Mocheke radiates panache

Amanda Ngudle

Amanda Ngudle

Arabi Mocheke's aura is demanding. It's not because he wears his trendy sunglasses on his head or that he's always dressed as if he's stepped out of a magazine page, he just has the figure that captures you - even with a quick glance.

I even like his name and have always said it is people with such names who are able to make something of themselves in life. A unique name affirms in every individual the greatness that he or she is to become.

He duly became show promoter and owner of the Soweto Arts Festival concept, a multi-million rand project visited by artists, the media, lecturers, researchers and tourists. That, by anyone's standard, is a thing of excellence.

He starts the interview with the concept of instilling in young people the turfs that they should be allowed to tap.

The arts form a fraternity that should be capturing younger audiences, he says.

"Like money, there isn't a problem of making child-friendly arts programmes, it is the dissemination of this concept that needs to be channelled," Mocheke says.

"We have the resources but need ways of putting them across to the right market."

Mocheke says he's always moved with a swing that was a step ahead of his peers, but admits life has a way of taking its course. One day he was a manager in the retail sector and the next co-owner of Kippies, before becoming artist agent, which eventually made him a promoter.

"But I have learnt the hard way just how much money you can lose in this business," he reminisces.

"There was a point when I'd be embracing the world's greatest musicians, then go home to a lonely motel room because I couldn't afford to rent a place. The place made money but we had to plough it all back if we were to get anywhere."

But that is all in the past. These days he sits comfortably in the cocoon of his mansion with a roaring fire that makes winter in Johannesburg a thing of beauty.

"The Soweto Arts festival emerged after I met Malombo and toured Togo with them," he says.

"Because it was so well organised the concert just about changed the lifestyle of the village where it was held.

"I had never seen such enthusiasm or the spirit of progressive unison as I did during my stay there.

"I looked at the natives of that village and though resources were sparse they made sure that not even the rain could stop the show. They held up lengths of canvas and made a makeshift roof. It was like a scene from a movie."

After comparing the tools back home to those used by the Togolese, Mocheke knew doing the same thing at home would be a piece of cake - until he had to sell the idea to prospective funders.

Most were not keen. But someone from the Arts and Culture Department decided to give him the money and things started gearing up.

"I was delirious with happiness until I realised that the money was not for me to spend, but to do what I had promised," Mocheke says.

"I think this is something that some businesspeople forget. The funding you get must be used exactly for the purposes you mention when seeking this form of support."

Clearly he is practising what he preaches because the same festival also takes place in Limpopo these days.

But though his winning recipe could give him authority to take over the entire country, he likes the pace of things as it is.

"Self-employed individuals need to think of their wellbeing as well," he explains.

" You have to give yourself time off, give yourself a salary and entitlement to spend the profits.

"Once deals are signed and the tools are back in the garage, I give myself time off and go out with friends to places where we can just be slack for a change."

But while I thought he was a well-off, over-the-hill player who gets off spoiling greedy younglings, he tells me nothing gives him more pleasure than spoiling his grandchildren. He has two from one of his two sons.

"I want to leave them a legacy."

When I ask why he is talking about grandchildren when he first has to settle down himself, he says it's too late for him to get married now.