Cape Town-based dancer Mamela Nyamza recently spoke at the Live Event Technical & Production Conference, which took place between May 18 and 20 in Johannesburg.
She began by playing a clip of the silent protest she and three other dancers, Chuma Sopotela, Buhlebezwe Siwani and Zikhona Jacobs, held at the 52nd Fleur Du Cap Theatre Awards in March. The protest was about the lack of recognition of black artists by the awards. “Talk about transformation in this country, this is where we are,” she said making reference to the protest before she gave some insights on the lack of transformation in the arts in South Africa.
“I think I was part of that transformation when Madiba became president of this country in 1994. I was allowed to go to an institution to study dance, which is why I have received all the awards that I have, accolades and the acknowledgment in this country, which is great.”
She said that the transformation did not go beyond being able to study in those institutions, as black artists are now stuck with no opportunities to showcase their work on major platforms. “The same people who studied and were part of that transformation are still the same people who are struggling today,” she said. “We were given the keys to open the doors in ’94, but the doors are still locked for us in this country.”
Mamela stated that this wasn’t just a problem affecting Cape Town artists. “This is something that is happening nationally,” she said. “We have a lot of gatekeeping in South Africa. We have a lot of people who are just closing doors for us. If we feel like we have grown, and we are ready to take the arts to another level, and we are being blocked, how are we going to transfer our skills to the next generation?”
She went on to state that black artists don’t have platforms on which to showcase their craft in South Africa. They are given more platforms outside the country, which doesn’t go down well with her as she would like to be celebrated more at home.
“We as artists are dying,” she said. “We are not being taken care of. The only thing we are looking for is belonging. We have no sense of belonging in South Africa. We are baseless artists. With all our degrees, knowledge and skills; we stay at home unemployed. As an artist, you can only have one job in your country the whole year.
“I’ve performed only at the Dance Umbrella and the Live Arts Festival,” she continued.
Watch her whole emotional speech below, in which she talks about gatekeepers, the perks of being a black artist in South Africa, struggling to get a job as a lecturer even though she’s qualified, and more.