Archive | November 2013

PHOTOS: Brazil protests ahead of Soccer World Cup 2014

These are photos from protests in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, two big cities in Brazil, ahead of that country’s hosting of the Soccer World Cup 2014. Some protesters don’t want the soccer tournament as they claim government spending is being wasted on building stadiums instead of providing locals with much-needed education, healthcare and public services. All photos copyright of Yazeed Kamaldien.
















































Brazil 2014: protests, politicians… and soccer?

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

A few weeks after he lost his right eye during protest violence, Vitor Araujo joined millions of Brazilians on his twentieth birthday to demand better basic services such as healthcare and education from their government.

It was in October when Araujo and other protesters gathered in the country’s economic centre, Sao Paulo. They were mostly angered at their government’s rising expenditure on preparations to host next year’s Soccer World Cup.

Protesters claim this ongoing expense is climbing while public services are neglected.

A white patch covered Araujo’s right socket, a reminder of Independence Day on September 7 when he lost his eye during a clash between police and protesters.

At the October protest, police monitored Araujo and others who gathered in business-lined Paulista Avenue in the city centre. Police took photos of protesters and journalists. Bags were also searched.

“I feel sad that I lost my eye while protesting for my basic rights… but I don’t regret it. It’s my right. It’s our right to protest,” said Araujo.

In the same protest area – in front of the MASP gallery – art history student Natalia Marino, 24, said her government “could find a thousand better ways to spend the money”.

“I thought the World Cup would be a good thing to attract investors and tourists. But there is so much money lost. It was more like an excuse to spend money. Just like many Brazilians, I don’t want it anymore,” said Marino.

“The money should be used for community sports projects, not only for stadiums… Our government should spend this money on schools, health; we need hospitals.”

Marino said Brazilians were protesting because “we are just so tired of corruption”.

“It’s starting to get us really frustrated because it never changes… There’s also no way this (World Cup) will improve my life. It will make things more expensive for us. We would spend millions on something that will be gone quickly,” she said.

Sao Paulo’s protesters have been dismissed though as opportunists. Plans are meanwhile marching forth for the city’s stadium to be completed by December.
The city with 11 million inhabitants has been selected to host the World Cup’s opening match and six others.

Jaime Franco, advisor of the Sao Paulo provincial committee charged with running the Fifa show, said they were “worried about violence” during next year’s tournament.

“They (protesters) took advantage of the tournament being shown to the world… they want to destroy it (World Cup). The police will take care of that,” said Franco.

“All the research shows that around 70% of Brazilians are crazy for the World Cup. Only a small part (of the population) disapproves and wants investments in health and education.”

Franco said they expected up to 13 national teams based in Sao Paulo during the month-long event starting on June 12. He said 16 teams have already visited the city to inspect the viability of setting up there for the duration of the tournament. The city’s deputy mayor Nádia Campeã said in her sixth-floor City Hall office that locals “want to have the World Cup for another time”.

“The last World Cup in Brazil was held 50 years ago,” she said.

When asked about protests against the tournament, she replied: “People want more”.
“Brazilians have experienced an improvement in their lives over the last decade. There has been an improvement in education and public health. Unemployment stands at five percent,” said Campeã.

“When you get a lot of benefits you expect more because you always want a better life. People expect more. Protesters want a good World Cup but also an improvement of social benefits.”

Back at the Paulista Avenue protest, Alexandre Morgado from the Group to Support Public Protests (GAPP) readied volunteers who attend each protest to assist injured persons.

“We have been doing this since June when the big protests started in Brazil. We were protesters and saw there was a need to help people. We saw police beating people and ambulances taking an hour or more to come and help,” said Morgado. “We have seen people with exposed fractures and others have been knocked by cars during protests. There is also a lot of police aggression.

“Police attack an entire protest. They attack protesters with tear gas, pepper spray and beat them with sticks. In the middle of the confusion there are rocks flying. People respond with rocks to defend themselves (against the police).”

Morgado said there was yet no end in sight for protests that are planned “almost every day”.

“There’s always something happening. Everything is wrong in the political sphere. We have a system that allows a lot of corruption,” he said.

“Our health system is a joke. We have no doctors, nurses or ambulances. We also need better education. We pay tax but don’t get back what we should from the government.

“The expense on the Soccer World Cup is too high. All these billions should be spent on what people need. We don’t need stadiums. We don’t need the World Cup. We need healthcare, public transport and education for people. This is why everybody is angry now.”

Meanwhile in Rio de Janiero, where working class communities face eviction from favelas near the city centre, in a bid to clean up the city, activists are mobilizing locals to speak up against being evicted.

Rio resident Kalinca Copello is a Brazilian researcher who organised in November screenings of a film called Dear Mandela. The latter showed how South Africans resisted forced removals at the same time that country’s government evicted locals to make way for a Soccer World Cup stadium.

South African hosted the event in 2010. Copello said they wanted to “start a debate and mobilise people”.

“We have invited activists and lawyers to the debates about human rights violations and access to the city. We are not telling people to resist evictions. We want to inform them. In our experience, if you simply follow what the government wants you do then you get a bad deal,” she said.

Copello said countless Brazilians have already been evicted from Rio’s inner-city favelas.

“If you look around, you will see that favelas are close to the city. In some cases, people have been moved from prime property in the city,” said Copello.

“A lot of people who have been evicted are moved from being closer to the city to areas on the outskirts of the city. They have to then spend hours to travel to the city and some of them are employed.”

Soccer governing body Fifa which selected Brazil as next year’s host said it “respects and supports the right” to protest.

Fifa’s media department replied to questions about ongoing protest and police brutality against civilians. At a late October protest in Sao Paulo police arrested 78 protesters and dispersed the crowd with teargas.

“Fifa fully respects and supports the right to demonstrate as long as they are peacefully and the demonstrators also respect other peoples’ rights such as of those who bought tickets to the Fifa World Cup matches so they can access freely the stadiums,” said Fifa.

It said it had “full confidence in the local authorities (that have) shown that the security concept works”.

It also said it had received at least “6.2 million ticket requests for the 2014 Fifa World Cup… underlining the huge interest in experiencing football’s flagship event live in one of the 12 stadiums across Brazil both by Brazilians and football fans around the world”.

Brazil’s stadiums throughout the event’s 64 matches can only accommodate 2.9 million spectators.

Fifa has meanwhile earned millions from next year’s event, well before the first kick off in June in Sao Paulo. In its annual report, Fifa stated that in the last financial year it already earned US$553-million for the sale of television right for its tournament in Brazil.

But Brazilians are angry and taking action on streets countrywide. Protests that initially erupted in June when the cost of public transport was raised by US$0.10 took on a wider message to the government. Train and bus rides cost US$1,50 for every single journey, in a city that has six million cars on its streets daily.

Movimento Passe Livre, or Free Prass Movement, called on Paulistanos – as Sao Paulo’s 11 million locals are known – to take their demands to the streets.
Andreia Bianchi, from the national student group Juntos, or Together, said they were “concerned about our living conditions in Brazil”.

“Our group started two years ago and has mostly university students. The idea is to fight for things that are important. We joined other movements at protests to show how unfair our taxes are,” she said.

“If we pay tax we should have access to our city. But buses are so expensive.”
Bianchi said she opposed the World Cup too.

“Get ready. We are going to make a big mess next year,” she said.

“We can’t afford tickets to watch the matches. People are angry because of this. The stadiums cost so much but we can’t even get in there.”

Another student, Isabel Chaib, said the “demand for free public transport started the protests in June”. Her conversation too turned to the World Cup.

“Politicians used propaganda when they told us about the World Cup. They said it would improve education and we would get a lot of jobs. But they didn’t tell us how,” said Chaib.

“Maybe the World Cup is not what we needed. We already heard that the cost of the stadiums in South Africa was really high.

“The last World Cup we had was at a time when we had a dictatorship. That focused people on soccer instead of social issues. Politicians want to do that now too. It seems the World Cup is just a distraction.”

Helicopters hovered over Sao Paulo’s protesters, shining bright lights down on the crowds, guiding the ground police on the movement below.

Police tried stopping protesters from entering side streets and vandalising properties. By the end of the night, rubbish bins were strewn out onto the street and set alight to block traffic. The message writing is spray painted in Portuguese on the wall: Fora Fifa, which means Get Out Fifa.

Europe and Islam: Freedom for some

This feature, Freedom for some: Muslims struggle for equal rights in Europe, is written by Yazeed Kamaldien and Elisa Di Benedetto

BELLUNO, Italy — When Sharif Eissa opened his kebab shop in this small town in northeastern Italy, he didn’t expect it would close after five years. He left Egypt about 12 years ago to follow the woman he fell in love with. What he could not foresee was a growing prejudice against immigrants and Muslims that made it impossible to keep open an ethnic business.

“I couldn’t stand the continual rounds and fines by the police, keeping my shop under control,” Eissa says. “They used to come every week, no matter the time and whether or not there were people inside. They even asked the customers for their documents.” Add to that the prejudices fueled by groups such as the Northern League political party, and, basically, Eissa says, “I had to give up my shop because of my religion.”

Young Muslims in Paris volunteer during Ramadan, handing out food to the needy. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Young Muslims in Paris volunteer during Ramadan, handing out food to the needy. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

On the books, there are constitutional protections for freedom of religion throughout Western Europe. But laws throughout the region on everything from limits on Islamic dress to prohibitions on the building of mosques reflect what many regard as persistent persecution directed at Muslims.

Marwan Muhammad, volunteer spokesperson for the Collective Against Islamophobia in Paris?, believes Islamophobia in France is “anti-black and anti-Arab discrimination recomposed in a religion context”. “There are right-wing oriented ideologies that say Muslims don’t belong here and that Islam is against a European identity. They believe that Europe is for whites only. There is a denial of Muslims in France even though we make up 10 percent of the population,” says Muhammad.

Just how pervasive the contradictions in the notions of religious freedoms freedom in theory and practice are was revealed in a 2010 University of Munster study of more than 1,000 respondents from five Western European nations. More than four in five respondents from all countries expressed respect for freedom of belief, and at least three quarters from each country agreed with the statement “We must respect all religions.”

Yet consider also these findings:

– More than half of the respondents from the former East Germany and France said practicing the Islamic faith must be severely restricted. So did more than a third of the respondents from Denmark, the Netherlands and the former West Germany.

– Less than half of the respondents from Germany, Denmark and France approve of the construction of minarets. Only in Denmark and the Netherlands did a slim majority believe girls should be allowed to wear a head scarf to school if it is part of their religious tradition. In France, where the practice is prohibited, fewer than 10 percent supported the right of students to wear head scarves.

– The idea that “Muslims must adapt to our culture” was backed by majorities from 73 percent of respondents in Portugal to 90 percent of respondents in the Netherlands.

Persistent prejudice

The hopes of Muslims in France were raised following presidential elections last year when Francois Hollande ousted Nicholas Sarkozy, who stirred tensions with anti-Islam and anti-immigrant rhetoric. But Muslims still report a long road ahead to acceptance. Muhammad says in 2011 his organization investigated 300 cases of Islamophobia, of which 84 percent were against women.

Discrimination against Muslims in France has focused heavily on the hijab, or headscarf that Muslim women wear according to their religious principles. “The most visible symbol of Islam is the wearing of the hijab. Most racists perceive the hijab as a visual sign of hostility toward them,” he said.

Chamous Larisse, a nurse who works in Paris while completing her master’s degree in social science studies, turned to the collective for advice when the manager at the hospital where she works asked her to take off the scarf that covered her hair. “I was the only Muslim nurse and I was wearing the hijab,” she says. “Since then I tried to mobilize to struggle against this discrimination.”

It is an important issue “because I am Muslim and I try to practice Islam as far as possible. God prescribed the hijab in the Qur’an.” Larisse views anti-Muslim prejudice in a broader context, as part of a “post-colonial crisis” in which Muslims who are also French are seen as threatening the nation’s identity.

Muhammad agrees. “Some people don’t want Muslims here. Or they want them to assimilate. They want Muslims to fit in because their religion and color is not in line with what Europe is meant to be,” he says. “I reject that framework. I don’t have to define myself according to that criteria. I belong here. I am French and Muslim.”

Restrictions on worship

The right of women to wear a veil is but one of many issues facing Muslims in Italy. Other areas of concern include the right of Muslim students to have halal food at school, harassment of businesses run by immigrants and laws regulating and even in some cases prohibiting Islamic butcheries or kebab shops. A special concern relates to the fundamental freedom of having their own places of worship.

“At the moment, only two of the five mosques in Italy – the one in Rome and in Segrate, not far away from Milan – can be defined as ‘mosques’ by Islamic architectural canons, while there are over 1,000 Islamic centers, where Muslims gather for praying and reading the Quran. Here children can learn Arabic and women can meet”, says Husain Morelli, spokesperson for the Imam Mahdi Islamic Culture Center in Rome.

“Most centers are not appropriate places for worshipping Allah: they are mainly garages or old warehouses and the rent is paid by the Muslim community, despite places of worship should be guaranteed by the constitution.” What makes it especially difficult for Muslims in Italy is that prejudice can be pervasive throughout the culture, fed by institutions from political parties to the media.

“Islamophobia in Italy expresses at different levels,” says Morelli. “Media have a crucial role in shaping people’s perceptions, especially in building prejudices and stereotypes toward Islam and Muslims. Both for ignorance and good faith, religion is often considered as the cause of crimes or related to events that have nothing to do with it, thus feeding tensions and discrimination.”

And those pressures take their toll on the Muslim community. “Some of the believers who used to come to the mosque are not coming here anymore, because they fear controls by the police,” Morelli says. “Some of them have been asked for support in collecting information about other Muslims. Moreover, going to the mosque can create difficulties or delays in getting the Italian citizenship.”

Zahra, who spoke on condition of anonymity, converted to Islam in 2006, and is faithful in her worship. But she doesn’t wear the Hijab at university, nor at work and only the people she trusts know about her conversion. “Living in a country where Muslims are a minority doesn’t help. People are not used to diversity and this effects everyday life,” Zahra says.

Eissa, the former kebab shop owner, worries about how his children struggle with being both Italian and Muslim. “How would you feel if one of your neighbors didn’t want his son to play with yours just because of your culture and religion?” he asks. “I feel my son and my daughter are growing up in a big confusion between their Islamic culture and Italian lifestyle. They are very young but they already feel ashamed when mentioning their own religion, while they should live it with serenity and be proud of that, as well as of being Italians.”

Promoting dialogue

Many Western European Muslims are hopeful increased dialogue with and interaction among people of different faiths will lead to greater understanding. Morelli encourages Italian Muslims to actively participate in the community to build a positive vision of Islam. “Sometimes prejudices could be avoided by making Muslim people explain what Islam is instead of people who don’t know this religion, he says.

Research supports the idea that getting to know your neighbor can go a long way to limiting prejudice. The University of Munster study indicated that having personal contact with Muslims was strongly related to favorable attitudes toward Islam in every country. For example, in the former West Germany, 38 percent of respondents who reported a lot of contact with Muslims reported very positive attitudes; only 1 percent of respondents who had no contact held very positive attitudes toward Muslims.

But there is a long way to go. In the European study, less than 10 percent of the respondents said they had a lot of contact with Muslims. As a seeming consequence, the study showed what comes to many of their minds when they think of Islam are discrimination against women, fanaticism and, somewhat ironically, narrow-mindedness. What does not come to their minds are notions of Muslims as peaceful and tolerant.

In France, Larisse is determined to push forward for equal rights for Islam. “I hope for the normalization of the presence of Islam and Muslims. Islam and Muslims are here. I can’t understand why this tension exists,” she says. “I hope in future the presence of Muslim women, the mosque and Islamic practice will appear as normal in France.”

Brazilians honour Mama Africa

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Brazilians seeking to connect with their African heritage honoured legendary singer Miriam Makeba at a three-day music festival that featured Reverend Jesse Jackson as a guest speaker.

Makeba was banned from apartheid South Africa in 1963 after she had spoken out against the former government at the United Nations in New York. She was also known as Mama Africa and died in November 2008.

Jackson, an outspoken American civil rights leader, had meanwhile fought against apartheid inside his government’s political halls.

Brazilians marked the sixth annual Back2Black music festival in Rio de Janeiro last weekend with a celebration of Makeba’s music. A short documentary film about Makeba was screened before the music started.

Makeba’s granddaughter Zenzi Lee and her son Lindelani Lee were among the festival’s performers. Percussionist Papa Kouyate, who performed worldwide with Makeba for 22 years, played to “celebrate her”.

Miriam Makeba's granddaughter Zenzi Lee and her son Lindelani Lee on stage at Back2Black in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Miriam Makeba’s granddaughter Zenzi Lee and her son Lindelani Lee on stage at Back2Black in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Other artists included South Africa’s Grammy Award winners Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Senegalese singer Ismael Lo.

In his dressing room, Kouyate fondly recalled Makeba’s influence on her band.

“We were her children. We had a cultural education… For us, she lives. Miriam Makeba will never die. We work and we give our spirit to Africa. That is what Miriam taught us,” said Kouyate.

His words turned political, referencing Makeba’s opposition against apartheid wherever she played during her three decades in exile. Makeba returned to South Africa only after Nelson Mandela’s release from jail in 1990.

Miriam Makeba’s granddaughter Zenzi Lee and percussionist Papa Kouyate, who performed worldwide with Makeba for 22 years, played to “celebrate her”. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Miriam Makeba’s granddaughter Zenzi Lee and percussionist Papa Kouyate, who performed worldwide with Makeba for 22 years, played to “celebrate her”. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Kouyate said: “Africa is liberated but it is not liberated economically. As long as we depend on others, we are not totally liberated. She always said we must continue the struggle.

“She had a weapon of the heart. It was not a gun. She used her brains to give a force against apartheid… She loved South Africa. She wanted to get rid of apartheid… I pray to God that Mama Africa rests in peace.”

Lee said she performed with her grandmother “for many, many years” and recalled she was eight years old when she first took to the stage during one of Makeba’s performances.

Lee sang A Luta Continua in Rio de Janeiro, a song that Makeba sang when Mozambique gained independence from its colonial oppressors Portugal. The latter also colonised Brazil.

Lee was born in exile in New York and now lives in Johannesburg. She said Makeba cared for her, following her mother’s death at a young age.

“My grandmother’s gift to the world has been her social and cultural contributions, the humanity she shared with people, her love for arts and culture, African cuisine. She was in exile so she traveled to many countries,” recalled Lee.

“She would make food from different parts of Africa. She loved to cook. She would never make a meal and not make more than what was required.

“She would make sure that you would never leave her house without eating. She said when she grew up she had it hard so she vowed even if she had one little piece of bread she would always share. That’s how I was raised.”

Lee traveled worldwide with her grandmother. Her son also traveled with them and “grew up backstage”.

Back2Black music festival in Rio de Janeiro celebrates Brazil's African heritage. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Back2Black music festival in Rio de Janeiro celebrates Brazil’s African heritage. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Lindelani Lee turned 18 on November 12 when he arrived in Brazil with his mother and other musicians for the Makeba tribute. He said his grandmother’s “efforts moved our country” towards liberation.

“She let the world know about the injustices that South Africa was experiencing. She repeatedly said that she was not a politician. She just spoke the truth,” said the young man.

The broader context of Back2Black was to shift Brazilians closer to African musicians from the continent and its diaspora. Brazil’s history includes the importing of slaves from Africa.

Ndebele paintings by Esther Mahlangu, 80, filled the venue’s walls via video projections. The crowd cheered as each performer presented their own music and also a song from Makeba’s repertoire. Kiosks at the event sold African clothing, Ndebele paintings and books about Africa and its leaders.

Ndebele paintings by Esther Mahlangu, 80, at the Back2Black festival. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Ndebele paintings by Esther Mahlangu, 80, at the Back2Black festival. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

One of the festival’s younger performers, Mayra Andrade, 28, performed at the event for the second time. Andrade is from Cape Verde but now lives in Paris where she records music.

Andrade said African musicians needed to perform in Brazil “to show them we are evolving”.

“Brazilians have a very old style idea of what Africa is. They know about African religion and heritage. It’s important that Brazilians know where they come from and what Africa is today. And it is important for me to show that Africa is changing,” said Andrade.

Mayra Andrade from Cape Verde performs at the Back2Black festival. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Mayra Andrade from Cape Verde performs at the Back2Black festival. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Jackson meanwhile encouraged Afro-Brazilians to push for equality in a society where most blacks are descendants of slaves and face racial discrimination.

“The goal of our movement was not freedom. It was equality. You can have freedom to get on the soccer field but if the referee is on the side of the other team all the time you will never win,” he told Brazilians at the festival.

American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson at the Back2Black music festival in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson at the Back2Black music festival in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

“Equality is this generation’s challenge. Look for people who share the same values and fight that fight together. We must fight us a shared coalition. That makes us the majority. At the end of the day, coalitions win.”

Dancer Mamela Nyamza in her own words

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Dancer, choreographer, director and international artist Mamela Nyamza has been performing at art festivals across Europe but has never had a solo show in Cape Town. The 2011 Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year winner for dance talks about her latest projects. Then she packed her bags – again.

“I’m a Gugs girl. I’m from Gugulethu NY16 in Cape Town. We didn’t have dance lessons at my school. We had to push ourselves to [get to dance classes]. Our parents didn’t drop us off for dance class. I used to go whether it was raining or not. I’d run home after dance class in the rain.

Dancer Mamela Nyamza. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Dancer Mamela Nyamza. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

I wanted to go to dance class even when I had exams. I think young people don’t think like that now. They just want things to come to them. They don’t realise you have to struggle, take steps.

It’s funny how my work is now being shown all over Europe. When I was in Paris, it created a buzz about South Africa. People don’t know much about South Africa.

I feel blessed now. I can say I work internationally. My suitcase is always ready to go. I just change costumes. Sometimes I get tired of travelling. But I’m lucky. I say that every day. I’m excited. It’s just that as a mother [Mamela has a 13-year-old son], sometimes it’s hard to travel so much.

I’ve been performing a lot in Europe this year. I performed Shift in Berlin in June and in Paris in late July. I opened a festival in Avignon in July with 19-born-76-rebels. In August I performed a solo piece, Isinqala, in Zurich. Right now I’m preparing to perform in France again. In October I’m performing in a show with the Soweto Kids in Lagos, Nigeria. And in November I will perform in Italy, France and the Netherlands.

Working internationally has really opened me up as an artist. It has showed me that there is no wrong or right. I don’t think of one specific audience when I produce work – so I don’t think, ‘I’m going to Europe; I must do something different for them’. If you are original and authentic you will bring something new. You can’t show Europe what they already have.

When you are far away from home, you are not scared. There are things in my work that I have not yet done at home, but that I have tried in Paris. But [I’m now planning to try these things] at home too.

Everybody expects me to have a subject. People call me names. They say ‘she’s feminist’ or make assumptions about what will happen. So I didn’t start with a theme when I began my latest work. In it, I’m the only woman – the rest of the group is all men who are 19 to 25 years old. I’m wearing a cat suit, something that I have never worn on stage. I didn’t want to talk about issues, but [they came up] because I’m the only woman in the performance. I become the mother, caregiver, the sexy woman. There is one point where it looks like I am abusing them. It’s about a woman speaking to young boys.

I have found when creating work that deals with politics white South Africans say, ‘Oh no, let’s leave the past behind’. But as artists, we bring a different context [to the subject]. In 19-born-76-rebels, I say we are repeating what we were fighting against. I would like to see how a broader audience would react to this piece if I showed it locally.

I wish I could show my work more at home. I’m tired of applying to show my work at different festivals or venues locally. I’ve realised that as artists, we are always appreciated more outside our own countries. When I was in Paris it was big. You would go in the subway and see my name on big posters.

But at home I have never even had a solo show at the Baxter or Artscape theatres. This is a sad thing; we are only going to be celebrated when we are 60. People won’t see us perform live. They will only see our archives. I want to perform at home, maybe have a seven-night run at Artscape Theatre.”

Born to the movement
Mamela Nyamza was born in Gugulethu in 1976. She trained at the Zama Dance School, graduated with a ballet diploma from the Pretoria Technikon, and after winning a scholarship, studied further at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Centre. She challenges traditional ballet and dance forms.

Mandela inspires Brazil’s favela protesters

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

A film about evictions in South Africa will be screened in favelas across Rio de Janeiro next week to mobilise working class Brazilians into action against forced removals.

Screenings of the award-winning documentary film Dear Mandela will start on Monday and run until Saturday. Its South African director Dara Kell and housing rights activists S’bu Zikode and Bandile Mdlalose from Durban will interact with locals after each screening.

Kell is New York-based and said the screenings were planned to “educate young favela residents about their rights and facilitate the sharing of successful strategies for resisting eviction”.

Organisers also aimed to “connect slum residents to pro bono lawyers, journalists and international networks of solidarity,” she said.

“We are connecting those at risk of forced eviction around the globe, and strengthening social movements working toward the right to adequate housing and dignity for all,” said Kell.

“We believe that screening Dear Mandela with audiences in Brazil will be deeply inspirational to residents facing forced eviction.”

Dear Mandela is Kell’s first documentary feature film and follows activists from Abahlali baseMjondolo, or Residents of the Shacks, and their work to resist forced evictions in various parts of South Africa.

“Meeting the young leaders who became the stars of the film, I saw that they embodied Nelson Mandela’s pragmatic idealism, his courage and his humility. I witnessed the trauma caused by unlawful evictions of shack dwellers as well as the courageous resistance of evictions,” said Kell of the film.

“This film is a testament to the hope that still survives among those whose spirits could otherwise have been broken… Making this film is an attempt to understand parts of my country that were hidden to me as a young white girl growing up in a segregated suburb.”

Rio de Janeiro resident Kalinca Copello is a Brazilian researcher organising the local screenings.

“We want evictions that South Africans experienced to start a debate and mobilise people. We have invited activists and lawyers to the debates about human rights violations and access to the city,” said Copello.

“We are not telling people to resist evictions. We want to inform them. In our experience, if you simply follow what the government wants you do then you get a bad deal.”

She said countless Brazilians have already been evicted from Rio’s inner-city favelas.

“If you look around, you will see that favelas are close to the city. In some cases, people have been moved from prime property in the city,” said Copello.

“A lot of people who have been evicted are moved from being closer to the city to areas on the outskirts of the city. They have to then spend hours to travel to the city and some of them are employed.”

Dear Mandela has screened in 35 countries and has been translated into 10 languages. It won the Best South African Documentary award at a recent edition of the Durban International Film Festival. It also won the Grand Jury Prize at the Brooklyn Film Festival in New York.

Musicians save artist’s treasure in Observatory

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Local musicians and artists are emptying their pockets to save experimental live music venue Tagore’s in Observatory after its owners appealed for financial help.

Kevin Nair, who founded the venue seven years ago, told the Cape Times he had to consider selling the venue as it had become too expensive to operate. He appealed to local and international artists to help keep the music playing.

While the building had initially been for sale, Nair has received some help to pay the bills but still needs to secure its long-term viability.

“The sale has been withdrawn as a result of a huge outcry from our patrons and the arts community, both locally and internationally. I own the building and have a huge bond on it. It’s tough meeting all the expenses. We need funding to keep the live music going,” said Nair.

“It has been difficult financially as we host about 25 live performances per month, and this means we provide a stage and an income for about 100 musicians, as most performances are quartets. None of this is funded in anyway, except by myself.”

He said they were “currently in the process of trying to secure some funding, so that we can continue providing a space of artistic creativity, that enhances the cultural experience of our city”.

“We are running an initiative to raise the necessary funds, via our Facebook database as well as a crowd funding appeal online.”
Its online campaign states that the owners “do not want to sell, but… the old man Tagore is broke, and the bank is urgently calling”. It cautions that the building “must not fall into unmusical hands”.

Nair said he hoped to raise R1,4-million to buy the property and keep it running.

“This means without the burden of rent or a bond, the revenue Tagore’s generates can be better utilised to boost musician’s salaries, as well as the efficient staffing and maintenance of Tagore’s,” said Nair.

“We’ve never been more motivated for the existence of Tagore’s than we are right now.”

Musicians who have played at the venue joined the campaign to “save Tagore’s”.

Jazz musician Buddy Wells said he supported the campaign because Tagore’s was “an essential part of our culture”.

“There is no other venue I have played in around the world that has the unique ambiance of Tagore’s. You can feel the warmth and intimacy when you walk in,” said Wells.

“Every gig that I have played or witnessed there is special. Because of its size, the audience and the artist experience the music extremely intensely. As a cultural melting point, Tagore’s is a national treasure.”

Wells was referring to the small stage that meets the eye as one enters the venue. Its narrow staircase leads upstairs to small rooms where numerous artists meet late into the night.

Musician Thandi Ntuli said Tagore’s offered musicians a space to perform “live music that is in its developmental phase”.

“One can perform there on a regular basis to hone one’s craft. Anything from a traditional jazz band to a person playing a guitar with a spoon while reciting Japanese poetry would find room for appreciation. This venue permits it. People who come there are open-minded and respect all forms of art,” said Ntuli.

“It’s a great place for the growth of an artist. I don’t think a place that gives artists a chance to make as many mistakes, in the name of progress, should be closed.”

Shane Cooper, recent winner of the Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz award, said playing at Tagore’s “encourages artists to perform their own original jazz music, and allows them to explore many different genres of jazz without any restrictions”.

Tagore’s is named after Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore who was the first non-European winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was also a music composer who died in 1941.