The renowned comedian and native of Soweto, Trevor Noah, was recently honoured with the prestigious Erasmus Prize in the Netherlands. This accolade, previously bestowed upon the legendary Charlie Chaplin in 1965, holds significant global importance and has the potential to foster national pride and unity in a country as diverse and historically divided as South Africa. Oddly enough, this momentous worldwide occurrence flew under the radar for South Africans. Instead, a few weeks back, Noah found himself in the hot seat, facing a storm of criticism from his fellow compatriots. They saw him as nothing more than a money-hungry jester, pillaging the nation’s funds for a superficial publicity stunt where he played the role of the country’s tourism ambassador. 

By Mbangwa Xaba

For the love of me, I cannot come to terms with South Africans’ self-hate. We loathe ourselves so much it’s only the Springbok team that has the miraculous ability to relish the sparse national affection so effortlessly since the dawn of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s rainbow nation.

Undermining or causing harm to one another, in various forms, is a prevalent national pastime, second only to rugby. There is a particular emphasis on discrediting each other on the global platform, which appears to be highly valued.

Trevor Noah serves as a prime example. Last Tuesday, he was awarded the prestigious Erasmus Prize in the Netherlands. He was the second comedian globally to be honoured with the award. Charlie Chaplin, another notable figure, was bestowed with the prestigious accolade of being the greatest comedian of all time in 1965. Noah received the award from King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam.

We could not care less, like a stone-cold heart in the dead of winter.

Not even a murmur from the Mahlamba Ndlopfu, or the Minister of Arts and Culture, who had his hands full cancelling the bid for the Women’s World Cup. Not a word, not even from Gauteng’s loudmouth premier or the Johannesburg mayor, who seems to have very little to do.

Not a peep…not a single syllable…not even the faintest sound of a mouse’s squeak.

For a society plagued by deep scars of centuries of racial divisions and strife, crumbling national identity, and growing pain from economic stagnation to a dysfunctional government, this would have been a prized moment of unity and celebration.

A national treasure of utmost importance in fostering unity among communities.

The importance of this award globally, as well as the significance of arts in unifying a nation, particularly in a racially divided and stressed nation like South Africa, cannot be overstated. As we enter the festive season, this would have been a moment of merriment.

Amid persistent power outages, there was a missed opportunity for a nationwide celebration and the collective joy that would have accompanied such positive news.

The Erasmus Prize is a testament to Trevor Noah’s exceptional talent and his ability to transcend borders with his wit and humour. As the second comedian ever to receive this accolade, Noah stands alongside one of the greatest comedic minds in history, Charlie Chaplin.

South Africa, a country grappling with the complex historical ramifications of its past, has often found solace and a source of pride in its national rugby team, the Springboks. However, the failure to recognize and celebrate Trevor Noah’s global success highlights a troubling aspect of the country’s collective mentality.

Why does the persistence of self-deprecation and division continue to overshadow opportunities for national unity and shared pride?

The absence of a nationwide celebration for Noah’s achievement raises questions about the level of unity in South Africa. Why does the country, which is so quick to rally behind its rugby team, known mostly for its white heritage, struggle to collectively embrace the success of a black child?

Embracing these moments of global recognition for its artists, such as Trevor Noah, could have been a stepping stone towards a more cohesive and proud nation. The missed celebration of Noah’s Erasmus Prize should prompt a collective introspection, urging South Africans to embrace their successes, both big and small, as catalysts for unity in a nation that deserves to revel in its diverse talents and shared achievements.

In the expansive realm of global entertainment, few personalities have effortlessly crossed borders as seamlessly as Trevor Noah, the South African comedian who rose to the esteemed position of host on the iconic American television show, The Daily Show. Noah’s journey from the townships of South Africa to the international stage represents a triumph not only for him personally but also for the entire nation. Yet, perplexingly, his success has been met with a somewhat subdued response in his own country.

After assuming the role of host on The Daily Show, Trevor Noah quickly gained widespread recognition in the United States and internationally. His sharp wit, insightful commentary, and charismatic demeanour have secured him a prominent position in American late-night television. Noah’s role as a host extends beyond mere entertainment; he has become a global ambassador for South Africa, using humour as a tool to bridge cultural gaps and challenge stereotypes.

Noah has achieved significant success internationally, particularly by hosting important events in the United States such as the White House Correspondents’ Dinner during President Biden’s term. This demonstrates the high level of respect he holds in American political and media circles. However, despite his global accomplishments, Noah appears to receive limited recognition and support from his own country.

One example that illustrated this disconnect was when Noah participated in an international advertising campaign to promote South Africa. Instead of embracing the fact that a fellow South African was representing their nation on a global platform, some people in South Africa criticised Noah for being motivated by money for his involvement in the campaign. This incident highlighted a troubling pattern of undermining our achievements rather than supporting and honouring them.

As we navigate the complexities of identity, success, and representation, South Africans must recognise and celebrate the achievements of individuals like Trevor Noah. Instead of questioning motives and tearing down our global ambassadors, we should rally behind them, understanding that their success reflects the potential and greatness of our nation.

Trevor Noah’s journey is not just his own; it is a story that belongs to every South African – a story that, if embraced collectively, can contribute to a more unified and proud nation.

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