My favorite things South Africa

by on April 1, 2011 at 7:26 am in The Arts, Uncategorized | Permalink

Torr writes to me:

Please will you consider doing a “favorite things South Africa” on Marginal Revolution. I’m also curious: have you ever visited South Africa?

I have yet to go, but here is what I admire so far:

1. Visual artist (you can’t quite call him a painter): William Kentridge.  He is one of the contemporary artists who is both a realist and has a lot of the emotional power of the classics.  His extraordinary body of work spans film, drawings, prints, and mixed media.  Here are some images.

2. Home design: I am an admirer of the Ndebele, some photos of their colorful homes are here.  They are better represented in picture books than on the web.

3. Movies: I don’t know many.  I enjoyed The Gods Must be Crazy, even though some might find it slightly offensive.  Nonetheless I hand the prize to District 9 for its interesting take on ethnic politics, its deconstruction and mock of Afrikaaner settler myths, and its commentary on how South Africans view Zimbabwean immigrants to their country.

4. Movie, set in: Zulu, 1964 with Michael Caine.

5. Novels: My favorite Coetzee is Disgrace, though I like most of them very much, including the early Life and Times of Michael K and Waiting for the Barbarians and the later semi-autobiographical works.  Nadine Gordimer I find unreadable, call the fault mine.  Same with Alan Paton.  A dark horse pick is TrionfAgaat sits in my pile, waiting for the trip of the right length.

6. Music: Where to start?  Malanthini, for one.  As for mbqanga collections, The Indestructible Beat of Soweto series is consistently excellent.  Singing in an Open Space, Zulu Rhythm and Harmony 1962-1982 is a favorite.  Random gospel and jazz collections often repay the purchase price and in general random CD purchases in these areas bring high expected returns.

7. Economists: Ludwig Lachmann was an early teacher of mine and I owe him my interest in post Keynesianism and also financial fragility hypotheses.  G.F Thirlby remains underrated.  W.H. Hutt was one of the most perceptive critics of Keynes and his insights still are not absorbed into the Keynesian mainstream.  His book on the economics of the colour bar remains a liberal classic.  Who am I forgetting?

The bottom line: There’s a lot here.  Here are previous MR posts about South Africa.

1 Ken Rhodes April 1, 2011 at 9:12 am

My favorite things South African:

Gary Player — A man would do well to emulate in our lives, even if we never pick up a golf club.

Endless Summer (1966) — The short segment in that film about the as-yet-undiscivered spot with the perfect rollers, hour after hour, day after day, was the highlight of the movie for me.

2 Trevor April 1, 2011 at 9:17 am

Another recent thing to favor in South African music and imagery: the video for Spoke Mathambo’s “Control” (a very inspired cover of Joy Division’s “Lost Control”).

3 Trevor April 1, 2011 at 9:19 am

*Spoek

4 Rahul April 1, 2011 at 9:23 am

I’m always impressed that Tyler can churn out “My favorite things Country XXX” for so many different and often exotic lands. I remember so far South Africa, Egypt, Turkey, Grenada, Nicaragua Sicily. Whew!

5 Kitten April 1, 2011 at 9:31 am

I may go to South Africa for a conference next year!

6 Rahul April 1, 2011 at 10:00 am

3. Movies:

I strongly recommend the German film “Nirgendwo in Afrika”. It’s the sort of movie where you don’t lose much even with subtitles.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nowhere_in_Africa

7 Jan Henderson April 1, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Movies: Tsotsi. Set in Soweto. Wonderful

8 Rahul April 1, 2011 at 10:24 am

How come a Tyler list and nothing about food? Nothing noteworthy about South African food? Darn. I can’t think about much myself but I speculate that it’s likely very game meat based.

9 J. Otto Pohl April 1, 2011 at 10:40 am

Since you are on the topic of favorite things in Africa how about a favorite things in Ghana someday?

10 BenjaminL April 1, 2011 at 11:22 am

South African artists are well represented in the upper reaches of the contemporary art world. They and Nigerian artists are the go-to for curators and collectors curious about Africa. Photography in particular is represented by both whites and blacks. Worth Googling:

Kendell Geers, David Goldblatt, Pieter Hugo, Moshekwa Langa, Santu Mofokeng, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Robin Rhode, Tracey Rose, Berni Searle, Guy Tillim

11 Baphomet April 1, 2011 at 11:41 am

Ndebele art looks like migraine auras. I am sure there is some significance to this.

12 Jacob April 1, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Emanuel Derman! Does he count as an economist?

13 BGGB April 1, 2011 at 2:00 pm

“I enjoyed The Gods Must be Crazy, even though some might find it slightly offensive. ”

Hmm, more accurately:

Some find it horribly offensive.
Most should recognize that it is indisputably offensive.

It depicts the Khoisan as a backwards, ignorant people. These are a people who have been steamrolled into near extinction by one invasion after another.

I’d expect stronger language from you regarding something so patently offensive. It is certainly a lowpoint of movies depicting life in South Africa.

Also, in addition to the writers you mention, there are some great African authors out there who offer a different style and perspective on their own country from that of European descendants.

One of my favorites is Heart of Redness by Zakes Mda.

For music, I highly recommend kwaito. A South African version of hip hop and house music, sung in a mix of English and various African Languages. Very up-tempo, creative stuff.

14 Jim April 1, 2011 at 3:55 pm

‘It depicts the Khoisan as a backwards, ignorant people.”

and I saw it as depicting them as decent and sensible, while every other group was corrupt and vicious. Eye of the beholder, I guess.

District 9 made me ashamed to be human.

15 BGGB April 4, 2011 at 4:42 pm

I don’t think much of the audience, especially at the time, was going to read it that way.

Mostly it always struck me as a slapstick comedy about a backwards African guy who doesn’t know what a coke bottle is. Har har.

16 Slocum April 1, 2011 at 5:15 pm

The Gods Must Be Crazy movies depict the Kung San as Rousseauian ‘noble savages’ but with a wink. There’s a line near the beginning something like “A Bushman would never punish a child or even speak harshly to him, so of course the children are extremely well behaved and their games are cute and inventive.” You’re not expected to believe that any more than that 1980s Kung would take an ‘evil’ coke bottle to the ‘edge of the earth’ or that ‘Rhinos are the self-appointed fire marshals of Africa’ rushing in to stamp out camp fires.

17 BGGB April 4, 2011 at 4:43 pm

I’m not sure most of the audience got the wink.

18 amygoogs April 1, 2011 at 6:21 pm

The Gods Must be Crazy was filmed in Botswana, not South African although the main actor was South African. By the way, I have friends that are “san” which is a word anthropologists made up (many of them identify as bushman in english, and their individual ethnic names otherwise). Anyway, so one day my bushman friend was talking about a movie he saw about ‘the old days’ and it made him wonder if the old days were better than the time he is currently living in. We talked about it for awhile, and only midway through the conversation did I realize the movie he was referring to was The Gods Must be Crazy.

I really enjoyed District 9, but if you want something entertaining and more “South African” Cry the Beloved Country was beautiful.

Also, I bet there was no mention of South African food because the traditional stuff really isn’t very good. Samosa have made their way into the cuisine, and some the generally mediterrenean food can be found from the Europeans, but most of it is mushy corn that is less tasty than grits. I guess peri peri chicken is ok. They just opened up a Nando’s in DC and I think that chain is from South Africa.

19 BGGB April 4, 2011 at 4:44 pm

I’d eat bunny chow 7 days a week if I could.

With a side of boerewors.

20 jk April 1, 2011 at 6:33 pm

The god must be crazy is from the same director of Animals Are Beautiful People. A far better movie. You can forget the drunk elephants once you see them.
I agree with Jim . It is offensive to western culture

21 C April 1, 2011 at 7:22 pm

I’ll take South African Economists for 400, Alex (or Tyler).

Teaches at Stanford GSB, and has done lots of work on network effects and game-theoretic price setting.
Who is Garth Saloner?

22 Sinclair Davidson April 2, 2011 at 1:38 am

Jan de Villiers Graaff is actually a South African economist, the others are all expats. Lachmann from Germany and Hutt from the UK. (I think Thirlby was British too). Arnold Plant was also briefly at UCT.

Nando’s is a South African franchise but is actually based on Portuguese style cooking.

The Gods must be crazy is a movie that is heavily based on stereotype (just like the Australian movies Crocodile Dundee and the Crocodile Hunter).

23 Six Ounces April 2, 2011 at 5:15 am

Charlize Theron

Zulu! – probably the best battle scenes ever produced. The true essence of bravery and honor, on both sides.

Dessert: Koeksisters

Song: Ndihamba nawe
Album Sibongile
Artist Mafikizolo
Language Zulu
2003

24 Six Ounces April 2, 2011 at 5:16 am
25 Spelling April 2, 2011 at 2:59 pm

A pet peeve of mine is the incorrect spelling of “Afrikaner”…

Please Lord let it not happen that the incorrect version gains acceptance because it is misspelled so often.

26 stickman April 3, 2011 at 9:13 am

I’m always impressed that Tyler can churn out “My favorite things Country XXX” for so many different and often exotic lands. I remember so far South Africa, Egypt, Turkey, Grenada, Nicaragua Sicily. Whew!
+1

While I am understandably disappointed not to feature somewhere on Tyler’s impressive list, let me add a few modest suggestions:

Music: The Western-African fusion won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it would be remiss not mention Johnny Clegg and Jaluka/Savuka. Give a listen to The Crossing, Asimbonanga (Mandela), and Great Heart… See if it grabs you. (And, of course, talking West-meets-Africa, there’s always Paul Simon’s collaboration with Ladysmith Black Mambazo for his Graceland album.) Other iconic music figures include Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela. More recently, Die Antwoord (“The Answer”) are making waves, but I find them execrable. Rather, try some Goldfish for some awesomely chilled out electro-jazz fusion.

Books: Alongside the Apartheid literature, there is some fantastic stuff about the Boer War; especially as precursor to WW1. “Commando” by Deneys Reitz stands out for me personally and, though there are some passages of undoubted prejudice, it is equal measures perceptive and riveting. (More impressive for the fact that Reitz was only 17 when he went off to fight.) Further, I’m unsure as to how good the translations actually are, but there is some excellent Afrikaans literature out there. Daleen Mattee, for instance, while I believe Deon Meyer is being very well received in the international crime-thriller community.

Movies (set in): Thomas Jane manages the best South African accent I’ve yet heard by a Hollywood leading man in the very underrated Stander. I wouldn’t say it’s a classic , but certainly well worth a watch and great soundtrack showcasing some 1970s African funk and ska.

Food: Biltong and boerwors (literally, “farmer’s sausage”) are the iconic staples. Bobotie is supposedly the national dish, but I’ve never been particularly taken by it. Much nicer are the other Cape Malay dishes, which are a must-have if you visit Cape Town. And, of course, there are any number of excellent wines to complement the experience.

Dessert: Malva Pudding by a country mile!

27 Russ April 3, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Music: Die Antwoord

28 Jaapie Koos April 4, 2011 at 3:23 am

Listen to: Brenda Fasse or Kwaito from the 2002-2004 period.
Eat: Biltong. Bobotie. Potjiekos.
Read: Antjie Krog’s ‘Country of my Skull’. No better book ever, excepting Rian Malan’s ‘My Traitor’s Heart’. Zakes Mda’s “Ways of Dying” & ‘Heart of Redness’ are also excellent.
Watch: U-Carmen eKhayelitsha: Carmen sung in Xhosa (language with click consononants) and set in a Cape Town shanty town.
Visit: the Wild Coast, Eastern Cape. No more beautiful stretch of coastline in the world. Anywhere.

29 BGGB April 4, 2011 at 4:41 pm

“Visit: the Wild Coast, Eastern Cape. No more beautiful stretch of coastline in the world. Anywhere.”

Couldn’t agree more. Although I’m torn between not wanting to share the secret with anyone.

30 stickman April 4, 2011 at 9:28 am

Grrr. I see my comment has been held in moderation for a few days. I guess due to the presence of hyperlinks? Oh well, here it is sans links….

I’m always impressed that Tyler can churn out “My favorite things Country XXX” for so many different and often exotic lands. I remember so far South Africa, Egypt, Turkey, Grenada, Nicaragua Sicily. Whew!

+1

While I am understandably disappointed not to feature somewhere on Tyler’s impressive list, let me add a few modest suggestions:

Music: The Western-African fusion won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it would be remiss not mention Johnny Clegg and Jaluka/Savuka. Give a listen to The Crossing, Asimbonanga (Mandela), and Great Heart… See if it grabs you. (And, of course, talking West-meets-Africa, there’s always Paul Simon’s collaboration with Ladysmith Black Mambazo for his Graceland album.) Other iconic music figures include Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela. More recently, Die Antwoord (“The Answer”) are making waves, but I find them execrable. Rather, try some Goldfish for some awesomely chilled out electro-jazz fusion.

Books: Alongside the Apartheid literature, there is some fantastic stuff about the Boer War; especially as precursor to WW1. “Commando” by Deneys Reitz stands out for me personally and, though there are some passages of undoubted prejudice, it is equal measures perceptive and riveting. (More impressive for the fact that Reitz was only 17 when he went off to fight.) Further, I’m unsure as to how good the translations actually are, but there is some excellent Afrikaans literature out there. Daleen Mattee, for instance, while I believe Deon Meyer is being very well received in the international crime-thriller community.

Movies (set in): Thomas Jane manages the best South African accent I’ve yet heard by a Hollywood leading man in the very underrated Stander. I wouldn’t say it’s a classic , but certainly well worth a watch and great soundtrack showcasing some 1970s African funk and ska.

Food: Biltong and boerwors (literally, “farmer’s sausage”) are the iconic staples. Bobotie is supposedly the national dish, but I’ve never been particularly taken by it. Much nicer are the other Cape Malay dishes, which are a must-have if you visit Cape Town. And, of course, there are any number of excellent wines to complement the experience.

Dessert: Malva Pudding by a country mile!

31 Drew from loras college April 5, 2011 at 12:37 am

Here is a documentary about music during apartheid… It has GREAT music!

32 Drew from loras college April 5, 2011 at 12:38 am

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