Honouring artistic rocks of our age

Carol Bouwer stages the fifth instalment of Mbokodo Awards on Thursday in Johannesburg honouring women in arts and culture.

She is in high spirits as we connect via telephone from her home in Cape Town to talk about the significant milestone.

"We've had to jump hoops and overcome difficulties to get to this point. People don't see the amount of work we put in throughout the year. We wouldn't know who to honour unless we go to every gallery, and not only in convenient places.

"These awards are not about glamour, they are about South Africans realising through their work that they are a conduit to export our culture to the world. These people we are honouring have done just that."

Performers include Wanda Baloyi, and radio and television star Pearl Modiadie will host the proceedings.

Nominees for this year's event have not been made public as Bouwer wants to focus on winning only. "We have kept the mystery this year and we don't want any negativity. We've had a difficult year that started on a bad note with a white old woman [Penny Sparrow] calling black people monkeys, the currency made it difficult for us to achieve the dreams we had for our children. It has been challenging financially, emotionally and politically.

"But we are a triumphant nation. We transcended apartheid, the biggest evil in the world. It's about winning over all the trials that humanity will throw at you and our focus is on the winners. I don't want talk like someone 'lost' or 'walked away empty-handed'."

Bouwer has invited people from various fields as guests who will only find out on the night when they are called up to receive awards that they are winners in the new 15 categories up for grabs, down from the 20 of last year.

"The booklets with the profiles of these winners that guests will keep as mementos are kept under lock and key and I have a security company that will deliver them to the venue at 10pm," she laughs.

Some of the categories are visual arts, film, media, dance, traditional and indigenous art, theatre, jazz, fashion and design, poetry and literature. Previous lifetime achievement award recipients include Letta Mbulu, Abigail Kubeka and Thandi Klaasen.

A new addition is The Girl Child of Promise award in tribute to the young voices that dominated the headlines this year. "Young people have played an amazing role in shaping the narrative at universities and young girls standing up for their hair, so we've had to look at young voices who've had a presence this year, and this category looks at young people who we believe are the promise of the future."

They have also invited Unicef, which celebrates 70 years to share what it has done in the past and will be doing for the African child in the next 70 years.

"I hope when people see who we selected they can also see the particular message we are sending. The Mbokodos are a rock that represents the fundamentals of South Africanism. In all we do we honour the spirit of women who marched to Union Buildings in 1956."

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