Credit where it’s due (but only where it’s due)

I’m not South African, but I like to think of myself as an honorary Saffa. I do my bit for the country, I pay my taxes, I’m optimistic in a realistic sort of way and I try to buy South African goods and products as well as punting them on my blog if they’re any good.

I’ve said before that there’s no point in painting a wholly rosy picture of South Africa and ignoring the negative things that plague us. Not only is that completely misleading, but also it doesn’t bring those negative issues to the fore and therefore does nothing to sort them out. I think Jacques Rousseau made a similar point yesterday regarding the recent Kuli Roberts column debacle.

So having established that there’s no point in ignoring the negatives, please can we agree that equally, there’s no point in blindly praising everything just because it’s South African? This sort of behaviour is also completely misleading, unnecessarily raises expectations of products far too high and encourages disappointment in the real world (the world without rainbow nation-tinted specs). I’m sorry to tell you this, but there is no such thing as something being great, just because it’s South African.

Take, for example, the Kreepy-Krauly. The Kreepy-Krauly is an automated suction-side driven swimming pool cleaner: a hoover for your pool. And ask anyone round these parts for an interesting fact about the Kreepy-Krauly and they will tell you – pride oozing from every orifice – that it was invented in South Africa.

And they’d be right:

The first swimming pool vacuum cleaner was invented by Ferdinand Chauvier in South Africa

Nice work, Ferdinand. Or was it? Because in actual fact, the Kreepy-Krauly is rubbish. Rather than: “the suction provided by the pool’s pump causes the robot to move forward along the floor and walls of the pool picking up dirt and debris as it moves” as you’ll read in the brochure, something along the lines of: “the suction provided by the pool’s pump causes the robot to repeatedly get stuck in one corner of the pool, leaving the dirt and debris everywhere else” is probably more accurate. So the description of a Kreepy-Krauly as “automated” is a bit of a misnomer, since once you’ve shelled out the exorbitant cost of buying one, you will constantly have to assist it in its work by untangling it and freeing it from the step of your pool. And then cleaning up the dirt and debris yourself.
So yes, the Kreepy-Krauly is South African-invented, but that’s nothing to be proud of.

The same goes for music. I’m all for 5fm and the like having a SA music quota on their playlist, but really, some of the stuff they then end up subjecting us to is utter bilge.

Durban-based band The Arrows, for example. They recently gave us the rather watery but catchy Lovesick which made it onto said playlist. And that was “ok”, because the track was “ok” – not amazing – but “ok”. And then they release No Robots, the chorus of which sounds like the lead singer has grabbed an electric fence and is struggling to let it go. Seriously, they’ve been banned from playing it live at several venues as the local ambulance service (and sometimes the local SPCA as well) get calls from the 15 people in the crowd requesting urgent medical assistance “because something’s in pain”. And yet, because it’s South African, it gets airplay.

I’ve singled out The Arrows for a bit of criticism and that’s not fair, because there are other bands out there who are doing the same and getting away with it thanks to the apparent quota system. “We’ll endorse anything” band, The Parlotones (and I’m sure lead singer Khan Morbee won’t mind me telling you this *cough*) have been churning out rubbish from the pisspoor Stardust Galaxies album for well over a year now, but it gets played. Goldfish have somehow fooled the hipsters into thinking that they have released lots of different singles, whereas if you listen carefully, it’s just the same song on repeat. And still they get played.

Why does this happen? Is it because the music industry in SA is so small and fragile, they feel they need to give it this ill-thought support? Or is it merely a matter of national pride? Whatever, the powers that be need to think again on how they judge these things. Base your decisions on quality, not nationality, because much like endorsing the South African Kreepy-Krauly, supporting average local music devalues the good work that bands like Ashtray Electric, Zebra & Giraffe and Goodluck are doing and doesn’t contribute to raising the standard at all (not that I am suggesting that if/when they give us a duff single it should be played either). Is it really any wonder that there are so few local bands making it internationally when mediocrity is encouraged in this way?

Much as I don’t think we should be papering over the cracks as far as crime and corruption are concerned, neither do I think we should be telling people that all South African products and music are great when they patently are not.

All I’m asking for is a bit of honesty.