The first segment of the Playhouse Company’s South African Women’s Arts Festival (Sawaf) kicked off to a resounding start at the weekend.

Sailing Somewhere, starring Fiona Ramsay with Tony Bentel accompanying her on the piano, started the festivities on Friday.

The Open Mic Poetry Session and the Inter-Generational Dialogue on Saturday were major successes with a packed theatre of enthusiastic audience members eager to share their views on pertinent issues.

The poetry session was hosted by Dr Gcina Mhlophe and featured well known poets Bongani Mavuso, Naima McLean, Ntsiki Mazwai, Buzetsheni Mkhohliseni Mdletshe and the young Sbo da Poet.

These poets opened the session an d each performed a piece of their poetry. All received a roaring reception from the audience who were moved by their respective performances.

The leading poets set the tone for a session that, judging by the material recited, overwhelmingly paid tribute to Africa, our Africaness, mothers, and the great women of South Africa – from our Struggle heroines whom we will commemorate on Thursday (Women’s Day) and during Women’s Month, to the everyday women in our communities who overcome daily struggles of abuse, poverty and the like.

The recitals that followed cemented these sentiments as young poets brazenly took to the stage to voice their sentiments on various social and personal issues.

By using mix of mainly Zulu and English, or a combination of both, it what was evident from these pieces that the youth in our communities are not as naïve as some may think.

Judging by their writing, I would say they are aware of the goings on in their socio-political surroundings; are disappointed and angry at some of the social ills such as domestic abuse, unemployment, poverty and the like that are still rife in too many communities; but at the same time they do not feel a sense of helplessness, but rather that these circumstances have moulded them into bolder beings.

Youth who are not afraid to challenge the status quo and speak their minds. They are also very aware of the importance of tradition and culture, and the grounding this provides towards a stable home and community.

The Inter-Generational Dialogue followed the open mic session with Nancy Richards leading a distinguished panel of speakers on the subject of Nation Building.

The panellists included the First Lady, Thobeka Zuma; MEC of Arts, Culture, Sport and Recreation, Ntombikayise Sibhidla-Saphetha; eThekwini Deputy Mayor Nomvuso Tshabalala; writer, producer, and playwright, Duma Ndlovu and President of the Durban Chamber of Commerce, Thato Tsautse.

The panel discussed a host of aspects regarding nation building incorporating areas of development such as emotional, spiritual, education, arts, culture and more.

What came out strongly from the audience and the panel was the sense that although South Africa is still faced with so many social challenges, there is a sense of hope and possibility among our citizens. The forum and audience also identified women as key role players in taking leadership roles in restoring moral regeneration in the home, local communities and the country at large.

Another sentiment that emerged strongly was restoring basic cultural principles that would then be a foundation for moral regeneration. Like, for example, self-respect (especially amongst young girls) and respect of women and elders (especially from boys).

In agreement with much of what the panel and audience’s sentiments were, the first lady spoke frankly, saying we have to be “honest with ourselves” if we want to rebuild our nation. She said part of the problem was an environment of dependency that has been created– for which she said government was partly to blame. She cited one example: the child grant offered to young girls who fall pregnant, which she said was partly to blame for the rise in teenage pregnancies.

Zuma said there was a need to “get back to basics” where, for example, the men in our communities re-assumed their fatherly role over the youth in their communities and children attended forums, like Sunday School for example, where they received basic moral grounding.

She also cited practical solutions like not allowing bottle stores to operate near schools and universities, and for forums such as the discussion session to be taken to rural areas so they “are not left behind”.

• The SA Women’s Arts Fest continues with a dance double-bill on Friday and Saturday, and children’s theatre and workshops on Saturday morning and afternoon. For more information, please call 031 369 9540 or 031 369 9596.