Len Maseko

Len Maseko

Humanity's innate desire to belong - whether in the structure of family or community - is a phenomenon central to human existence.

In the words of English clergyman and poet John Donne: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main..."

Simplified by WikiAnswers.com, Donne's words essentially refer to the human condition, that "we, as humans, need interaction with others.

"Trying to live alone, without association with other people is debilitating and self-defeating."

In addition, without this connection, human beings would essentially become islands with no anchor, sense of self-identity or purpose while drifting aimlessly in a state of emotional emptiness.

This mainly sums up the life of Patrick "Pepe" Peterson, 52, one of the best ballet dancers to have come from this country, who took his own life by hanging himself in a room he rented in Jabulani, Soweto.

All his life, Pepe had drifted between two worlds: one dogged by a perpetual emotional void stemming from living with the knowledge that he was an orphan. This engendered a melancholic lack of self-identity in him.

The other world was filled with a perpetual sense of self-guilt and inadequacy, arising from the perception of being a burden to a community he had adopted and made his own family.

As a world-class ballet dancer, he was constantly featured in top shows in countries like Germany, France and Holland.

He drew his inspiration from the likes of American-born Alvin Ailey, Clive Thompson and Russian-born Mikhail Baryshnikov, renowned as the best living male ballet dancer.

It was the same dancing icons that inspired Pepe to study modern dance at the now-defunct Open School of Arts in Johannesburg and later at the University of Cape Town.

But Pepe's success as a ballet dancer was always tempered by constant sadness at his mother's decision to abandon him as a baby with neighbours in Newclare, a township situated in the south-western side of Johannesburg.

It was an act that would seal his fate, for no sooner had his mom left him for keeps than the same neighbours handed the young Pepe to the local St Nicholas Home for Orphans.

Yearning to belong, he left the home to live in Soweto among his friends in the early 1980s.

Sadly, Pepe degenerated into a shadow of himself in the past two years - thanks to depression, which reduced his gait to a shuffle and his facial expression to a listless mask.

Gone were the feline reflexes that had propelled him off the stages of the world's theatres.

Penniless and ill, he decided to end it all.

Pepe will be buried by the Jabulani community after a service at Emma Brosius Creche tomorrow at 9am, before his cremation in Braamfontein.

His wish to have his ashes scattered on the ocean in Cape Town will be fulfilled.