South Africa—On the afternoon of Saturday, May 16th, a crowd of people—young and old, black and white—gathered, sitting on plastic chairs in the earth circle of Hoespruit’s Southern Cross School. Some quenched their thirst with beer, or Bionade fruit drinks, and killed their hunger with burgers. As people waited, they exchanged whispers in Afrikaans, xiTsonga and English.
A few minutes later, a group of eight Muchongolo male dancers came into the circle wearing brown shorts and animal skin around their waists and heads. They beat drums and blew a mhala-mhala. Behind them, a group of six women with scarves of different colours tied around their waists and heads, clapped their hands and sang Shangaan songs like ‘Xibaleka ndala xi ya tshama joni’ (He ran away from starvation at home and went to Johannesburg). The young dancers stepped forward. Each raised one leg up and quickly stamped it repeatedly on the ground, causing the blades of dry grass to wave. One of the dancing boys went and pulled a few white folks out of their chairs to teach them the African moves.
More and more people came to observe. Many had never seen whites and blacks dancing together. Cameras flashed as the dancers blushed with happiness, and the learners with some embarrassment. The crowd cheered and applauded until their hands turned red.
The Shangaani dancers were part of the entertainment provided at the first annual Sustainable Living Festival on May 15th through the 17th of 2009. According to the festival coordinator, Debby Thomson, about 2500 people attended. The festival was hosted to raise an awareness about global warming— the changing of temperatures on the earth and the effects on animals, plants, and humans. They aimed to encourage people to live healthy, preserve the earth by using natural products and less chemicals, use electricity efficiently, recycle, and harvest rain for cleaning and gardening.
Many citizens and government officials from different provinces in South Africa came to show support for sustainable living by showcasing their products and projects and learning about ways to save the earth. While some people sat in the ‘Earth Circle’ others went around to different stalls that displayed information ranging from animal conservation to skin care. “The ingredients of these products are all natural,” said Priscilla Eva who was selling Bioearth skin products. “I am a big fan of anything that is natural.”
Even students from Acornhoek schools, like Magwagwaza Secondary School and Lethipele High School, came to learn about how to improve their homes and schools. “This festival was made to educate people about nature because a lot of people cut trees down and kill birds,” said a student from Magwagwaza School. “People must understand that birds and trees need to live as well as the humans.”
Going around from one stall to another was not the only way to gain knowledge about nature conservation. Invited guests, including Alan McSmith, a co-founder of Wilderness Vision, a non-profit organization working to create, facilitate, and run meaningful conservation projects, spoke about how nature can influence people’s lives for the better. “ Nature tolerance can teach us to be tolerant of one another,” he said.
The festival also included Donald Strydom, a representative from Khamai Reptile Park who discussed how to handle snakes at home, and Hennie Eksteem who spoke about how to tend gardens, and grow your own herbs without using chemicals. “Chemicals are the biggest contributors to all chronic diseases found in humans,” he said. After the speeches, some of the Southern Cross learners played drums and marimba.
They were followed by a group of girls dancing Sarafina to songs by Mango Groove, the band that performed the evening of May 16th.
Not only did the Sustainable Living Festival educate people about global warming and nature conservation, it also brought black and white people together, something many haven’t seen between the members of the Hoedspruit and Acornhoek communities.