FESTIVALS

A plea out of Africa

MARY JANIGAN June 16 1986
FESTIVALS

A plea out of Africa

MARY JANIGAN June 16 1986

A plea out of Africa

FESTIVALS

The short speech had the eloquence of prayer. Speaking in the Ontario legislature on May 30 as part of the Toronto Arts Against Apartheid Festival, Johannesburg’s Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, his arms arched above his head, asked

Canadians to impose economic and political sanctions on South Africa to end apartheid. The archbishop’s statement was at the heart of the eight-day festival, which ended last week with a jubilant concert by African, Caribbean and Canadian musicians. Declared Tutu: “I appeal to people of conscience. Please help us. .Our country is burning. Our children are dying.” The freewheeling festival of more than 20 events and concerts brought together 1,000 artists and volunteers. And by winning international media attention for Tutu’s cause, it sent a strong message to Ottawa—and Pretoria.

The immediate political impact of the festival remains unclear. External Affairs Minister Joe Clark, speaking at

a gala $100-a-plate festival dinner, told Tutu, “We share your cause.” But he declined to impose tougher diplomatic or economic sanctions until the Commonwealth’s Eminent Persons Group issues policy recommendations at the end of June. Still, the organizers of the festival, leaders of Toronto’s black community, declared it a success: thousands of people attended the events, including at least 7,000 at a rally at the legislature. Declared festival chairman Lloyd McKell, a Toronto board of education community relations officer: “We wanted the arts community to be the spark for involving everyone else—and it worked.” Toronto artists, joined by international acts, contributed a wide range of entertainment. The week began with a fourhour gala that featured more than 30 performances, including readings by authors Timothy Findley and Margaret Atwood. There were poetry recitals, a film and reading series and a youth forum on racism. More than 60 local bands played rock, reggae, country, soul and blues concerts at 16 local clubs. The festival’s theatre events included Asinimali! (We Have No Money)—a retelling I through chant, song and rhyth§ mic speech of the lives of five Í black South African convicts, g Singer Harry Belafonte, the festival’s honorary chairman, declared, “It is poetic that all this is happening on this scale in a Canadian city.”

When McKell and the festival foundation planned the dramatic week last year, they hoped to raise as much as $1 million for South African relief projects and the Toronto United Way. But Belafonte was unable to attract a major box office act, such as singer Lionel Ritchie. Although the festival did obtain corporate sponsorships from such firms as Xerox Canada Inc., McKell told Maclean's last week that it will only manage to cover its $250,000 expenses. “But,” he said, “we deepened Canada’s awareness of the real issues—and we added a strong voice of protest against apartheid.” As Tutu declared, “There is no way in which South Africa cannot hear.”

MARY JANIGAN