Grace Masuku: “In my culture we’ve got a saying: every parent is your parent, every grandmother is your grandmother.”
On 7 September 2014 at 20h27 on SABC 3, the acclaimed series 21 ICONS South Africa will feature the sixth icon of its second season: renowned traditionalist, conservationist and environmentalist Grace Masuku.
As a descendant of the Bakgatla ba Kgafela people Masuku has worked tirelessly to preserve the tradition and culture of the Batswana people. She has established numerous community outreach projects aimed at improving the lives of her community and restoring their traditional respect for the environment. The preview is available on YouTube.
21 ICONS is a showcase for the South African spirit; a tribute to the men and women who have helped to shape our country and, indeed, our world. The series is part of an annual project which features unique narrative portraits and short films by Adrian Steirn, one of the continent’s pre-eminent photographers and filmmakers. To watch the 21 ICONS promo video, visit: http://youtu.be/U7_9DBTLq0U
Accompanying each short film is a black and white portrait of the 21 ICONS. The portraits appear in the weekend paper on the same day as the film is flighted, and will be sold later this year at a charity auction, with funds donated to the charity of the icons’ choice.
On her selection as an icon, Steirn had the following to say, “Mmakgotla Grace Masuku is a wonderful example of the diversity that characterises a country like ours, which is home to a broad range of South Africans, who have a strong respect for their cultural traditions and environment, while always displaying the utmost humility. She is also deeply rooted in her community and strongly believes in the Ubuntu creed that “without you, there is no me”, and she represents a South Africa that many of us have left behind.”
In an intimate conversation with Steirn, Masuku talks about her life as a community leader whose role as a healer and environmentalist has seen her not only working with key international bodies but also becoming a custodian of her culture. She has established museums to preserve the heritage of the Bastwana tribe. Her desire to keep old customs alive is driven by her belief that losing touch with the moon, the stars and the land is equal to letting go of the hand that guides all of life’s most important processes.
Masuku says that, growing up in a community where there were no boundaries between families, it was inevitable that she should feel an intense connection to humanity. She’s equally connected to nature – again, not surprising, since nature has been very much a part of her life since early childhood.
Unaware she may have been, but there’s no denying that Masuku’s life is entwined with the rhythms of the land around her and, by extension, with the people who share that space.
Masuku’s life stands as a stark contrast: she has always strived to be an anchor of the community, a role she first fulfilled by qualifying as a teacher before going on to become a school principal. While she may have bid farewell to the classroom, her work in education continues in the broader sense: her goal now is to ensure that her people understand the importance of their culture, that they do not lose their essence by becoming beguiled by the conveniences of a modern world and thus lose sight of who they are.