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The Lotlamoreng Cultural Village, Mafikeng

Staff Writer
Some years ago, when we had a son studying at Tiger Kloof - incidentally the last student from this country to be there - we used to go up and down to Vryburg, and thereby chanced on this most extraordinary place.

Every now and again we stopped and had another long look - the last time being perhaps three years ago.  All that we could ever learn about the place, it being totally abandoned , was that it had been put together when Lucas Mangope was at the height of his pomp, that the architect and inspiration of the entire project was Credo Mutwa and that the place, which had once been the venue for shows by Brenda Fassie and others, was burnt to the ground during the 1994 riots which, in the end, de-pomped Mangope.

What we never discovered was whether Mutwa had approached Mangope with a proposal to create this most remarkable cultural village or whether it was Mangope who had enticed Mutwa into doing so; perhaps with offers of a handsome pay out but certainly with a guarantee that the necessary chunk of land would be made available, the materials provided and all other relevant costs covered. The final cost of the project must have been quite enormous not least because it could only have been put together over a fairly long period of time. The plan had to be devised and somehow the considerable labour force managed with purpose and without upset.

Not only had dozens of buildings of different styles to be created - demonstrating the differences between Basarwa, Pedi, Tswana, Zulu, Venda - you name it - but the entire complex dotted with fantastic figures, often on a giant scale. In addition, many of the rondavels were extremely large and required vast amounts of thatching grass - ideal material later on when those rioters were bent on destroying the place.

Wandering around the complex, invariably alone, was to be confronted one moment with a complete church with its figures of John the Baptist or Adam and Eve and the next, with weird apparitions, lurid faces and masks and everywhere  presumably symbolic designs representing good and evil, fertility, rain, sun, moon and night. Many visitors - both

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white and black - could well have been completely baffled by this extraordinary unrestrained display of Africanness  and by its attempt to represent the spirituality of Africa, and its inner meaning. Some will have concluded that it was all a load of humbug and that Mutwa was some kind of a nut, or doubted if it really did properly reflect Mutwa's reputation as a visionary and seer. In addition, African womanhood might have flinched at the way that Mutwa had represented it, vast of bosom, dominant and dominating. My own reaction at each visit was always to marvel at the man's amazing versatility, his artistry, creativity and imagination and to envy Mafikeng possession of something that it clearly under-valued. The Cultural Village's close relationship with Bophuthatswana may, in the end, have been its undoing but the fact remains that even after so much of it had been burnt, the  less destructible mesh and cement figures survived as some of the most remarkable pieces of artistry in Southern Africa. Whenever ideas were being mooted for the construction of cultural villages and cultural centres here, I was always amazed to discover that none of those doing the talking had ever visited Lotlhamoreng, even though it is just down the road.

Had they any idea of the sort of ideas that were put into that place? Or of its scale or indeed of its immense cost, both capital and recurrent? Mangope could pull it off because he had tons of cash as well as Mutwa himself. The government may or may not have had the cash at Toutswe Mogala but it certainly did not have anyone with Mutwa's range of imagination and creativity, which might have brought it into life. 

Such places need rather more than the occasional doctor throwing his bones or nubile girls going through their traditional dance routines. Mutwa in Mafikeng created one model - but it was a one off which could not be replicated elsewhere.



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