Cape Town - Three years ago Luthando Jeje was Cape Town City Ballet’s most promising dancer. Last week he was found murdered in Nyanga, possibly the victim of a vigilante mob.
“He has been dancing since he was 2 years old,” said his mother. “He loved to dance.”
He became a ballet dancer to escape from the Khayelitsha township, its drugs and its gangs, said those who knew him.
On Thursday, he was found dead at a Nyanga taxi rank, a wound on the back of his head and a bleeding cut above his eye.
Police spokesman Captain FC van Wyk said the motive was unknown. But reports suggested an angry mob had descended on him, beating the dancer to death with makeshift weapons after he allegedly robbed a woman at the rank.
“We still don’t know what happened,” said Atholl Hay. “I’m looking for answers.”
Hay is one of the co-founders of the Jikeleza Dance Project, Jeje’s formal baptism into dance. The Hout Bay organisation took him in when he arrived needing to physically get away from the gang influences in his home town. It was 2004, he was 20 and ready for a fresh start.
“He was naturally talented,” said Hay, who described Jeje as quickly becoming one of the “shining young talents” he had had the privilege to work with.
He went on to perform with the Jazz Art Dance Theatre, collecting more accolades for his performances, and ultimately settled at Cape Town City Ballet where he became a fully fledged member in 2012, soon after receiving the Toby Fine Scholarship for the most promising dancer.
Art director Robin van Wyk said it seemed he had hit his stride.
In an early interview, Jeje admitted: “I come from a very complex background with many issues, and I have to find the strength each day to carry on without all the negative influences in my community.”
He had found that strength. For a year he was the model dancer. He was at every rehearsal and gave it his all during big performances. That was until December 2012.
He was late. Then he stopped showing up. He missed rehearsals, he ditched big productions. They found drugs in his bag and that was the final straw.
“I tried to rescue him, like many of us did during his life. We gave him money to see out the month, to pay his debts, but it wasn’t enough.”
He was dismissed last year.
The time between then and when his body was found at the taxi rank is difficult to trace. His mother, Nompumelelo, said she didn’t know what had happened to him.
“I just got the news that he was dead and that’s all I know.”
She is making funeral arrangements for Saturday, but a family friend said she was not coping well. When she thought about her son, she still thought of the 2-year-old dancing at home.
One thing everyone can agree on is that Jeje had promise. But his bright future was snuffed out as coroners hoisted his limp body into a van.
“I’m both shocked, and not shocked at all,” said Van Wyk. “But this is really sad. In many ways people like him, young guys from the township, live two lives. It’s almost schizophrenic. On the one hand, there is something like dancing and on the other it’s the gangs and the drugs. In the end, it looks like that is what he chose.”