Ballet. A word that conjures images of grace and beauty. But the appointment of a dancer-choreographer to be deputy artistic director resulted in exposing the sordid underbelly of the bureaucratic aspects of Arts and Culture, and consequently, her very inelegant dismissal.
Mamela Nyamza’s professional dance journey began at Tshwane University of Technology, where she obtained her national diploma in ballet. In 1997, she was the resident dancer and choreographer for the theatre.
She has produced controversial shows such as De-Apart-Hate, Hatched, and I Stand Corrected, which was produced in collaboration with UK-based artist Mojisola Adebayo.
Her other shows include Isingqala, Amafongkong and African Footprints. Her immense contribution to dance and the arts broadly saw her being the first dance artist to be chosen as the Featured Artist at the 2018 National Arts Festival.
Nyamza was appointed as deputy artistic director at the South African State Theatre (SAST) in November last year. Under her passionate guidance, Dance Umbrella – a platform that can help so many young dancers – was relaunched in 2019.
As reported by those who attended the opening her speech had a tone of sadness as she lamented the lack of marketing. In stark contrast, as observed by the Arts and Culture community at large, other shows had ample marketing.
Yet she was fired on 25 November 25 2019 as direct consequence of her speech. CEO of SAST, Dr Sibongiseni Mkhize, said she was dismissed because of ‘an accusatory statement’ made in her speech and for ‘bringing SAST into disrepute’.
When her legal representation was refused at a SAST disciplinary hearing, Mamela approached President Ramaphosa to intervene – an indication of the scale of the untoward practices she had become aware of at SAST.
Seasoned choreographer Gregory Maqoma said Nyamza’s dismissal was sending a strong signal that the long battle to have a dance curator in a state-funded institution was not yet a settled matter.
South Africans have long had to put up with cronyism and nepotism and, depending on the circles you move in, laugh behind your hand when it is described as ‘deployment’. But when it comes to disadvantaging one art form for the benefit of another, benefiting some performers at the expense of others, sympathy for the dismissed dancer definitely has merit.
By Lee Maddeux
Photo courtesy of Mamela Nyamza/Groundup