Remembering Nelson Mandela

Executive Director’s Letter
December 10, 2013

In the mid-eighties, Mbongeni Ngema’s Asinamali, which was developed at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, opened at the Roger Furman Theatre in New York City.  Later the show toured the country and, working in the theatre in the 80s, I saw the show with both professional theatre and college audiences in Houston. For many of us, apartheid was made real through music and art that seemed so celebratory, but communicated the soul-crushing state of affairs of a country so far away from the day-to-day lives of Americans.  Set to beautiful music, joyful dance, Asinamali’s topics were ugly and violent and unjust—rent strikes, police brutality, and so much more.  In 1986, William B. Collins of the Philadelphia Inquirer after seeing Asinamali wrote, “The theater we have been getting recently from South Africa has a disconcertingly direct connection to life. It defies us to keep our equanimity in the face of the conditions it dramatizes. And it demands to be taken on different terms than the comfortable standards we are accustomed to applying.” 
 
So it was with the many ways South African life and culture were penetrating American consciousness. 
 
Last week while driving home, upon hearing of the death of Nelson Mandela, I searched the radio not for the words of admiration, the accolades, the important documentation of his remarkable life and accomplishments, but for the music of his country.  And there it was, Hugh Masekela’s “Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela).”
 
Among the many things that Nelson Mandela and his followers have shown us is how deeply art can connect us to one another and to our own humanity, how art can express and inspire us to act and to no longer tolerate the intolerable. Yet, like Asinamali it can be beautiful in and of itself.
 
Hope you enjoyed the snow,

Jeannie

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