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To TINA or Not to TINA

Botsotso Ensemble – To Tina Or Not To Tina (Episode 1)

Botsotso Ensemble – To Tina Or Not To Tina (Episode 2)

Botsotso Ensemble – To Tina Or Not To Tina (Episode 3)

To TINA (There Is No Alternative) or Not to TINA is a three-part audio drama about an existing political-economic alternative – the Rojava Revolution – to the current global neo-liberal capitalist system  whose political form continues to be the centralised, ‘nation-state’.

While casualization/financialization/inequality in the global economy has accelerated because of covid 19, these tendencies had been manifesting since the 2008 crash. In tandem with this general immiseration and insecurity, there has been even greater concentration of wealth (via control of global financial flows and resources) by an oligarchy of billionaire individuals and corporations. They are ably assisted by various local comprador classes who ensure that unemployment, corruption, waste and mismanagement put massive pressure on both the working and middle classes as well as  proving that the total commodification of human life has been achieved with all the expected results of increased alienation, violence and social demoralization. The recent Trump presidency was surely a striking example of ‘human failure’ though totalitarian regimes in other ‘super powers’ like China and Russia, as well as in smaller, highly tribalized societies (Syria, Iraq, Israel, Nigeria and Zimbabwe being good examples), are equally guilty of violating human rights and practising gross economic exploitation and ecological degradation. And then, of course, hanging over all these social crises are the unfolding consequences of global heating and damaged bio-diversity which will probably lead to planetary extinction.

This threat of a sixth extinction, and one caused by self-destructive human behaviour, is very real and yet short-term profit-making continues as fossil fuels remain the key source of global energy, and the concentration –and skewed distribution – of wealth continues to balloon. Following covid inspired economic lockdowns, more than two hundred and fifty million people in India have again dropped below the most basic poverty line. Many millions more in other parts of the world, including South Africa, have also been pushed out of the formal economies that define capitalist production/accumulation and are languishing in a nether world of subsistence. Moreover, the Earth’s general capacity for regeneration/fertility is being tested as extreme weather patterns and disasters (hurricanes, fires, drought, floods . . .) create havoc all over the globe.

Now with this background of dysfunctionality, scarcity and decadence, one would hope to find coherent, unified political forces that are building their strength and capacity to fight and find alternatives that can resolve these crises. And so it is, that from within the hell of war (the civil war in Syria), just such a movement has emerged in the form of the Rojava Revolution in which a previously Kurdish nationalist party (in the north-east of the country) has facilitated the emergence of local, democratic and gender-equal governing structures that grant equality and acess to all minority groups and religions. This often women-led awakening has had a profound influence on contemporary thinking and just recently in Chile we have seen the growth of a similar movement which will soon be redrafting the Chilean constitution on similar lines.

The play provides information and reflection on the capitalist crisis and on the Rojava revolution through short scenes set in different situations and involving various and often contradicting characters:

    1. a mother and son in a South African township who face hunger on a daily basis because the mother has been retrenched – and decide to save themselves by ‘shop lifting’;
    2. a rising black capitalist defends his desire for ‘quick bucks’ against the doubts of a woman friend;
    3.  a Zimbabwean father and daughter cross the Limpopo to find work in Mzansi, but once they get to Jozi and are harried by police, they realise that the only long-lasting solution is to return home and fight the ruling party’s oppression;
    4.  a depressed activist seeking relief for his anger and frustration visits a cynical psychologist who believes that ’human nature’ is such that There is No Alternative to the current dog-eats-dog reality;
    5.  a young woman activist who has returned from Rojava informs them of the reality of the social revolution that has taken place and inspires them to learn about its policies and practices and apply/adapt them to local South African conditions.

The different scenes are inter-woven through the three episodes and show development of the characters and themes, though each episode is relatively self-explanatory and can be considered as a separate piece.

With the covid 19 pandemic prohibiting live performance indefinitely, the joint ILRIG/Botsotso program of providing civic and other working-class formations with socially engaged live theatre was suspended. In its place, we turned to community radio as the perfect temporary substitute, but also as a long-term opportunity to generally revive audio drama and use this creative medium to engage with listeners on issues of working-class interest. This engagement would take place during ‘post-broadcast’ discussions which could assist in building grassroots organization and lead ‘non-party political’ campaigns focussed on meeting local needs.

However, as we met with more and more stations, and offered them the plays and our assistance in broadcasting them (as tools for supporting transformation and delivery), we found that, like so many other areas with the potential to develop a genuinely ‘post-apartheid’ South Africa, almost all have been taken over by ‘bosses’’ (as opposed to being run by democratically elected local activists) who pursue personal commercial interests and promote capitalist consciousness.
As a result, very few stations report on local needs or have programs that specifically provide local organizations/activists and general listeners with platforms for discussion and planning. The network of community radio stations (there are over 170 such stations that have been licensed by ICASA) has long ceased to be a progressive force that should get maximum co-operation from working class organizations.

We also found that most stations do not create any original content (other than scheduling talk shows), largely play commercial music and try to maximise religious broadcasts because churches pay for airtime. As such, very few followed the broadcast of each episode of the drama with a discussion of the topics raised, and almost none provided us with an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the play. All the stations wanted was payment for broadcasting this free content!

In short, we found a critical resource for working-class consciousness-raising and organization building stuck in predictability, mediocrity and irrelevance. That this reflects the overall state of South African society is small comfort because as the crisis worsens, the building and defending of mass organizations like Abahalali base Mjondolo andother broad-based revolutionary organizations will become a life-and-death issue, and community radio is an ideal mechanism for contributing to this rebirth of liberation politics.