Hip Hoping for Change

27 05 2008


By Daniel Epstein



I got into hip hop when I was about 12. There was something cool and relatable to its sound. The first album with hip hop that I bought was the soundtrack to Blade 1. Although hip hop is in no sense monolithic, there is in almost all its music an underlying dissident voice, a voice that is angry, or at the very least, displeased. This is, of course, excepting the new dirty South crunk that has swept through much of American hip hop culture – the ‘made-it’ black voice that celebrates materialism and misogyny. My interest in hip hop, like the interest of those artists I admire, has been forced into the underground, that which has been labelled ‘conscious’ hip hop.  


Much of their subject matter regards ‘the street’ and street values. It’s the cry of the once, and in most ways still, marginalized, and it’s filled with the harshness of this reality. Its not too difficulty to work out how this sound can appeal to people from various walks of life. Although the lyrics might not directly reflect your story, it’s the underlying dissonance which is relatable. As I’ve said once before, rap artists criticized the socio-political system. Kids transpose the artist’s derision onto any other permutation of that ‘machine’- school, domestic relationships, money, or all of it. This is not to describe hip hop as being in some way morbid. It harnesses its power in an expression that is vibrant and colourful. I can’t deny the side of me that connects simply with its cool sound. Whatever the reasons for its widespread appeal, much of it seems to be relatable to youth with even the slightest instinct for rebelliousness (and this, once again, I do not take to be something negative).


In South Africa, like much of the rest of the world, rap and hip hop culture has staked its place in the milieu of our cultural environment. There is also a sense in our local artists, like many in the US, to remain authentic to their roots. This means engaging with the community from which they come. This makes hip hop an ideal vehicle for community engagement. Since 1990 Cape Town artists such as Brasse Vannie Kaap and POC have engaged critically with South Africa’s political landscape. Black Noise also started Heal The Hood (www.healthehood.org), an anti-racism and anti-crime campaign.


In the small town of Grahamstown too, hip hop artists are engaging with their community. Fingo Revolutionary Movement, headed by Xolile Madinda, or ‘X’, arranges events that uses hip hop to empower local Grahamstown youth. This can be through rapping, breakdance or poetry. The latest event was a collaboration with the Gender Action Project, a breakdance competition that was used to raise funds for the establishment of a safe-house for victims of sexual violence. Although hip hop often contains violent content, sometimes even regarding sexual violence, people like X would agree that hip hop is not about that, and that it can be used to create awareness about social issues of this type. 


Related video to be uploaded soon.

mc on the micmcdj


Deaf, dumb and blind

1 05 2008


By Jade Fernley

You only need to google the words “Grahamstown rape” in Google News to know that this is an issue. Maybe it shouldn’t even be labelled a “issue” because we tend to gloss over them and turn a blind eye to what is happening in our town everyday. It’s more than just something we need to find a solution to when people’s rights and bodies are constantly being violated. We know it’s happening. But I don’t know if the majority of us let this sink any deeper than a superficial : “Yah, it’s hectic hey.”

But there are those who do let this sink deeper. There are people who are refusing to turn a deaf ear or a blind eye (pick your preferred cliché). They chose to be dumb, in the ‘not speaking’ sense of the word. About 100 volunteers had their mouths taped shut from 07h00 to 18h00, willingly choosing to remain silent, without food or water in solidarity with rape survivors. “Because to respond with silence or indifference when an injustice is witnessed simply means you condone the actions of the oppressor” is the quote on Studentzone. This isn’t just a response by a couple of people passionate about activism and angry about rapes and assaults in Grahamstown. The writing on the back of the shirts worn during the day states that 54 000 rapes were reported in South Africa in 2007. Read that again: 54 000. One in nine rape survivors report their rapes and the other eight are silenced by sexual violence. Of those reported rapes, only 4 percent are successfully prosecuted. This is not something that is just limited to females though, as this year males also wore shirts saying that men should also speak out. The sexual offences bill is really clear on this. There is no gender when it comes to rape!

Breaking the Silence is one event of many for Rhodes’ Rape Awareness Week, just like a single rape or assault reported on campus is one of many that are reported around Grahamstown and South Africa. Our university has reported two sexual assaults in April alone, from people brave enough to stand up and put across the message that THIS SHOULD NOT BE HAPPENING TO ME, OR ANYONE! In 2007, The Times reported that, according to statistics released by the Safety and Security Minister, SIXTY FOUR children are raped daily in South Africa, and that a woman is raped every FOUR MINUTES and THREE children are raped every day. To say that rape is simply an issue would be an understatement.

I think it becomes all too easy to read the numbers and hear the news and become apathetic about this. When you get down to it, if you really let yourself think: more than two children are raped daily. Over 86 women are raped daily (and please remember these are just the reported ones). Just think about the effect that has on even ONE person’s life. 

Let us move away from seeing this as a problem that just needs a solution. Let us see that what happens on our own campus is only a microcosm for what is really happening in our province and our country. Let there be more than just One of nine reported rapes when over 86 women are being raped daily.

Let us stop being deaf, dumb and blind.