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Prepare for a rousing reunion celebration

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TO NDR Peace Train performers.jpg

A MAJOR musical get-together is on the cards for this weekend as The Peace Train commemorate their 20-year reunion and a film that is being made to celebrate the milestone.

In 1993, Sharon Katz and Nonhlanhla Wanda formed a band and a youth choir for a performance in Durban to promote a peaceful transition into democracy, post-apartheid.

What started off as a small event quickly snowballed into a national pre-election tour across South Africa, by train. And later a post-election tour across the US.

Tonight caught up with Katz who arrived in South Africa last week in preparation for the celebrations.

According to her biography Katz, originally from Port Elizabeth, used to sneak out to the townships as a teenager under the apartheid regime, during which time she saw the now popular actor John Kani. After completing her studies in the country she went to the US to get her Master’s degree in music therapy, where she learnt about Dr Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement, and returned to Durban with the goal of using music to help change South Africa.

“At the time that we formed The Peace Train we were definitely thinking that it would be a nation building project. It wasn’t just a spur-of-the-moment idea. Those were momentous times that we were living in and we felt we needed to create a big project to just shake up everyone,” explained Katz.

Their aim? “It was important to create a spectacle of children to help Mandela and the new government,” she said.

Katz’s and Wanda’s partnership resulted in the formation of The Peace Train which saw a host of popular musicians join the effort. These include Brian Thusi, Jerry Kunene, George and Debbie Mari, Lall Jagunandan, Dan Chiorboli, Mzwakhe Gumede, Barney Bophela and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

The Peace Train also embarked on an array of charitable missions, including building a school in KwaNgcolosi, near Hillcrest, just outside Durban.

A documentary is being made about this historic movement.

“I was delighted to hear about the documentary because it has long been a dream to have a doccie about The Peace Train made. The doccie is a collaboration between a team from the US and one from South Africa.

“Because it is a proudly South African story, we wanted people to know the members of The Peace Train and to find out more about what has become of them. Many of the children of The Peace Train are doctors, lawyers, musicians and in other professions today, and many have infused the spirit of The Peace Train and have become involved in social activism. The children in The Peace Train were from impoverished backgrounds and when you look at what they have achieved today it shows that there is hope,” said Katz.

Having kept in touch with the members over the years, Katz said they had a database of about 100 Peace Train members. They hope to increase this with the weekend’s reunion celebrations.

“We had a band reunion with a lot of the original members of The Peace Train and some of the children, who are not children any more. They’re now in their twenties and thirties and they will also be singing with us. All the original participants, their families and supporters of the project are invited to The Peace Train Reunion Concert Party at The Stable Theatre this weekend.”

Katz said they’d love to stage a Peace Train again as there was a “global need” for this kind of project.

“At that time there was a great need for breaking down barriers that divided us under apartheid. But there is still a great need for the empowerment of communities.”

A first priority, though, is to rope in more sponsorship to get the documentary edited and distributed.

The Peace Train 20-year reunion takes place at The Stable Theatre from 1pm until 4pm on Saturday. Entry is free. The concert and interviews will also be filmed for the documentary.

• For more info and to RSVP for The Peace Train Reunion Concert Party, e-mail Illa Thompson at illa@pubmat.co.za, or telephone 031 201 1638.


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