An Expected Reaction by TwoSlice Dré: In Response To Accusations of The Mercury Sensationalizing.

I get it. I may not be a graf artist and I couldn’t even draw a messy hay stack if you asked me. Hell, I don’t even know if graf artist is the right lingo. However, I understand why people got so upset yesterday. I understand why, by midday, close to a thousand young-at-heart people had read the letter written by Ewok Robinson, in response to that morning’s Mercury headline titled: “Grafitti Gang Bust Red Handed”. I fully understand.

I love Durban. I had the area code tattooed on my arm for all to see, while still living in Cape Town. No matter where in the world I am, people will ask me what “031” means and I will answer them with my love story of Durban. I created Zero31.co.za because I wanted to play my part in curbing the rise of an apathy-engrained culture amongst the young people of this city, the prominence of which, was worryingly staring me in the face as I built my home here once more after years of living on the West Coast.

The problem is, as my love story with the city evolves, and the chapters get added to the story that is also being written in the lives of my closest friends… one theme is dominant: Hard work.

Yes sir, I do. I realize that nothing gained without hard work is worth gaining at all. Thank you for assuming I want everything for free and handed to me. May I carry on?

When I talk about hard work, what I really mean is: If your talents, skills and passions lie in anything other than playing golf while you negotiate your latest subsidiary merge, discussing the dividends gained in a client’s portfolio over a business lunch in Umhlanga, or plastering your boardroom with presentations encouraging your staff to find their inner-profit-increasing-synergy; then you’re headed for an uphill battle that transcends any definition of “hard work” that you’re thinking of throwing my way. How can I say that? How do I know it’s true?

I have seen what it takes to earn respect in “alternative” industries in Cape Town and Joburg (I lived in the former half my life, while often flying up for work in the latter), and there, if you work hard at what you’re passionate about and where your skills lie, you can exceed. Hell, you could even buy yourself some food from the proceeds.

What’s the difference then? What is the distinguishing dynamic between the two scenarios?

Culture and mindsets.

Not to say we as a city are not cultured, we most definitely are, amazingly so, and that’s the sad part. I’m talking about a scenario where the mindset and culture of those in authority, or those that have the resources to catalyze movements of change and forward thinking progression, is either so narrow-minded, or selfish, that it creates an atmosphere of claustrophobic, creative oppression, with a result that often ends in mass exodus.

I’ll put it frankly. I feel like this city is run by a group- hold on, let me rephrase that…

I feel like this city is run by a gang of middle-aged businessmen, getting older and older, that refuse to let go of her, and have no intention of handing it over to Durban’s youth. The way resources are allocated, and most importantly, the invisible channels through which respect is dealt out, are as frozen as they were decades ago.

When you want to excel in any creative field, you want to freelance in design, work as a social media consultant, build a thriving perfuming arts community, introduce the city to global coffee culture trends that Cape Town and Joburg recognized years ago.. when you want to be able to show off your progressive skills in fine art with peers from around the world, you want to make a living capturing people’s memories as a photographer, etc. Your first hurdle is going to be one that you won’t face in Cape Town or Joburg: Overcoming the cultural mind-set here, that your skill does not contribute enough to society to be respected or embraced (or worse, the idea that coffee can be found in a tin marked “Nescafe”), and the mere fact that your passion is something alternative to the mainstream, must mean you’re actually just trying fall back on a hobby because you couldn’t cut it in the real world.

The real world?

The real world has embraced the arts, recognized the value of an “ideas man”, is actively seeking those who truly excel in soft skills, acknowledged that integral to every facet of a thriving community, whether it be economic or social, is an environment where creativity in all it’s forms is respected, honored and promoted. Basically, Durban has a problem if the future of this city is solely planned and envisioned during country club dinners and expense account lunches.

When the people with influence are still asking questions as outdated as “But is it really art?”… We all correctly interpret that the same way. All of us, the entrepreneurs, the artists, the musicians, the designers, the writers, the venue owners, the creatives, the freelancers… “Hey guys, why don’t you rather move, pack up and take your game inland or to the west coast. You know, where you arty types live”. Well, if we are tired of getting paid for our work with patronizing offers of “exposure”, we might just do that.

Therein lies the formation of a reactionary and passionate sub-group of our community. The archaic thinking above will result in two things: a) Some of the most creative people in this country, will leave Durban, and setup shop in one of the other two cities; or out of their sheer love for what I believe is the most beautiful city in this country, they will stay and push on.

The problem for some will come when they realize, that we stayed not because we’re blase about our surroundings but because we’re passionate. Very rarely has passion amounted to individuals standing still. What passion does lead to is us kicking back harder against mindsets that are throwing this city and all her potential away.

So, if you haven’t asked the question by now, you are a very patient human being: What does this have to do with The Mercury article on the Graffiti “Gang”. Simple, everything about that headline, and the content within the article, was a marker of the stagnant culture within parts of Durban that I have been referring to.

It’s so simple, a group of artists re-doing the mural dedicated to a lost friend, on the same piece of wall they do every year… was labeled as a “gang” and we all went “My word, they still don’t understand”. This time though, it was the institution of free-thinking journalism that had outed us as parasitic.

The two explanations put forward by The Mercury seem to lack as much logic as the original article lacked depth:

1) The Mercury was just going on the information and press release it had received from the city or metro or whoever it was..

I’ve never studied journalism but my first thought on that question is whether the foundation of a newspaper is based on more of a ‘fact-finding’ nature than it is on being the volunteer megaphone of organizations. Surely, by definition itself, a newspaper checks on the facts that are handed to it, and it is out of the findings that an article is birthed.

As you have all seen there are these pathetically fake emails going around about DEW water killing people. As I helped out with DEW’s subsequent PR on the matter, I still get emails from journalists working for radio stations asking me if it’s true. Again, I don’t mean to tell a journalist how to do his or her job but surely the way forward there is to check the most obvious avenue first: “Hi. Is this the Nigerian Home Affairs department on the phone? Great, could you please verify any of the 200 deaths from DEW water in your country? What’s that, no-one has died from drinking the same bottled water?”. Wow, how easy is that?

What about this: “Hi, is this Dew Water? Are people dying in Nigeria because of you? What’s that, you’ve never shipped water out of South Africa… Yes Mr. Dew, I suppose people would also be dropping like flies in Durban where your water is actually bottled. Thanks for your time.”

Instead, a friend of the owner is called to ask if he can prove the validity of clams of innocence. Sorry, but I hardly get paid enough for what I actually do, I’m not going to start doing your job as well. It would seem The Mercury would have applied the same sort of thinking that just led them to blindly publish a press release handed to them. If that was the case. [Update: The Citizen seem just as guilty on this particular event]

We understand if the authorities abuse their power or perform press stunts in the hope of justifying where tax-payer money is going to, but we get really upset when the institutions we trust to bring us the full story, simply don’t do it.

2) There are many definitions of ‘gang’ and those upset were holding onto the most extreme version of it…

The Mercury has answered this question for me, bearing in mind that the accusations against it have been of sensationalism. I opened up today’s newspaper, turned to Page 3 where I read comments of mine regarding the anger that had spread over the word “gang” and then followed a marker that suggested I turn to Page 7 for a continuation of the story. While turning to Page 7, I caught a glimpse of a headline on Page 5 referring to a “Gang” that had killed a man in Davenport Road yesterday.

Painting a colorful mural in a derelict part of town. Murder. I think the point is made.

A side note, that page 7 article was an opinion letter, I think, and it was called, surprise, “But is it art?”. It is not us, that need to distinguish between vandalism, tags and graffiti art… it seems to be those middle-aged men I mentioned above.

To end, I would say the issue is not even if permission was given or not. The artists claimed they did have permission (that was not in the original article) but even if they didn’t, who cares? It’s been a public event for all to see, for a couple of years in a row now, which has culminated in the artists doing that community a service in an area where The City has arguably failed.

So when some of our friends are arrested for an annual, public event and described as a gang of criminals… We all sit back, take an objective look at the matter, make an informed decision and say, “Let’s make some noise!” because I for one am staying in this city and I’ll be damned if my child is going to grow up here thinking that he can’t follow his dreams in Durban because it doesn’t fit into the general agenda. [Update: A dedicated site for the guys has been formed: Gangs of Graffiti]

See you on the golf course. I’ll be the guy wearing All Stars and a trucker cap.

André “TwoSlice” Watermeyer
Social media consultant at instint VBG and founder of Zero31.co.za