My name is Auriol Hays and on the 3nd of September I joined the ranks of archaeologists, adventurers, fortune hunters, scientists, religious leaders, gamblers and the odd ufologist hoping to catch a glimpse of Her. They say she dazzled the world 24 years ago, her beauty so ephemeral that her plumage blinded even the sun. Ever since that day many set off on a seemingly perilous journey in search of Her, the Rainbow Nation.
I was not alone in my quest although the collective mission was another matter altogether. I was joined by the valiant French from Samba Résille, the fearless Zambian from Barefoot Theater and my own team of weather worn compatriots. Our mission was complex and we shared goals such as ‘inclusivity and diversity, bridging the gap between cross cultural barriers and building international relations’. Yet my agenda was a very secret one…
I was hungry, weary but very excited to be joined by my compadres in the secret gathering room located at the heart of the Artscape Resource Center. I knew my journey could end in disaster. Alas the ebullient sounds of Hugh Masekela and Stimela caught me off guard. Sbu, The Instigator, whose gift is doubt, brought the lively sounds of a forgotten past right into the present. It has been reported that She has engaged in long standing love affairs with artists, poets, painters and writers after all. And then the voice of our Fearless Leader, Phodiso laid down the rules, the do’s and dont’s of our our expedition. She also reminded us to never lose sight of our goals. Yes, it is best I keep my secret agenda secret for now…
Armed with only my notebook and a pouch of rolled tobacco I encountered the three teams with steaming coffee in hand while Martha, the Royal Court Jester, reassured and alarmed us all. The youth, their future in the arts and shaping the very world we now live in…could it be done? And if so…how? Faced with the gravity of our task the jokes made by Marta were more than needed. We set off valiantly in our steel carriages and journeyed deep into the heart of Hout Bay, an area rife with politicking and racial divides.
We were ushered into a sacred space where trees, life and art bloomed. They called it The Lalela Arts initiative. These brave souls move into schools armed with an arts curriculum for children at risk. I stared in wonder at one of my compatriots, Nokonwaba,our very own Iron Lady. Aside from being immaculately dressed, it was her fierce love for children that won all of us over. And then something caught my attention, a clue perhaps? I saw it on the walls of their collective space….a Heart Map. I stared at it while the teams dispersed. The Heart Map was one of many programs aimed at bridging and healing divides. I jotted it down hastily and left for a classroom where I could view Lalale’s work first hand. And there it was! Finally a concrete clue drawn boldly by innocent hands…Love Will Always Remember You. I slept well that night.
Day Three or was it Four?
I was warned of the distortion of time from the accounts of others before me but was surprised at its effects. I was greeted by Shamilla, one of two tasked with documenting our journey. Shamilla, although small in frame oozed raw sensuality that made her hard to miss. Yet she had the ability to appear almost invisible amongst the masses as she click clicked moments most would miss.
I caught a glimpse of Hamza, Johan, Laurent, Celine and Hugues from the French delegation. I was concerned as Celine did not look too well. And already rumors of that Susan was not at her best was infiltrating the camp. We set off to the Nyanga Arts Development Centre. Nyanga, an area filled with so much history and fear. A place I often passed but never visited.
It has been said that collective joy just as collective sorrow can overcome the individual. As the sounds of music welcomed my ears the words of Greg, a companion from the French borders of Toulouse, reached me. ‘The South Africans are united by music, by song…’ Yet nothing prepared me for the onslaught I was set to encounter. There was vibrancy, an electricity in the air as the marimbas called to us, as voices joined and howled ecstatic. And in that second we forgot. All of us forgot about our collective pain, our worries and the lack we are confronted with – as South Africans, as Zambians, as French! Instead we rejoiced as people, our faces filled with joy, our bodies eager to dance, to move. I looked at Robyn, tasked with not only documenting our journey in film but keeping our spirits in tact. When he removed his camera and shook every inch of his body I could not help but smile! The joy on his face was one we all felt as we sang, danced and laughed with those young and old in the Nyanga Arts Centre. I slept well that night knowing spaces where discipline and a dedication for nurturing the young exists.
Day 3 or 6…
I awoke a bit tired but more prepared to face the day. Weiland sported an old war injury she picked up from her days in the field. It flared up and was a concern to everyone in our camp. Enduring her pain valiantly she informed us of the day ahead. We would remain in the gathering space, sharing thoughts around policies governing the various organisations and where to find possible solutions. The discussion was intensive and document heavy. A needed grounding for the work every single person was dedicated to. I stared at Chembe, my Zambian brother and recalled the candid conversation a few days prior while we visited one of the classrooms in Hout Bay.
Chembe, a gentleman first, a teacher, musician, activist and a street kid found his calling working in Barefeet Theater. He marveled at the freedom of young children simply allowed to draw, engage with their peers and teacher while listening to music. The streets forced him to grow up quickly and leave his innocence behind. I failed to tell him that his innocence was never lost. It merely took on another form – a mantle. Like that of a super hero…
Next we moved deep into the bowels of the Artscape building and became intimately acquainted with her history and determination to be inclusive and leave behind the legacy of a people divided. Music, art and the power of storytelling is embraced at every turn and the ethos of Ubuntu – I am because we are – is ever present. Later that evening a press conference. I noted that every time the three delegations face the media, even when difficult questions are being asked, they answer with a resoluteness in their beings. Engagement, inclusivity, diversity and healing through the arts is not only possible for the youth. It is an imperative. I glanced over at Jeremy and knew he was as proud as I was. Yes, another good night, well deserving of a glass of wine…
The next day
Awive and I shared small, secret thoughts ahead of a dance masterclass with the prominent and highly celebrated Sifiso Kweyama. I am not the best mover on the dance floor. So opted to stand at the back of the class in between Hugues and Manga. This was not a wise move. After all they are percussionists who counted dance steps beat by beat. I kept on bumping into everyone now and then! Sifiso taught us dance moves that are uniquely African while we grooved to a hip track. ‘I am teaching you the step, how to move but I want to see you in them. Find yourself in the dance…’ I had just been given another clue, I was convinced. Perhaps this is why She loved artists. She could always count on them to speak of courage and tenacity on their own terms, in a language that suits them best. I loved seeing the unique moves of Mpumi, Johan, Grace, Ephraim and Christelle become part of the dance we performed. Well, that some of us tried to perform..
Langa where history was kept on display. I refused to sit in the benches where black men and women were processed from the countryside into the towns to feed the thirst of an apartheid state. Refused to stay within the walls of a building where I could still hear the silent and not so silent pain of a people being treated like cattle while having their Dom Pass, that regulated their movements and ordered their lives, produced. I bought donuts and chips from school kids while looking at historic marches launched by brave women but had to escaped to get air, food…anything to not be confronted with a past that is alive still.
I was torn and as conflicted as Christelle when she quietly said, ‘Some is us choose to hide in houses rather than face such rejection on a daily, hourly and sometimes second by second basis…’ It was the voice of the legendary jazz singer Sylvia Mntuyedwa that brought relief. We heard of Tim Hawker who brought jazz into Langa and with him a musical tradition that could stave off and make bearable the injuries inflicted on a people. I smiled as a moment of peace afforded and cast my mind back to the day spent in Nyanga when Aviwe whipped out his violin and played while we basked in the sun. Aviwe, carries surprises like sweets in his pocket…
We made our way slowly to Fish Hoek where we were greeted by Micarlo and Luyanda, aka Mishoko and Big Mouse from our group, both future leaders from the arts sector and civil society. They introduced us to young people hellbent on breaking the grip the past had on them. David, the Nurturer summed up the experience succinctly, ‘South Africa is so diverse in its culture. We have to focus our energies on growing our future leaders. They need support also…’ Knowing my companions Micarlo and Luynada were alumnis of this leadership program set my mind and heart at ease. The students were being equipped with hard and soft skills in order to navigate the word they live in. As I smoked the last of my rolled cigaros the words of my fellow traveler Mpumi struck me, ‘It starts with how you speak, the things you say and the footsteps you will leave behind…’
The journey was almost at an end. Zambia affected me more profoundly than I had anticipated. Their spirit of innovation around dance and theater in transforming the lives of street children as well as the hope that suffused the Zambian people left a warm feeling in my bones. But South Africa, my own country, a place filled with spaces I pass and give no thought of shook me to the core. I was the one, I realized, with walls racing to meet the sky.
After arriving home I uncovered a feather stuck in between the pages of my notebook. I found Her! And she left something to remind me of her mythic and ephemeral beauty. Only this time She did not shout and demand justice with stones, blood and guns as was needed in the past. No, this time her voice was silky smooth and seductive. Come To Me, she said using Stimela’s voice….but bring all of who you are. Come to me not only with your voice but your entire being. Come to me…You are all so much more. You may call yourself a dancer, a writer, a teacher, a photographer, a percussionist, a doctor, a painter, an actor, an office worker, a miner, a mother, a nurse… but come to me, she whispered. You are so much more! And you carry the world in between your fingers. Come to me….come to me..