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The Warsaw Voice » Other » April 18, 2007
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One People, Many Cultures
April 18, 2007   
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After 300 years of racial segregation and division, the post-apartheid constitution of South Africa emphasizes the equality of all races, ethnic and national groups, as well as all religions. A country of nearly 47 million people, with 79 percent of the population black, almost 10 percent white, almost 9 percent of mixed origin and 2.5 percent of Indian or Asian origin, and with 11 official languages, it is indeed a rainbow nation.

The description "rainbow nation" was first used by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, while serving as chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, immediately after the transition to democracy. It recognizes that as South Africa moves from the divisions of the past, it celebrates the diversity of culture and history of its different people, but shares a commitment to common values. This is best expressed through the ancient South African idiom of umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (we are people through other people).

The diversity of cultures and the commitment to human solidarity makes for a melting pot that often produces surprising results. South African cuisine, for example, combines traditional African cuisine and the cuisines of the many other cultures which settled on its shores: from the early Portuguese, Dutch, British, German and French settlers and missionaries from Europe to the slaves brought to South Africa from Indonesia, as well as the early indentured laborers brought from India to work the sugar plantations of the east coast of South Africa.

Writing in many tongues
The literature of South Africa, published in all 11 official languages, not only reflects the diversity of its culture, but also its painful history and its peaceful transition. Its early written literature is referred to as "colonial adventure"-produced by European immigrants to South Africa who felt alienated from the African landscape and people, in works such as Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (1887), evoked from a different perspective by Olive Schreiner in Story of an African Farm (1883) and critiqued a century later in Nobel laureate JM Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians (1993). Black South Africans had a mainly oral literary tradition, but the 20th century saw the emergence of mission-educated black writers. The best known among these is Sol Plaatje, who wrote Native Life in South Africa (1916) about the impact of land dispossession on black families. Plaatje paved the way for the likes of Thomas Mafolo and his book about the most famous of Zulu kings-Chaka (1925).

In the decades that followed, a body of "resistance literature" emerged, with a long list of black and white South African writers. This includes the generation of writers from the 1950s such as Alex La Guma, Alan Paton, Eskia Mphahlele, Lionel Abrahams, Miriam Tlale and subsequent generations of writers such as South Africa's two Nobel Prize in Literature winners Nadine Gordimer and JM Coetzee, as well as others like Zakes Mda, Breyten Breytenbach, Lewis Nkosi and Andre P. Brink. A parallel development during the time was the promotion of Afrikaans literature from the 1920s onwards, as a way of giving voice to Afrikaner identity after the Anglo-Boer War, spanning Afrikaans publishing houses, book clubs, literary magazines, newspapers and a wide variety of literary genres. Key writers include Eugene Marais, Anna M. Louw, Elsa Joubert, Hennie Aucump and Ettiene Le Roux, but also mother tongue Afrikaans black writers such as Adam Small. This too forms an important part of the body of South African literature.

South African literature after the transition of 1994 brought new challenges to black and white writers, to reflect on a society seeking to be fundamentally different from what went before, while maintaining the essence of the diversity of its cultures, languages and people. Writers such as Mphahlele, Brink, Mda, Nkosi and Gordimer have since dealt with a host of post-apartheid themes, and so has the emerging generation of writers such as Sello K Duiker, Damon Galgut, Sindiwe Magona, Achmat Dangor and Marlene Van Niekerk.

Rhythm of the nation: Ladysmith Black Mambazo in Poland
South African music too reflects the diverse origins of its nation, from the traditional African influences of Zulu isicothamiya singing as well as the harmonic mbaqanga to gospel music, African pop, boeremusiek and jazz to the more modern-day kwaito, which is a uniquely South African mixture of hip hop.

During April 2007, the South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo will perform three concerts in Poland, including at the official national day celebration of South Africa in Warsaw.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo represents the traditional culture of South Africa and is regarded as the country's cultural emissaries at home and around the world. In 1993, at Nelson Mandela's request, Ladysmith Black Mambazo accompanied the future president to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway.

The traditional music sung by Ladysmith Black Mambazo is called isicothamiya (Is-Cot-A-Me-Ya). It was born in the mines of South Africa. Black workers were taken by rail to work far away from their homes and their families. Poorly housed and paid worse, they would entertain themselves, after a six-day week, by singing songs into the wee hours every Sunday morning. When the miners returned to the homelands, the tradition returned with them.

In the late 1950s Joseph Shabalala took advantage of his proximity to the urban sprawl of the city of Durban, allowing him the opportunity to seek work in a factory. Leaving the family farm was not easy, but it was during this time that Joseph first showed a talent for singing. After singing with several groups in Durban he returned to his hometown of Ladysmith and began to put together groups of his own. He named the group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, after his hometown, and the group recorded more than 40 albums. They won two Grammy Awards for their music (in 1997 and again in 2005) and were nominated 11 times.

On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps to Freedom, a documentary film which is the story of Joseph Shabalala and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Short Documentary Film in 2001 as well as nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Cultural Documentary on American television. Ladysmith Black Mambazo has provided soundtrack material for Disney's The Lion King Part II, Eddie Murphy's Coming to America, Marlon Brando's A Dry White Season, James Earl Jones' Cry the Beloved Country and Sean Connery's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Afrykamera Film Festival 2007
The Afrykamera Film festival is a joint project between the FilmGramm Foundation, the South African Embassy in the Republic of Poland and the £ód¼ Academy of Humanities and Economics, with the support of the French Institute, aimed at showcasing South African and African film in Poland. It started in 2006, with feature and short films from 14 countries of the African continent, shown in six cities all over Poland. The 2007 version of Afrykamera started in Warsaw on April 12 and will be featured in Cracow during the same month, in £ód¼ and Sopot during May, and in other cities such as Bydgoszcz, Toruñ, Lublin, Wroc³aw and Poznañ during the autumn of 2007.

African film has developed its own story-telling techniques, some of which derive from the continent's rich tradition of oral history and indigenous modes of communication. Small West African countries like Ivory Coast, Burkino Faso and Senegal have produced (relative to the rest of Africa) a large number of groundbreaking films, and important directors like Djibril Diop Mambety (from Senegal) and Idrissa Ouedraogo from Burkino Faso have made a name for themselves as African directors. After years of isolation, South Africa has emerged over the last 10 years as the "cinematographic powerhouse" of Africa, with regular participation at the most important African film festival (FESPACO) in Burkina Faso, and in other international film festivals.

The Afrykamera film festival in Poland in 2007 will feature South African films such as U Carmen in Khayelitsha, an adaptation of the opera in Xhosa set in the township of Cape Town, Zulu Love Letter, dealing with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Yesterday, on the impact of the AIDS pandemic on rural families and communities. U Carmen won the top award at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2005, Zulu Love Letter won the European Union award at FESPACO in 2005, and Yesterday was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film in 2005.

Films from other Southern African countries that will be shown at Afrykamera 2007 include Un Grande bazar from Mozambique, Le Cathedral from Mauritius, O Heroi! from Angola and Spell my Name from Zimbabwe. The festival will also screen feature films from Guinea, Algeria, Senegal, Morocco, Tunisia, Burkina Faso and Chad; as well as documentaries and short films from South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Ethiopia and Guinea.
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