ARTSCAPE CEO, MARLENE LE ROUX’S MANDELA DAY MESSAGE

It is so easy to get lost in the modern world that has replaced the empowering “we” with “I”. Mandela Day is testament to the fact that the “we” and the concept of ubuntu is the most important track to be on for our beloved country. Our people are suffering and the pandemic is making it worse. Our country is now, more than ever, in dire need of the teaching and legacy that is Tata Madiba.
As an institution for the performing arts, Artscape constantly strives to utilise the Arts as a conduit towards nation-building and social cohesion.

Madiba, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate once said: “Artists reach areas far beyond the reach of politicians. Art, especially entertainment and music, is understood by everybody, and it lifts the spirits and the morale of those who hear it.”

Politics through our Constitution that celebrates its 25 years of existence signed into law on 10 December in 1996 by Tata Madiba himself, enshrines freedom of expression in the Chapter 2: Bill of Rights, Section 16 (c) that guarantees the freedom of expression through the freedom of artistic creativity.
Madiba’s life inspired arts and artists around the world with novels, poems, plays and films, while during the Struggle Years theatre had a theatre, in particular protest theatre, had a profound effect on his eventual release and the quest towards democracy.

The arts industry remains one of those industries the hardest hit during the pandemic both in South Africa and the world. Many artists are struggling to put food on the table due to activities being curbed. That it is thus befitting that this year’s focus centres on feeding those in need.

But, I could go on and on about the times we are currently living through and the need for a collective identity but I feel that would not be constructive as it would not put food on my neighbour’s table or alleviate hunger and poverty. I could rant about the pandemic and its devastating effects as if I am the only one reeling but again, it would then again be focusing too much on the “I”. The thing about Mandela Day is that it brings people together pragmatically. Every year people think of how to spend their 67 minutes to do good…and I say, bring it on. It is important for us to rethink our privileged positions and really put into action the things too many of us only talk about doing. Who knows, perhaps after Mandela Day we continue to do the good deeds we started because of the day and become the change we want to see in the world thanks to the values inculcated by Tata Madiba and make every day a Mandela Day.
Some focus on food and nutrition, others on social justice, others on equality issues…the list goes on and on…but for me, the reality of our times calls for action on all levels of our society – from the topmost corruption to the person at the traffic light, trying to make enough money for just one meal.
I ask for a call to action in your organisations, your workplaces, your families and in your private capacities. Let us support one another this Mandela Day as we work towards a better now and a better future for us all.

As Artscape turned 50 this year, I also had to reflect on how important it is as a building and whether all citizens, stories, cultural backgrounds, languages, faiths are being honoured in the building and on our stages. It is an ongoing journey. Our communities have become more intertwined and fluid and hence our stories will become interwoven as our children will create new stories and nuances. And, so too, our lives need to interconnect. We need to do more for our fellow beings.

I realised also that often we overlook to interrogate whether it is just due to a lack of humanity or more precisely the erosion of the all-important practice of Ubuntu – the cultural quality that includes the essential human virtues; compassion and humanity passed on from generation to generation through antiquity. The structural implementation of capitalism over the years focusing on the “I” while Ubuntu focuses on the “we” could be fingered as the primary catalyst to the erosion of the values of Ubuntu. I have said this before and I will say it again: now, more than ever, is the time for that wisdom to come back.

Let me conclude with not my words, but with words from the man himself once again: “It is not our diversity which divides us; it is not our ethnicity, or religion or culture that divides us. Since we have achieved our freedom, there can only be one division amongst us: between those who cherish democracy and those who do not.”