Celebrating culture in all its diversity

Date: October 1, 2009
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This global event opened with a bang last Tuesday with an evening filled with cultural celebration, gathering people from all walks of life at Alexandra theatre in downtown Johannesburg. Lights glowed from the barricaded streets. Cheers, whistling and satisfaction with the finger meals on hand were a tribute to the hosts, the National Arts Council of South Africa.
The set-up of the event was modeled after a township look, with spazas everywhere to serve people meals of all varieties; boerwors rolls, spring rolls, meat kebabs, vegetarian bites, wine, and assorted beers, including quarts of black label, which one of the waiters enthusiastically tried several times to hand to us.
According to him, we needed to “feel the vibe of a township,À and I have to say I was tempted several times to take the big bottle off his hands; but on second thoughts, I let the next day’s work programme deter me from the potential babalas.
As the night faded, acts of solidarity and celebration of diverse cultures kept the crowds entertained. The performers put a brilliant show, with words, miming, dance, song, faces of pain and joy keeping the audience wanting more. .
The opening performance piece told a story based on the not to be forgotten xenophobic attacks of  May 2008 in South Africa. This stunning performance brought the audience into right into the heart of the events, and I am sure, like me, many had chills running down their spine.
It was easy to see from the joy of the event that as a country we celebrate culture and diversity, yet we can not forget that we lost 60 lives of different societies in during those tragic times, with many thousands displaced. The actors reminded us how migration moves those looking for better opportunities to other parts of the world, and how hatred of the “othersÀ can bring any society into such dysfunction.
Long before seeing this performance, I wondered when we would deal with the events of the xenophobic attacks on a world stage, in order to acknowledge and realise how destructive hate is. Maybe dramatising this reality can help us understand that we are not that different after all. We can live in the same space without hate, fear, cruelty, sexual crimes and abuse, discrimination and violation of human rights.
The music playing during the performance was somber and yet the performers from the “west, east, south and northÀ joined together in a compelling way. They all fought and battled to the same music and celebrated to the same drums – thuds of rhythms brought everyone together in the beat.
The tunes of Salif Keita, Geofrey Oryema, Etran Finatwa, Mthandeni Mvelase, Ayub Ogada and Bebe Lueki brought the multi-cultural audience, diverse and seated together in the theatre, to a still moment, as the performance took our breath away in amazement.
Whether it is contemporary, African, ballet, samba, rumba, or any other dance you can think of, when the drum beats, there is a common choreography we can all move to. We hear the same music thumping and however we dance, we manage to keep the beat, a celebration of our being, culture, societies and diversity. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We have all come on different ships, but we are in the same boat.À
To the performers – thank you for such a piece that left my heart filled with bubbles of nervousness, joy and pride. Not just around Heritage Day, but all the time, we can enjoy the heritage we come from with pride, while also embracing those from other backgrounds.
One day you may be sharing your heritage with someone, and the next, they may be sharing their heritage with you. What a wonderful and interesting world that makes.
Glenda Muzenda is the Care Work Coordinator working with Gender and Media Southern Africa. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.

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