Before computers in the mid-80s, black and disabled teenager I was very interested in the welfare of people with disabilities in South Africa. At that time, I tried to write a paper on the disability subject but due to lack of accessible public info, the paper ended up only being two pages. That is when I knew that I had to visit South Africa. My research was later enhanced by the advent of computers and the internet.
Fast forward to 2007, I started the organization Krip-Hop Nation – an international network of Hip-Hop artists and other musicians with disabilities. A 2009 interview with the South Africa Disabled Musicians Association again stirred up the deep seated need to visit South Africa.
Between 2013 and 2014, Krip-Hop Nation came close to travelling to South Africa. I met Phumlani Banda, aka Wakomagic, from the Zululand Gospel Choir based in Richards Bay, two hours north of Durban. After exchanging ideas on a song collaboration for people with disabilities, we planned to meet in South Africa to record the song.
Also in the cards was the concept of putting out a book of disabled musicians in Africa and the US who were and still are linked to the Krip-Hop Nation network. The first concept of this book came up in a decision between disabled Hip-Hop artists/poets from Zimbabwe and the U.S.; R.E. Spect from Zimbabwe, Keith Jones and myself (from the U.S.) who agreed in 2012 that it would a showcase of not only song lyrics and poems, but also visual arts, pictures, interviews and other aspects.
Now the above book concept of 2012 is set to come to life as part of the A Journey to the South Tour that was conceived and undertaken in December 2016 when I met Simon Manda on Facebook back in 2014. Simon lives in South Africa and is the cofounder of THISABILITY, a South African newspaper covering the disabled community.
Simon invited me to submit articles for publication back in 2013 to articulate how Krip-Hop Nation was linking up and working with African artists. In 2014, an attempt by Krip-Hop Nation and THISABILITY to work on an international disability arts festival almost came to fruition. Unfortunately, the dream was never realized due to funding constraints.
Simon and I kept in contact and we both reprogrammed the international disability arts festival idea to a tour around South Africa to interview and profile artists with disabilities. Simon and I put up crowd-funding calls that enabled myself to make an early bird ticket of $400 from San Francisco to Johannesburg!
More funding came through from a grant by Arts and Culture Trust under the Nedbank Arts Affinity in South Africa and finally on December 3rd, 2016 at 8:30am, I landed on South African soil! The dream had been realized.
On the first encounter, face to face with Simon was all hugs and a sit-down to plan the tour. That day, December 3rd, was the International Day for Persons with Disabilities in South Africa & internationally get this already there was a schedule to watch a musical play that evening in Durban. Yes after more the ten hours in the air, I got back on the plane with Simon to head to Durban, South Africa! The play, In Blood, featured a crew of 100 actors with disabilities and it marked the start of this epic journey.
The rest of the schedule was to pan out as follows;
4th to 11th December 2016: Jhb, PTA and surrounds
12th to 15th December 2016: Durban
16th to 20th December 2016: East London
21st December 2016: Port Elizabeth
22nd to 26th December 2016: Cape Town
26th to 28th December 2016; Jhb, PTA and surrounds
Before leaving for Durban we had hours to kill so Simon & I went through a rough draft of 70 profiles spread across the cities above, we realized that there was a lot of time needed hence a second phase planned to start in August 2017 and possibly one month per year thereafter until the realization of profiling urban and rural profiles across South Africa and beyond.
Looking back on it now, on this first phase Simon & I interviewed so many different disabled/Deaf artists too many to share here but I must tell you about a few that stuck out for me:
First was the first Deaf South African woman actress on mainstream television, Simphiwe Mkhize, who now works at eDEAF Center in Johannesburg. We interviewed her at that center as you can see by the picture of Simphiwe Mkhize with a scraf on her head and poster in the background with some South African signs for the alphbet and numbers. Toward the ending of the interview Simphiwe told me that Deaf South Africans were not invited to be involved in The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) . She also tried to teach me basic SouthAfrican sign language.
Second event that really stood out for me was the whole day in Soweto where Simon brought me to a book/poetry big event under this huge tent where I sat next to and talked with real elder poets who are royality in activism and poetry in South Africa going back to apartheid. I got to meet and talk to Bra Don Mattera, Lebo Mashile, Sis Gcina Mhlophe, Vangi Gantsho and Sis Florence Masebe st this poetry/book event. Mr. Bra Don Mattera (The one in the picture holding my arm with a Black & White checker shirt on and Simon sitting behind us) told me the truth about Nelson Mandela, apartheid and the ANC. He new about Oakland, the Black Panther Party and Black radical history in the US. It was an honor to meet and listen to Mr. Mattera and I found out that he has a school for youth with disability. After the book/poetry event, we bumped into two disabled Hip-Hop artists (picture: In the blue shirt with white frame eye glasses holding his CD is Nxumalo Simphiwe and young guy with a white hate on is a street performer and upcoming Hip-Hop artist) after leaving Nelson Mandel’s house also in Soweto. We kicked it on the street of Soweto and come to find out Simon knew one of the artists. His name was Nxumalo Simphiwe and he is a Gospel Hip-Hop artist who did a whole CD about albinism.
The third encounter was the interview with Jonathan Juliun Groenewald aka 2J Harmonix because we were in contact for years on Facebook so finally being face to face in his home studio was a dream come true. 2J Harminix is a disabled poet/Hip-Hop artist in Pretoria, South Africa. He is on fire with his new solo album, Motivation, he is working on a book of poetry. 2J Harmonix under G2G Promotions Pty Ltd. in South Africa & Krip-Hop Nation, Leroy Moore Jr. of the USA are coming together under A Journey To The South Project to put together a Hip-Hop/Poetry CD featuring artists with and without disabilities across South Africa to highlight the talents of Hip-Hop artists & poets throughout South Africa who believes in inclusive artistic expression and accessibility in the arts arena not only in South Africa but throughout the Africa continent and world-wide. The CD will be a promotional tool for the artists and creators of the Journey to the South.
As being a person with a physical disability especially at my age, I pay close attention to accessibility, and I have to say the cities Simon & I were in made me appreciate the US aka the Bay area. In Johannesburg a lot of curb cuts are hard to find compare to Cape Town where it felt like the Bay Area with wide roads, curb cuts and accessible city buses. One experience that stood out for me was a lack of costumer service from the airports to restaurants. Overhearing Simon’s conversation with airport employees to get someone to push my wheelchair to the gate was shocking. However we have to realize that it has been only twenty-six years since apartheid ended so South African is still in their early stages of learning about disability rights, access and so on. Also I can’t forget the stories that Simon and others told me about the ANC & lack of enforcement of disability l was in South Africa almost the same here in the US i.e. lack of enforcement of disability rights but at less we can sue here in the US. I was like a broken record when I toldSimon over and over, “in the US I could sue in such such case!”
Back to the our journey/project, like I said above Simon and I are working on a book of profiles will be a collection of our experiences on the road in South Africa interviewing artists with disabilities with bios, pictures, artistic pieces from visual arts to song lyrics and poems. Also there are interviews from artists in different African countries along with Krip-Hop artists from Africa to America that were building blocks for The Journey to The South Tour.
To redress the alienation and marginalization of artists with disabilities from mainstream media and socio-economic platforms, THISABILITY Newspaper and Krip Hop Nation mooted an idea of profiling and documenting artists with the aim of linking them to various empowering networks.
So far, the dream is unraveling and as the project looks for more funding; many artists will realize international exposure through documentaries, books and linkages to new markets.
Simon and I are setting up a website for our ongoing work in Africa with merchandise like one artist, Rita that we met in Mdantsane Township in East London, South Africa. She has taught herself to crochet and can make 2 hats a day with one hand cause she is an amputee with only a left arm. We are trying to setup an online shop for her to access international markets since her hats are fashionable and trendy.
BY Leroy F. Moore & Simon Manda
Pic Leroy with tan and white shirt, Simon stand behind with a dark brown shirt and Rita (who make the hats we have on) in the purple colorful short sleeve shirt on in Mdantsane Township of East London, South Africa