Popstars Politics in the New South Africa: A Conversation with Masello Motana By Zachary Rosen

29 March 2013 — Africa is a Country

South African actress/singer/writer Masello Motana has had a career in the entertainment business that many would envy. She has played a leading role in a number of South African television shows as well as in a mainstream feature film. Her poems have been published in several anthologies in that country and she regularly amazes audiences as a musical performer. Sounds like the good life. Well, life would be much simpler for Masello if only she was content with collecting paychecks from beauty contracts and soap opera gigs. If only she pretended last year’s horrific massacre of mineworkers at the now infamous Marikana platinum mine in South Africa’s northwest never happened. If only she ignored the fact that businessman Cyril Ramaphosa, board member of the company that operates the Marikana mine, was elected to deputy president of the country’s largest political party, the ANC. If only she had kept her mouth patriotically clasped about social and economic inequality in South Africa.

But for Masello, silence represents complicity in injustice. She has chosen instead to creatively critique the disconnect between South African leaders such as Ramaphosa and the South African people. Out of this critique was born Masello’s satirical alter ego Cyrilina Ramaphoser, fat cat playgirl extraordinaire. In this narrative of Masello’s design, Cyrilina is a singer in search of pop stardom. Cyrilina’s first single “Makarena on Marikana” celebrates the wealth and decadence of some of South Africa’s leaders who would rather focus on turning the country into a McDonalds drive thru than be troubled by the voices of mineworkers and the unemployed.

For the launch of Cyrilina’s new video for “Makerena on Marikana” (below), we linked up with Masello to ask her a few questions about Cyrilina, the personhood of politicians and the future of the South African project. First the video:

“Makarena on Marikana” – How did you come up with the idea for this song?

I am crushed by the ANC’s latest enigmas. Electing Cyril Ramaphosa as their deputy after Marikana. I cannot get over it. I went into a deep depression once I realized that he had every intention of not only attending the conference, but in getting elected into the executive and even the highest position possible. All this barely a hundred days after those bodies had been buried. It’s like someone raping your cousin, then coming to your party, and having the biggest slice of cake and the best booze. I went into a deeper depression than the one I went through after the massacre itself. As for the media! Cheering on as it usually does with capital lubricants like Ramaphosa. I could not in all good conscience see how I could live in such a country. So it was either Cyrilina or exile.

Did you collaborate with anyone else to make the song?

Yah, the Mkhonto Crew, who in storyline terms “produced” for Cyrilina’s former girl group, CAPITAL LUBRICANTS, which included Patricia Motsepe and Tokyolina Sexdolphin.

Why did Cyrilina go solo?

Because she is too big a star to share the limelight, much like Beyonce was before her solo release. The girls are still friends though.

I’m sure they’ll still share insider secrets. So is Mkhonto Crew named after Umkhonto weSizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress?

Yep! The very Mkhonto! Yes, they share everything! They even go to the same vet. Cyrilina has a pet buffalo, Tokyolina a rhino and Patricia has a snake!

Many of your characters take on the opposite gender of the people you are critiquing — Cyrilina appears to be a party girl representation of Ramaphosa the man. Can you explain why these characters take on the opposite gender?

Attending all-girl schools, I always had to play male characters. So it’s funny when I play the “female lead”, parts which are written to support and affirm the “male lead” in my career. So with my own work, I choose to own the femininity by playing the “girl versions” of very powerful men and at the same time depreciating them sexually the way women are in art in general. Femininity like masculinity or anything else in this country is a contested terrain. I don’t have time to fit into those silly boxes of what “women” should be or how they should behave. It’s clear there is a long held practise of objectifying women which leads to the dismissal and abuse. I can’t really say much on masculinity, it’s about time men themselves express and question this on a broad scale and not just in journals. Women live in a state of emergency in this country and we can scream, dance, wear ribbons…nothing will change till men themselves commit to changing their perceptions.

Is this just the beginning of the world that you’ve created? Will we get to learn more of Cyrilina’s storyline?

Yes we will! I am expanding the concept into a web show. Still hustling a couple of things to get it done. So the “Lubes” will be a major part of the show. I was working with Julia Malema before this and I felt that I needed someone else for this particular message.

Sounds very exciting. Who else would you like to be involved with the project?

A couple of visual artists, stylists, make up for my different characters. It’s risky work so I can only work with those who are prepared to lose contracts and not get commercial work. I am inspired by Eddie Murphy’s style of playing multiple characters.

Speaking of risks, you haven’t been shy about participating in protest movements for improving the livelihoods of South African workers, has being outspoken about your social and political views affected your career?

I got disillusioned with the rainbow lies longtime ago. I decided more than a decade ago that this was my direction. Social injustice is more worrying to me than my “career”. I will use whatever platform available to push a pro-people agenda.

So in South Africa, the home of humanist ubuntu philosophy, various languages have their own inclusive terms for “people”. When the nation’s leaders act selfishly and unethically, do they forfeit their personhood?

Yes! Absolutely. U have hit the cow on the horn as the bay swans say. The term ubuntu (humanity) is not separate from Ubuntu (human being). So ubuntu is not about being nice to others, but the state of the human at all times.

Yet, the unsavory accumulation of wealth still appears to be enough for some leaders to sacrifice their humanity. What are the consequences of choosing capital over people?

Marikana.

In response, we get Mamphele Ramphele aka Venus Capital Flytrap saying, “We want an MP for Marikana, we want an MP for De Doorns and an MP for Sasolburg.”

NO! NO! NO MAMA! We don’t want Marikana at all, nevermind an MP! We want the structure of ownership in De Doorns to change totally not just have an MP! Hayi suka man! This lady is only good for the skhothanes with degrees and she is still anti-labour! MP in Marikana! Smh! A gang-star of capital nje!

I take it you’re not an instant convert to Ramphele’s newly launched Agang party then?

Not at all! It’s A Capital Gang.

Does Ramphele have anything to offer in terms of diversifying the political conversation or is she a wolf dressed as a sheep?

The only difference between Ramphele and Ramaphosa is that she wears a bra. Most of those middle class do not even know her history at the IMF. I was disillusioned with her from those days. And she only quit her chairman-what-what role at Goldfields recently.

With the daily toyi toying (protesting) in South Africa that leaders are content to permit, then quickly ignore, how can people influence real social change?

Real social change? Burn and watch the phoenix ashes rise.

The new South Africa has groomed me to be an anarchist. A lot of people say, “we don’t want to be another Zimbabwe” or “at least we avoided a civil war”…Those are hectic statements. We avoided a civil war yet sustain internal bleeding and madness. This aspect is not even entertained in the so-called national narrative.

That’s an interesting metaphor, the people as a body. How do you envision the people redesigning the society?

With a pro-people, pro-life, aim. Politics needs to answer to hunger and not the economy. So real back to basics.

I am wary of speaking for the people even if my job as an artist is to speak on their behalf or to them. I no longer recognize the people themselves…they are lost to the oracles. If u get what I mean…

It’s idealistic of me to want to redefine the world when the very people I feel I need to fight for want to pray for jobs…which is why I urge for more radical arts messages as we (the artists) and the people have lost each other completely.

You mean the work that many artists are making fails to connect with people?

The mediocre artists get all the play, thus numbing the populace to “artists” like Chomee and Danny K. So anyone with a message is seen as boring and has no chance to be heard at all. We love mediocrity in this country.

When I was a journo at City Press, I raised this and my piece was edited into a PR piece. And this was years ago, before I even got onto my first show.


While we’re talking about journalism, how do you feel about the Protection of Information Bill?

(Silence)

Well, perhaps that question is a bit too obvious.

Slightly hey…

When socially conscious artists like you put out critical material, it is not always received warmly by the public.

It’s never even fed to the people…

Are the channels of communication blocked for subversive material?

Yep. Before the art is even made.

What would the response be if Cyrilina’s song was broadcast on the radio across the country?

Hmmm….it will probably get called “disrespectful”. I can only know the reaction once I get the actual civilian response. I will most certainly do more live performances of Cyrilina soon. So more videos will come from that after this one.

Have you begun writing other Cyrilina songs as well?

Yep…and some crazy ideas for the wild cats… The wild cats are Cyrilina’s nightmare in life, they always wanna sing where she is, going on about hunger and all these things that are highly irrelevant to a capital lubricant. They have been unseen for a while so they seemingly “pop out of nowhere” but they have been there all along…like embarrassing family members. They are lazy and uneducated, and they expect to have it easy like the fat cats. Talk about a sense of entitlement.

So, wild cats vs. fat cats.

Uh-huh…but for the album, it’s Cyrilina vs. wild cats coz she is a Super Lube and she represents all the hot girls, Patricia, Tokyolina and Jackie Mthembu.

How did you come up with the name “Capital Lubricants”?

Every time I hear the word “foreign direct investor,” I think foreign direct rapist with our elite as the lubricants. Like in the line in the song: “take the gravy from the queen and she has all the meat…”

Recently you’ve performed live with Afro Galactic Dream Factory (photo above)Thath’i Cover Okestra and solo at Summer Sundaze in Cape Town, what material do you use for your live performances?

Depends what the mood is. Thath’i Cover was an exploration into kwaito music from a jazz perspective. I love mixing up genres.

Then Afro Galactic was a range of material. There is a Setswana/English poem, “African Sky Boat” by Lerato Themba Khuzwayo and Nature Boy.

Summer Sundaze is more, intimate cabaret style…Sophiatown set with storytelling/jokes in between, or a mellow set with interpretations of club hits as vocal jazz numbers like “Closer” (Rosie Gaines) or “Higher and Higher” by Brenda Fassie.

Have you made recordings of the mellow/intimate songs?

No. I don’t like recording. I love performing and I don’t do the same show twice. So I take a real organic approach.

Random fact, I do believe I am related to Shirley Bassey, Eartha Kitt, Grace Jones, Assata Shakur, Nehanda and Nzinga…

A divine lineage.

Erm…yah, on some rolling stone tip.

If Cyrilina successfully transformed South Africa into a McDonalds, who would be at the register, who would be at the drive thru window, who would be in the back preparing food and who would be cleaning up after everyone?

Hahaha! Register — Jacquiline Zuma for her excellent customer service skill; drive through — Jackie Mthembu so that we can also sell booze, food (u still think mcMarikana has real food?); cleaning up — Lester Moneywell.

What’s on the menu?

McMarikana, the biggest selling special at the moment, buffalo piss (with loads of donations from Loni, Cyrilina’s pet), RDP quarter pounder (with cheese if u don’t have a car, shame), miner ribs etc. Ho monate.

Final question, when the dust of revolution settles and the new day’s phoenix rises, how will the people of South Africa determine their future?

That’s a tough one…I know what I would like but am not sure if it’s what we all want. Will we still think of ourselves as a “nation” or rather as autonomous sub divisions? I can’t predict that, I can only sow seeds.

One thing is for sure, by the end of the year, young Africans have to get the African Union to step down. So many years and they could not figure out hunger, now the Chinese are building them meeting rooms, what a disgrace! They are just like those useless video vixens aka the ANC Women’s League.

At times, I think we are pushing too hard and that shit won’t change and that drives me crazy. So what do we do? Can we honestly urge for a revolution when our people are praying for jobs and drinking once they have them I don’t know. All I know is that the truth needs its fifteen minutes of fame.