Arts legend Sol Rachilo at 90 continues to produce on his own but needs support

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

At the recent celebration of veteran playwright and actor Sol Rachilo’s milestone, his 90th birthday held at Museum Africa in Newtown, organized by the Siphiwe Msimango  Foundation and attend by close to 100 people, words of congratulations were heaped on Rachilo and his contribution to the development of arts and culture was recognized. Here is a man whose exploits in theatre in particular and writing in general, have added to the rich literary history of the country, and his cultural and literary output is not relenting at age 90. This is indeed a remarkable story of resilience, working under difficult financial conditions, with no support from those who control the purse strings.

You see, Rachilo, despite his acknowledged contribution to the arts is not the type to attract television shows or grab newspaper headlines. His is not a sexy story that will attract those looking for a limelight through someone else, and therefore, his story will be ignored, until that time when his time comes and he dies, and then the powers that be will descend at his memorial service, heaping hollow praises about his contributions to the arts, and as a result enjoy the gaze of television cameras and hog newspaper headlines.

But on his part, Rachilo has lived his artistic life fully, especially with the arts community acknowledging his impact on the arts scene. He in fact has rubbed shoulders with some of the most influential figures in the arts and culture sector in this country as these images taken by photographer Jacob Mawela attest to.

Rachilo however, despite the limitation of resources, continues to soldier on, publishing his books, such as the award winning Nostalgic Waves of Soweto, whose first edition was published by well known publisher Rose Francis, but whose second edition was published by Rachilo himself.  At his birthday celebrations, Rachilo also unveiled his new self published book, which was available for purchase. Rachilo is really a hard worker, who understands that he is on his own, and chooses not to blame anyone for the precarious position he finds himself in, irrespective of his contribution to South African arts and culture over may decades, from the time when he was growing up in Sophiatown up to now.

Here is a man who chanced on an arts role in Sizwe Banzi is Dead at the legendary Dorkay House in central Johannesburg, on his way home from school where he was training to become a social worker. The director Athol Fugard needed an extra actor, and Rachilo became that actor as chance would have it. The rest as they say is history as he has since gone on to assume important roles in the arts, a poet, actor, director and author. Today he continues to produce literary works with little or no support at all.

However this does not mean that this man does not need support from those with the resources, especially those who control the public purse meant to assist artists, such as the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture (DSAC) and the National Arts Council (NAC), especially given the fact that some of the projects they support are so mediocre that their impact is so negligible to the extent that they cannot be anywhere near what Rachilo produces, with regards to literature.

Yes I am aware that Rachilo is said to have been involved in facilitating writing workshops for the youth in recent years, supported by the Legends Fund, set aside by DSAC for that purpose, and yes, part of which was unfortunately stolen by a now late well known playwright.

That was a good move, but more needs to be done to rope in the skills of not only Rachilo, but several others with the right experience and skills to teach young people the skills. Actually what else does the Legends Fund do? It is not good that its work is not publicized to avoid a situation where the only time we will get to know about it is when someone else has stolen the money from the bank account.

Given our recent history with regards to this fund, it would not be surprising If, yet another person is eyeing that account to devise ways of helping themselves to it, just like it happened with the late playwright. After all, they say history repeats itself. This fund is needed and could play a crucial role in roping in the legends to assist in passing their knowledge to young aspiring artists who need such skills to navigate the often uncertain arts path.

In other words, the Fund should benefit, not only the arts elites who will attract newspaper headlines and will attract the political elites to their activities in the arts, no matter how miniscule such projects are in the bigger scheme of things, but also those in the position of the Rachilos of this world. After all, Rachilo once founded and led a school of the arts known as Children of Soweto Arts Centre (COSAC), where young people wanting to get skills in acting were trained. The Legends Fund must be used for such good causes among other things.

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