to encourage them to secure their future" by supporting the ANC, co-ordinator Andile Shongwe said. He could not explain how the campaign will be funded, however. "We will look at creative ways of fundraising, we don't have any money," he said.

Fully aware of the likely implications of associating with a cause, particularly a political party that not all their fans supported, the artists were hoping to get something back -- much more than the ANC leader Jacob Zuma T-shirts that some were quick to try on.

"I'm here to support the congress as much as I want the congress to support me," Nathi Maphumulo, popularly known as Black Coffee, said. Relaying a common gripe, he said local music still had little airplay in SA.

ANCYL deputy president Andile Lungisa said musicians played a huge role in mobilising support against apartheid. He promised that the next government would take artists' concerns into account. "The people who are causing chaos were in government and did nothing for artists," he said, in apparent reference to the Shikota breakaway group.

Jazz musician Don Laka said having worked with the ANC's underground structures before 1994, he believed it was not yet time for party members to jump ship. "For us the house was built 96 years ago, the ground is solid, we just have to clean it up," he said.

In a riveting speech, Mbuli justified performers' endorsement of the ANC, asking why it would not be okay in SA when a range of US entertainers had come out in support of Barack Obama. "For us there is nothing to be ashamed of about being an ANC member."

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