[OPEN LETTER]: DEAR MR. HARVEY, I SEE GREAT POTENTIAL IN FAMILY FEUD, SOUTH AFRICA

I have always loved watching you, Steve Harvey, on TV. From the first day that I heard you were the new host of a family game show, I glued myself to the computer in the computer labs whilst I was a student. I think I probably watched all the episodes uploaded on YouTube by good samaritan YouTubers. And until now I still watch repeat episodes of Family Feud, South Africa on Netflix. Over these past months under lockdown, I even convinced my partner to sit with me and enjoy your show and how you engage with ordinary families, seamlessly, as though you know them personally. My mother in law, of course, makes sure she does not miss any of your episodes on E-TV.

Now here is the problem then Mr Harvey. Sometimes when I watch Family Feud, I can’t help but blush now and then when you make inappropriate jokes about women and their bodies. I am hoping by now I have convinced you that I am not a hater. I can still remember watching Mr Hightower when I was a young boy in the villages of Limpopo. You seemed like the perfect metropolitan African man that I should try to become when I grow up. I particularly enjoyed your caring friendship with Cedric the Entertainer on the show. Of course, we all know that you are best friends in real life – it showed on the TV screen.

But come to think of it, one thing I did not like about Mr Hightower was that he was a bit of a womaniser. As a young boy, I did not understand why he had to do that, especially when Regina was so committed to him. For sure he was a loyal male friend one can depend on and a caring teacher, but he kept a part of himself still committed to the streets. A place Robert Sobukwe calls ‘the skirt world’ – where a man would chase after every skirt he sees – always in the fast lane. I am raising a boy of my own now who is one year old, and I am desperately looking for examples of men to show him on TV that he could look up to. I am also looking for men I can learn from as a young father and committed partner.

One thing I have learnt so far on this fatherhood journey is that being gentle with my boy makes me more gentle with the baby inside of me. And it makes me more gentle to my partner also. But in the middle of the jokes and fun of Family Feud, sometimes Mr. Harvey, the conversations you have with contestants go off script and become uncomfortable for those of us watching with our families. You are always careful not to say any curse words, and I appreciate that about your comedy Mr. Harvey. Unfortunately, in Africa, innuendos mean more than the words used to express them. I am sure by now, you have noticed how even the live audience members do not laugh at some of your off-the-cuff jokes like they do in America.

What I really want to say is that you remind me of W.E.B DuBois. He too came to Africa in search of something. And even though you regard yourself not to be an intellectual because of your poor academic performance, I think you are just as brilliant as DuBois. You are both nerds from the streets. DuBois was in academia and civil rights, and you were in comedy, business and entertainment. I too flunked out of university just like you. But I am beginning to accept that the education system sometimes just ain’t right. And that there is nothing wrong in listening to your instinct. For me, you stand out as a perfect example of this. But I wish you would talk to our young men more about responsibility at home. There are moments on the show when you encourage the youth to work hard and study, but we also need men, like you, to confront other men about the ways we objectify women, and why.

South Africa has the same problems as the African American tribe on that side. At the bedrock level, we too have a severe problem of fatherlessness. Our youth are trapped in problems with unemployment, gender-based violence, teenage pregnancy, drugs and poverty. Most of our young men run away from responsibility, and from the partners they have kids with. And even though we have plenty of “successful black men” as role models, we seriously lack in African/African American Fathers who are loyal to their partners and active in child-rearing; passing on to other young ones who are starting off and the humble wisdom of having lived a long life as a man.

I would like you Mr. Harvey to speak some sense to our Fathers and our young men. Don’t be intimidated by not knowing their languages or different cultures. Continue to tell them to work hard and focus, but also challenge them to stick to one woman just like you’ve finally done. Suppose you were to watch Mzansi reality TV shows, especially those that involve a lovers quarrel. In that case, you’d always hear the heartbroken man or woman say that when their relationship began, they had agreed ukuphilisana (to help each other live life/to carry each other’s depression). Men need to do more of this. The reason why a lot of men lack integrity is that we are so committed to separating the private man from the public persona.

I don’t believe that coming to Africa is necessarily a spiritual journey as it is more of an emotional retreat for African Americans. That’s what led DuBois here in the first place. We know how tough it is on that side. And I am sure you have seen how welcoming us Africans are. We are also accommodating and we know how to laugh at ourselves – at least for now. I think Family Feud, South Africa has the potential of being a fun family TV game show. A show that features an African American host, who is trying to find common ground with African families, whilst also being a national TV programme that encourages us to be better – especially our young men.

By the way, I love the term “African American”. Every time I say it, it’s like I am describing a superhero whose powers lie somewhere between what is best of the African spirit and American rangers. One last thing: I would appreciate it if you were to tell our young men that although they might not be as successful as you are yet, they can still provide for their families by being responsible, dependable and by being emotionally present to their partners. We need more examples of African or African American men who do this. I already look forward to Season 2 of Family Feud, South Africa.

END

Nkateko Mabasa is a Johannesburg based writer with an upcoming book to be published in the first quarter of 2021 by Jacana Media. Follow him on Twitter: @NkatekoMabasa_

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Vernac News.

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