A peace of the action
It's hard to shake the suspicion that for some celebrities endorsing a cause has more to do with ego than empathy.
Cito Otto – singer and songwriter, stage actor, menagerie owner and now event promoter – is more outwardly focused than most rock stars but, based on the record of apparently charitable celebrities who occasionally spend more time in front of the cameras than getting their hands dirty, it’s hard to shake the suspicion that endorsing a cause (Peace Starts, in this case) has more to do with ego than empathy.
“The Peace One Day initiative in the UK, on which this is based, is not about celebrity,” Otto says.
“It’s about putting up your hand and saying that you believe in peace and you want to work towards it. Our event this week [Peace Starts In The City, this Saturday at the Skyroom in Johannesburg from 3pm] is, in a way, just a free concert. There’s no fund-raising aspect.
“If you attend, that’s you putting yourself out there and taking responsibility for working toward peace, and not expecting the government to do it. Or a rock band…
“It’s not some sad, introspective thing. It’s a celebration of peace.”
So far, so Sixties. What then?
“The point behind it is to promote the International Day Of Peace on September 21. That was officially set up by the United Nations, and South Africa is a member, so let’s get involved.”
There are so many celebratory days, though.
“The more we put on events and get people to attend them, the more success – of a sort – we have,” says Otto.
“The more people talk about peace as a topic, the better. Peace means different things to everyone, and more understanding of all these perspectives is necessary – we need to look at the core issues, not just the symptoms.”
South Africans are not unfamiliar with this sort of talk.
“We had a peaceful revolution here in 1994,” Otto points out, “but what are the real outcomes?
“The Peace Starts events are focal points for these questions; catalysts to move the discussion forward.”
The initiative has a number of celebrity ambassadors – great for raising its profile when the people involved are behaving themselves, but problematic when one of them does something silly that gets picked up in the media.
Otto shrugs, conceding that it’s a risk.
“We wanted to draw attention to us all being human beings; less than perfect. The people taking on these roles know that they won’t always be the best examples. I admire them more for admitting that not being perfect doesn’t need to be a block to stri-ving for peace.”
The Peace Starts In The City gig is being held at the Skyroom in the Johannesburg CBD for a reason.
“We appreciate the effort the city is making to draw people back in,” Otto says.
“It can still be quite a dark place, but it’s also magical and attractive.”