Obituaries

What’s in a tribute?

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THE LAST SEVERAL months of this year have seen an unprecedented number of deaths in South Africa’s arts community, from popular crossover musician and anthropologist Johnny Clegg, to opera star Sidwill Hartman, theatre giant Nomhle Nkonyeni and great artist David Koloane. The world has lost the special talents of hard rock great, Piet Botha, balladeer Tony Bird and dancer/choreographer Owen Manamela-Mogane. Wonderful South African poet Harry Kalmer is no longer with us; neither is fashion writer Adam Levin, sculptor Willem Strydom or designer Tebogo Mwase. We are all the poorer for these enormous losses.

And one cannot weigh the importance of a writer over a composer, a theatre director over a performer; a person who died in their 30s over one who died in their 90s. Each loss is a body blow to this generation. My View undertakes to write a tribute to each loss the arts community in this country has suffered over the last several months, but such a project, reaching back to the passing of film actor Sibusiso Khwinana in early March of this year reflects on a troubled and busy year this platform has weathered. It also reflects on the value of a tribute.

But what is a tribute? All too often people begin a tribute to a dead person with the word “I”. And then, they go on to craft a verbal selfie that tries to muscle that irredeemable “I” into the sacred space of a person who has transitioned. It’s like the fool who forces themselves into someone’s wedding photographs or the pillock who broadcasts bad news about the health of acquaintances. These bits of news are not yours to share. The death of this precious individual is their own. It is not yours. Granted, you may be devastated at the loss, but the “I” shouldn’t have a place in a document which deems itself obit or tribute.

And further to that, social media and the mediocrity it spews remains poisonous and rotten with egocentric clichés and platitudes. It’s too often a platform peppered with wishy-washy marshmallow declarations of fondness, in the place of facts, and of course, recollections in the first person “when I knew this person”, “what that person meant to me”, rather than substance about their lives. It’s all about the helter skelter rush to be the first one to broadcast the news of a great loss.

My View never promises to break news to you, our reader, about the death of an artist, playwright or flautist. But it does undertake to go to whatever lengths are necessary, in order to find the correct facts about any of the people to whom it pays tribute: facts in terms of achievements and status, as well as that of dates and the names of the close family of those who have left us to join the ancestors.

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