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Thabo Mbeki mourns Lebo

In his message of condolence to her family, President Thabo Mbeki described Lebo Mathosa's death in a car crash as "a profound loss to the entire nation as she was one of the pathfinders of post-apartheid cultural expression". 

Calling upon young South Africans to draw inspiration from the positive contribution that the 29-year-old Mathosa made to society, Mbeki said the vibrant and positive spirit illustrated by her work was an "example of how young people could and should use their diverse skills and abilities to contribute to the development of South Africa".Mbeki's statement, released on the day Mathosa died, was followed by tributes from others in the government and the ANC, including Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa, head of the Presidency Smuts Ngonyama and the ANC Women's League. Perhaps the most bizarre tribute, though, came from Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan. 

"She was an African pop diva who refused to be bludgeoned to despair by her bleak township background and upbringing but was determined to be a symbol of light and achievement through her personal resilience, hard work, determination and focus," he said in a statement. "We do believe that Lebo Mathosa's life is a significant example of a living African spirit and life that shows a people who are seizing the opportunity to take their rightful place in the world. "

Thus there is not enough darkness in the world -- not even death through a fatal accident -- that can blow out her memory and meaning as part of our tangible heritage that has become intangible." What is perhaps not so intangible, and if we can ignore for one moment the platitudes of politicians, is that Mathosa, perhaps more so in death than not, is a representative, and a product, of a popular youth culture whose value system remains utterly skewed. Consider. Two days after Mathosa's death, the former child star and now 23-year-old kwaito singer Mshoza (real name: Nomasonto Maswanganyi) told a Sowetan reporter of the influence Mathosa had had on her career in the arts and "post-apartheid cultural expression". 

To whit: "Lebo introduced me to lesbianism and she taught me how to smoke a zol [dagga cigarette]. A lot of people thought we were an item because we were very close." In addition to these life skills, Mathosa taught the youngster how to wear make-up, how to dress and the "ins and outs" of the music industry. "I became friends with Lebo the first day we met," Mshoza said. "A lot of people were unsettled about our friendship because of her personality and the fact that she was a lesbian. 

When people were laughing at me she took care of me. She paid my rent and for my other needs." Elsewhere on, "Baby" Joe Correia, the producer of the TV show Selimathunzi, said, "maybe 12 or 13 years ago", he had been filming Brenda Fassie in her flat in Hillbrow when Mathosa, then a boarder at St Mary's School, in Waverley, Johannesburg, had dropped in to visit the singer. "Brenda introduced me to her as 'the new Brenda'," Correia recalled. "Brenda had kind of taken Lebo under her wing." And what a wing that turned out to be -- another link in what could be seen as a cultural daisy chain. 

While it is true that, for all the hyperbole in the media this, Mathosa was nowhere near as talented a singer as Fassie, she did develop a taste for the older star's breakneck-paced and drug-fuelled lifestyle -- and fostered an ambition to succeed that was as brutal and unambiguous as the tawdry vulgarism that characterised her early stage performances. Those who knew her said Mathosa would slip out of the St Mary's dormitories at night and frequent clubs like the notorious Razzmatazz at Hillbrow's seedy Europa Hotel. 

Later, living in a flat in Hillbrow, she and the friends who went on to form the ground-breaking kwaito group Boom Shaka -- Junior Sokhela, Thembi Seete and Theo Nhlengethwa -- would spend hours honing and developing their stage act. Boom Shaka exploded onto the scene in 1994, a multi-platinum success story, and came to epitomise the aspirations of the youth of a post-apartheid South Africa: personal success above all else, at any cost, and to hell with the past. 

There was nothing subtle or sophisticated about their stage act -- gyrating pelvises and exposed underwear -- which once offended former President Nelson Mandela so much that he asked to leave a function at which they were performing. In 2000, Mathosa launched her solo career with her album ‘Dream’. It went gold in just four weeks, and the following year she scooped Best Dance Album for ‘Dream’, Best Dance Single for Intro and Best Female Vocalist at the SA Music Awards.


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