cultural life full of riches

Vukile Pokwana

Vukile Pokwana

Loving bawdy, gritty, eclectic, bewitching and infectious. These are some of the adjectives that best describe Arabi Chidiyawonga Mocheke's life, a life well lived.

Mocheke died on February 18 aged 51. Capturing the complex and rich life of Mocheke succinctly is both daunting and arduous.

A poem by the late visual artist, self-styled musicologist and anarchist Fikile Magadlela settled on my mind after receiving the news of my dearly departed brother: The skies will weep for the broken ribs of our fallen heroes.

I was preparing to embark on a tour of the Eastern Cape, a province which was so close to Arabi in a way that oozes confidence and integrity. I had a band of journalists in toe and strangely, Ezra Jwili, a seasoned cameraman was clad in a T-shirt promoting the Soweto Arts Festival, which was Mocheke's brainchild. We shared stories and silent prayers for the carrier of culture and heritage. The man from Nancefield, a citizen of the African village and the diaspora.

Rasta, as I fondly called him, was a truly practising Rastafarian and his life was like a monumental canvas. He wallowed in the profound inter-relation of artists and community. His walk, talk and smile set many hearts a-flutter. The young ones beguile and were lost in translation in his presence. He subscribed to the wise Greek's definition of beauty - moral goodness.

Mocheke was so popular in Yeoville that every time he left my house in Yeoville to career the streets of crime and grime en route to his neighbouring Observatory house, he would stroll and was never ever attempted mugged. He was a resident howling soccer fan and intellectual at Ekhaya restaurant and now defunct Monday Blues and Poetic Tuesday.

He was a giant who could only be defeated by prostate cancer after a four-year battle. He was bedridden for some time and his children were by his side and all those who loved him regularly visited him.

The permanent element in Mocheke's life was emotion and expression, humility and dignity and positive errors. He was a social visionary, endowed with the power to distinguish accidental deficiencies, excrescences, and deformities.

He had a knack for observing human oddity: hated the new black with their prick-ish and priggish arrogance, would burst into ribald laughter at the chicken heads' endless unfolding fairy tales, despised the arbitrary and limited view of the many promoters and weak imitation of Americans masquerading as artists.

His life as a cultural activist, whether managing Dr Phillip Tabane, producing the Soweto Arts Festival, embarking on a cultural exchange programme, failure to keep the economic embers glowing at Kippies or a flopped international reggae outing - we will find the same graphic signature of genius wherever we look.

What ran seamlessly in Mocheke's life was a conceptual triad - preserve, transcend and elevate the arts. He was truly a channelled spirit who never tired to serve the arts even if it meant his regular long strolls to theatres and galleries in Joburg.

He was a man on a mission to please the ancestors, as if Nigerian author Ben Okri had him in mind in the collection of poems in Mental Flight.

Mocheke is survived by three sons and two sisters.

He will be buried in Musina, Limpopo, tomorrow. The service starts at 7.30am in Nancefield township.