A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

South Africa
By Tsidii Le Loka
Upon seeing a dewdrop on a flower petal early in the morning, I have often wondered if it were a hope of a new day or the last teardrop before the big rains. All this before I look up to the skies and see the dawn of a new day arising, and still not know with what it may bring. The eye of my soul silently contemplates this new day. However else I see myself, I am an artist in body and soul, a spirit healer of sorts, and in my belief that is where it all begins. It is through this eye that I share what follows.

In looking back over the past ten years of South Africa, I realize there is a refreshing sense of newness and excitement amongst those who can embrace the possibilities ahead. In addition to this is a new search for identity and cultural knowledge. It has been said that an African Renaissance has occurred in South Africa. My observations are more cautious and lead me to express that on the contrary, it is simply the very beginning of what could still yet be one. My understanding of the word Renaissance requires a lot more than what is the case at present. For the sake of not being content too soon before the work is really done; those terms are best left for a time when the fervor of events is such that they so define themselves, and such a weighty term has been earned.

The years have demanded a revised view of life and the arts as an integral whole, and efforts are being made towards measures that acknowledge that. There is already some exemplary progress to boast of, but the general structure is still significantly weak, in need of a more coherent and supported vision from within the arts.

In addressing the core of any culture education, the once "whites only" schools have opened their doors for children of all races. However, the economic realities continue to create and impose limitations on access. But some questions arise: Have these new environments solicited and required a transformed syllabus? Has the identity of all children in their new scope as South Africans been strengthened? Has there been any re-training of all those educators from the old-school who have continued on in this new age? My observations are not telling me so. I doubt that the realization for this need has even remotely come to pass.

All of a strange sudden, very few of these children can speak their home languages well. All of this being in a country where it has been quite common for people (particularly those of color) to speak an average of three languages. It is as if an element of stupidity established itself right around the time of opportunity. Some of these children with new access are given to think of themselves as having the right to be completely divorced from their responsibility as children of a history that can hardly afford such unfortunate amnesia, especially in their role as participants of a new age of opportunity. Parents are not altogether blameless in this equation and may be dealing with their own identity struggles and need for esteem. In the absence of proper cultural nurturing these blossoming young could become those of very little vision beyond self-interests, and no uniqueness and vibrancy to contribute to the stages of the world as participants, leaders and committed members of their own societies.

Hearing the fake foreign accents in the streets of South Africa, I sometimes wonder if I am walking down Mofolo Street in Soweto or 125th Street in Harlem. I could not help but feel the inappropriateness, especially at this time, of such a struggle for identity amongst the youth. Now, it is a given that most urban cultures around the world will have their internal and external influences, slang and style. However, it is disturbing that heavier identities are aligned with outside influences - particularly those that offer very little substance and positive instruction at the expense of the burning vitality of a culture that seeks greater expression and support.

This is not a total surprise when you observe the media's insistent focus and support of those very outside influences. These inevitable influences are a fact and reality, a cause and effect in every generations history. What is most important is how these are embraced and their impact on the fabric of everyday life. In the case of a South Africa in transition, I think a notably weak balance is the bigger challenge here.

It would be a clear lack of esteem and a cultural tragedy to believe that to progress is to do so at the expense of a rounded, solid and complete education. Especially since few are given the rare privilege and choices that this affords. In addition, this is contradictory to the spirit of the times, which calls upon a pulsating rhythm riding the wave of a colorful new day.

I sense a deep sense of loneliness, sadness and isolation among those artists who feel they have been left behind; neither acknowledged nor given the opportunity to adjust to change at what in most situations, is a relatively progressed stage in their lives.

With the zeal and fervor towards tomorrows progress, there seems to have been little focus on taking serious and immediate consideration of some of the ignored realities from yesterday.

The death in dire poverty and tragic circumstances in August 2002 of one of South Africas most beloved performers, Anneline Malebo, jolted me to the need for care, compassion and concern for the artists who may no longer be able to jump on the bandwagon of change and progress. Anneline took the courageous step of making her struggle with AIDS public a few months before her sad departure, becoming the first artist in South Africa to do so.

For some artists still with us as able citizens, life is now a serious struggle and yet they are the fabric of what made the consciousness and spirit of the arts what they are today. To disregard the importance and urgency of establishing a care and transition base for these artists is to deny todays artist the same foundation tomorrow. This situation juxtaposed with future economic challenges and the impact (the worst of which is yet to come) of a tragic AIDS crisis leaves deep questions to be answered.

South Africa's progress and struggles should not be seen through the eye of a lone needle, singularly defining the cultures within. South Africa spells the hopes and possibilities of the rest of the continent: whether it chooses to lead or not, it bears the unsaid responsibility of leading by example. The good news is that it can. The not-so-good news is that there is a tremendous need for awareness and other work to be done. The most difficult challenge will be to acknowledge a perspective that supports the importance of the artists themselves as qualified to speak and represent the interests of the arts.

The economic resources of South Africa are still strong, although highly imbalanced. Despite all this, there continues to be great hope for the future. The re-negotiation of economic balance requires among other things, a more unified identity, re-dedication, and sense of purpose. It is a very delicate time at which point the future can go either way. South Africa's greatest resource is its culture, but this has yet to be fully understood and realized by the forces within the culture itself. Seemingly the rest of the world is ahead in this realization. It would be a pity not to appreciate the value of this currency in the potential global presence of years to come.

The resilience that South Africa has shown throughout its history and struggles of the past decades; the tenacity of its culture, effervescence and song throughout, are a promise in itself of what could be in the case of an exercise of collaboration and humility with the family of artists; in allowing them their rightful place in society not merely as entertainers and fundraisers, but as a significant and vital force in a society in more need of them than it may be presently realized. It is my hope that this can be something we can see the triumph of before its too late.
Editors' Note: Tsidii Le Loka is the Tony Nominated Star of The Lion King on Broadway (for originating the role of Rafiki) and winner of several top industry awards as an Actress, Composer and Vocalist. She shares the Grammy Award for best cast album for her contributions to the score of The Lion King On Broadway, and is also the recipient of the prestigious Ivor Novello Award for International Achievement in Musical Theatre from The British Academy of Composers and Songwriters. Her concert career performances and recordings include a roster of world-class stars such as Sting, Elton John, Madonna, Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba; and her film career performances include lead role, in Stephen King's ROSE RED and THE DIARY OF ELLEN RIMBAUER (Stephen King and Ridley Pearson). Tsidii was the only performer invited to perform at Nelson Mandelas first International Press Conference after his release from prison; she is also an inductee of Omicron Delta Epsilon, the international honor society in Economics. Tsidii brings a unique perspective of her home country, South Africa, 10 years after apartheid.