It has taken me quite a while to say something about our beloved former President, Nelson R. Mandela, fondly called Madiba by all South Africans. It took me a while because I was trying to understand my feelings about it all. I was not amazed by the outpouring of adoration for him on his passing on the 5 Dec, 2013. I couldn’t help but wonder Madiba himself would have to say about some of the things said about him.
How, I asked myself, did this man effect us all and in the artistic world in particular? For one, as an artist one had the feeling that he really cared about Arts and Culture and the positive effect it could have on South African Society and he showed us how in so many ways. It was he who took the ‘Arch’s’ Rainbow nation to another level of reality. He is the person who said South Africa is the ultimate ‘fruit salad’. We are ‘many different fruit. We choose the tastiest, the best fruit and we put them together in a bowl to make the great fruit salad which is South African Culture’. That doesn’t mean that bananas are no longer bananas, or papaya’s no longer papaya’s…but in that elusive fruit salad they are something more, some just as delicious as before, but more! Madiba truly understood how the Arts could positively influence social cohesion in SA.
He attended two of my own creations. First, when he was recipient of the Africa Peace Award, the awards ceremony of which I was the director; and second, the premiere in Johannesburg of THE PRINCESS MAGOGO KADINUZULU, the world’s first Zulu opera. On both occassions he insisted on meeting the cast after the performance. As director I introduced each participant and he had a conversation with each and shook hands. A conversation that wasn’t a mere platitude but was heartfelt and real. Each artist was filled with excitement and inspiration. Madiba had this effect on us all. It was he that created the Arts & Culture Trust of the President and brought the founding trustees on board. (Founding Trustees: Nedbank, Sun International, The department of Arts & Culture, the Royal Netherlands Embassy & Vodacom)
Since that time, one has to admit that the Mbeki government dropped the ball on the Arts & Culture front. He even admitted it, on appointing Pallo Jordan as Minister of Arts & Culture. The Zuma government has yet to make us feel the same inspiration, what with their current lack of tolerance of freedom of expression. In fact, many of us artists had become truly synical about our place in South African society. Madiba’s passing forced us all to take a good hard look at ourselves and I for one, have become less synical, but more dedicated to telling our government when they are getting it wrong, when they are failing Madiba’s legacy. We all have to live up to being Madiba’s children and draw inspiration from his life. We must look forward, we must be positive, but like Madiba – when something is not right we should say so without fear or prejudice! We should write about it, sing about it, paint it, wear it, dance it..using all the skills at our disposal to create works that reflect the ‘fruit salad’.