Gimme hope Jo'anna - Eddy Grant - 80sneverend - Hope for Jo'anna

Hope for Jo’anna

Eddy Grant – Gimme Hope Jo’anna

I wanna know if you're blind Jo'anna
If you wanna hear the sound of drum
Can't you see that the tide is turning
Oh don't make me wait till the morning come
Gimme Hope Jo'anna
#GimmeHopeJoanna #EddyGrant

In the last weeks of January 1988, a very famous song climbed the charts in many countries, Gimme Hope Jo’anna, which combined an enthralling and irresistible rhythm with a content of strong political denunciation. Anyone who says that the song hid allusions to the political regime of South Africa is wrong: Eddy Grant’s were not hidden allusions, it was a clear and open denunciation, born after Eddy, an Englishman born in Guyana, a British colony at the times, had visited Africa! Jo’anna is not a woman, she is the city of Johannesburg, taken as a symbol of the Republic of South Africa, its government and its powerful allies who helped it maintain apartheid, defending the privileges and luxuries of the descendants of the English and Dutch.

In 1988, when the song began to climb the charts, the situation in the Republic of South Africa was very different from today: President Piet Botha was the last of the apartheid supporters, but also one of the most tenacious. His theory was that apartheid had been the driving force that had allowed South Africa to grow and get rich like the great Western countries. The territory was composed of four provinces inhabited by descendants of the English and Dutch, and which obviously included the richest, most beautiful and most developed areas of the country, and by ten areas which were real reserves for the various ethnic groups. The world called these areas “Bantustans”, a sloppy term that added contempt to an already poor condition. These territories were formally autonomous and some even proclaimed independence, such as Transkei or Venda, but in fact they were firmly under the control of South African power, and their independence was not recognized by any other state in the world, apart from the South African Republic .

And so here is Eddy Grant’s request to the South African ruling class: give me hope, before it’s too late. It must be said, however, that Eddy’s singing is not a plea at all, there is no despair in this song. Eddy, on his journey, had seen and understood so many things, and he was sure that things were already changing and that it would only be a matter of time before, by hook or by crook, the native populations would regain their rights.

The song explicitly mentions places and protagonists: it speaks of Soweto, one of the areas of Johannesburg reserved for native ethnic groups, where strong tensions and protests broke out (the spark was the decision to replace English with Afrikaans in schools), and where in the 1976 the police became the protagonist of one of the most hateful repressions and massacres, opening fire on a procession of ten thousand students.

Eddy mentions the city of Durban and the province of Transvaal, and he mentions Sun City, a mega resort reserved for luxury and gaming built by the ruling elite in the area called Bophuthatswana, between Johannesburg and Pretoria. Gambling and topless dancers were prohibited in the hypocritical provinces reserved for Europeans, but they built their own Las Vegas not too far away, in the territory formally entrusted to the Tswana ethnic group.

The name of Sun City became negatively popular around the world in 1985, when Little Steven, historical guitarist of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, through his project Artists United Against Apartheid, denounced the situation and the corruption prevailing in the resort with the song Sun City. In the chorus the artists of the project, including Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Hall and Oates, U2, Peter Gabriel, Bob Geldof, Run – D.M.C., Afrika Bambaataa, Jimmy Cliff and many others, said precisely “I ain’t gonna play Sun City “.

The text also mentions the archbishop and anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu, who died in December 2021, who won the Nobel Peace Prize, and is defined as “the archbishop who is a peaceful man”. In short, I would say that the denunciation is strong, but the situation for Eddy is already clear: history is already taking its course, and Johannesburg can only choose whether to entrench itself and be overwhelmed, or whether to grant true freedom and autonomy.

Eddy Grant did not have to wait long: in August 1989 Botha left the presidency of South Africa to Frederik de Klerk, who reversed the course of history: he started the negotiations and the necessary reforms to grant the same rights to all, he set Nelson Mandela free and rehabilitated the African National Congress, and organized the first free elections for all ethnicities, effectively ending the hateful era of apartheid. In 1993 Mandela and de Klerk will jointly win the Nobel Peace Prize, and in 1994 Mandela will become president of South Africa, choosing de Klerk as vice president.

And Eddy Grant’s hope for Jo’anna had quickly come true.

Eddy Grant on Wikipedia

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