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Interview with Dear Winnie’s Tutu Puoane

Tutu Puoane, one of the nine Winnies, is one of todays most exciting voices of the European/South African jazz music.

“I was born in 1979 and I grew up in the townships. I was a kid, during apartheid; I knew something was off, but this was my normal. There wasn’t the constant fear of accidentally leaving my dompas (the ‘stupid pass’, that every black person had tot carry with him to go into town). My great grandmother used to do that; forgetting her dompas, when she went to the city to sell her hats and scarfs – illegally, cause she didn’t have a permit. More than once she was put in prison for the weekend. It was war, literally, between the ANC and the Inkhata Freedom Party. There was
violence, there was tear gas, there was running away from the police, but I don’t remember living in fear, because I felt very sheltered by my mother. I don’t know how my parents felt, we never really spoke about it. I come from a culture where communication is difficult. People keep things inside and drink or smoke it away. I think people were depressed without knowing it, because they didn’t even have words for that. I’m still learning today how to talk about my feelings.

When Apartheid ended, in 1994, things didn’t really change. Only on paper. For a lot of people it even got worse. People that wanted to see a real change, in infrastructure and the division of resources, got killed. Like Chris Hani, the leader of the Communist Party. Winnie Mandela also wanted to see a real change, but Nelson gave up way too much for the peace. They had this negotiation: we were free to go wherever we wanted, we didn’t need the dompas anymore. But all the land still belonged to the people who owned it back in the apartheid-days. The land they’d
stolen from us. So the crime continued. There are still killings. South Africa didn’t deal with the trauma so it keeps trickling down.

“I hope people come to the show with an open mind.”

When I was 23 I got an opportunity to study at the conservatorium in Den Haag, and I took it. I left and didn’t go back. I met a boy and I stayed. We live in Antwerp. But we often go to South-Africa, at least every year; we have two children, they’re half South African, and we want them to know where they come from. My mother still lives in South Africa, in a posh area now, a previous whites-only area. Other family members are still living in the township. But they are okay. I come from a family where education was the norm, we lived in the township, but weren’t
extremely poor. All my black friends in South Africa are doing well, but secretly they’re still looking to leave the country.

I hope people come to the show with an open mind. Because they probably have a bad impression of Winnie Mandela. And that’s no wonder: the apartheid government really did a number on her! They managed to demonize her so bad, that even now we know the truth, people still call her the kid killer. The guy that did kill Stompy admitted it, the people at the police all spoke the truth, but the media belonged tot the government, and were told what to write. They did such an amazing job, even a lot of black people believed the lies.

I want people to come and see the show, so they can learn another perspective on Winnie Mandela. We try to tell the other story. In an abstract way: Winnie is the main figure that we are drawing from. We bring our own stories and tragedies in the whole thing, to make the connection with the present and the struggle of black women in general.”

 

 

 

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