honouring the leader who exposed slave farms

Edward Tsumele

Edward Tsumele

With his statue about to be unveiled this month and what promises to be a musical on the cards, Gert Sibande must be smiling in his grave.

Plans by the Mpumalanga government to celebrate and honour the life of one of South Africa's liberation struggle heroes are well under way.

The provincial government has announced that it will unveil a king-size bronze statue of Sibande as part of the Heritage Month celebrations.

The design and construction of the statue is estimated at R2,7million and an additional R2,9million for the surrounding infrastructure precinct.

Sibande, otherwise known d as the "Lion of the East", was instrumental in exposing the atrocities of the apartheid prison system in the mid-1950s that saw many black prisoners condemned to working as slaves on the potato farms in the Bethal area of the then Eastern Transvaal.

Sibande, who led one of the biggest ANC branches at the time, exposed this practice through Drum magazine and led an international campaign to boycott potatoes that were produced from the toil of slavery.

This project forms part of the campaign by the provincial government to celebrate the life of its heroes and preserve their history and heritage.

The provincial government recently commissioned Sarafina playwright, Mbongeni Ngema to develop a musical that reflects the life and times of Gert Sibande - including the 50th anniversary of the potato boycott.

A booklet highlighting his role in the struggle to liberate South Africa will also be compiled.

lBethal will come alive when the Tjhagalani Kusephuka Tidzindzi Arts and Culture Festival performs on September 27 and 28.

The extravaganza is aimed at providing new artists an opportunity to showcase their talent and also to empower them with business skills.

Tjhagalani was first held in 1999 as part of Spartial's development initiative and has grown dramatically in the the past nine years, serving as a building block for artists to build their profiles and exhibit their artworks to a larger audience.

Tjhagalani has become an integral part of the entertainment and cultural landscape of the province as it not only promotes artistic excellence, but also provides economic spin-offs.

The two-day festival, which will be held at Bethal Park, will see 45 groups in various genres performing during the course of the event.

Twenty-two groups will entertain the crowd on the opening day, while 23 will perform on the last day.

The groups were drawn from the three regions in the province.

Various exhibitions will also showcase the latent artistic talents in the province.

They include crafters, visual artists, wordsmiths of the two indigenous languages in the province - SiSwati and IsiNdebele - and traditional cuisine will be on offer.

According to Mafika Lubisi, the manager of cultural affairs in the Mpumalanga department of culture, sport and recreation, the festival is the ideal closing function for Heritage Month as it "will unite the country in song and dance".