‘RIP Fire Starter’: tributes flow for dancer

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A man made a brief appearance in the Grahamstown Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday 15 October, in connection with the death of Makhanda dancer and actor Ayanda Nondlwana.

Nondlwana was stabbed in Fingo Village around 5.45am on Sunday 13 October and died at the scene. A 27-year-old security guard handed himself over to the police shortly after the incident. Nondlwana’s death has shocked the local and national arts community, along with family and friends.

Spokesperson for the South African Police Service, Captain Mali Govender, said Nondlwana was with a friend near the Fingo Bottle Store, when he approached three men and walked off with them.

“His friend decided to follow them and he was still some distance away when he was informed by a passerby that [Nondlwana] had been stabbed,” Govender said. “[Nondlwana] died at the scene.”

Nondlwana, who was in his mid-30s, founded and led local pantsula dance troup Via Kasi Movers to national stages, including the National Arts Festival. He and Via Kasi won their way into the hearts of young and old, as they performed across the city and beyond, as well as sharing their breathtaking skills with Rhodes students and learners in workshops at the National Schools Festival.

Many local school children and music lovers will remember Nondlwana as the delightful clowning anchor MC at the Masicule! choral festival for several years. Parents and their young children will have seen him in the lead role in the National Arts festival productions of The Gruffalo. He made history (along with the rest of the cast) with the world’s first isiXhosa version of the show.

National Arts Festival’s Technical Director Nicci Spalding, who worked closely with Nondlwana in a number of productions, said on Sunday morning, “We are absolutely devastated.”

In a subsequent Facebook post, the Festival wrote: “Words cannot begin to cover the sadness we feel this morning with the news that the lovely, warm, generous, and talented Ayanda Nondlwana passed away under tragic circumstances in Makhanda this morning.

“Ayanda was a truly gifted dancer and teacher who shared his talent and passion with hundreds of youngsters each week… His family and friends will feel the loss most. We in his wider circle of arts family extend our love and condolences to them, and a thank you to @AyaNondlwana for sharing his gift with us so generously.”

Masicule! and Access Music Project (AMP) Director Gareth Walwyn said, “Ayanda was a charismatic and powerful member of the artistic and performance communities of our area. His death is mourned by everyone at AMP. We will miss him terribly.”

Close friend Khaya Tonjeni was particularly hard hit by the death of Nondlwana, known by his friends as ‘Fire Starter’. Tonjeni, Nondlwana and Xola Mali formed a Reggae group called Blessed Trinity. Mali died earlier this year.

“These were the people I’ve been the closest to in the past 12 years in this town,” Tonjeni said. “We haven’t even got over the loss of Xola, now Ayanda,” Tonjeni said.

Another close friend of the group, Nondlwana’s Via Kasi partner, Thozamile ‘Rocky’ Mncongo, died in similar circumstances in the same area in 2017.

“We have a problem with violence in our nation,” Tonjeni said. “We need to change that. Fire Starter’s death is a terrible loss to all of us who were close to him, but the biggest loss is to Makhanda, and the arts community.”

Imbongi Dumisa Mphupha praised Nondlwana for his contribution to the arts in Makhanda. Read his poem on Page 9.

Young imbongi Akhona ‘Bhodl’ingqaka’ Mafani referred in a poem posted on his Facebook page to Soccer City, also known as Fingo Square, the site of many of Via Kasi’s public performances.

“Soccer City is a place that knows our trials and tribulations in this art,” Mafani wrote. “Soccer City knows your dance moves, it knows the rhythm of your feet . It’s a place that understand the burdens on our shoulders. The burden of exploitation, the burden of unrecognition and being taken for granted with huge gifts that turn stones into bread.”

Govender said a case of murder was under investigation. Following the security guard’s court appearance on Tuesday, he remained in custody with the case remanded for 17 October. Grocott’s Mail will not name the accused before he has pleaded.

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