Community members gather to celebrate the life and legacy of Mbuyiselwa Jacob (Jackie) Semela

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On August 14, 2003, Mbuyiselwa Jacob (Jackie) Semela, founder of the Soweto Dance Theatre and founding member of Step Afrika!’s International Cultural Festival, was shot and killed by hijackers in Dube Village, Soweto. Following has passing, community members gathered to celebrate his life and legacy, and Step Afrika!’s 2003 VIP Gala dedicated a portion of its proceeds to the Semela family.


“…it’s a bitter irony that the artistic director of Soweto Dance Theatre was killed in the very community he helped uplift”

– Adrienne Sichel


Death of a Dream

Written by John Matshikiza for the Mail & Guardian, published on October 17, 2003

“Jackie was a friend of mine who I had seen not four weeks before his death, in the streets of Grahamstown during festival time, handing out leaflets for his latest show with the Soweto Dance Theatre, which he had founded in 1989.


I don’t know if he was aware of it, but Jackie was one of the voices that persuaded me that there was a creative life to come home to in South Africa, a set of fresh voices beaming out from a video that someone gave me called We Jive Like This, telling it how it was in a refreshing sector of the performing arts, notably dance. I thought there was something to arrive to, after all.


So when I first met Jackie in the flesh, somewhere around the Market Theatre Precinct in the early 1990s, I already had a reference to him. We were friends and soulmates before we even met.



So his random death, revealed to me by chance so many weeks after it had happened, is a source of deep grief and anger. He was young — barely 40 years old — with a whole creative life in front of him. He was independently minded, intelligent, honest, modest, committed. And he had just begun to make a family — his two-year-old daughter was with him when he was hijacked and shot dead, and will surely never forget those moments for as long as she lives. She herself barely got away with her life.


It is all very well to pour out the helpless anger. But what is to be done? Jackie Semela is one of many victims of the impossibly horrific social conditions we have inherited from apartheid and all the stuff that came before it. What separates him from all those other nameless victims is that I know his face, I know his name, I still feel the breath of his inspiration on my cheek, as if we were still having a casual conversation on the wintry streets of Grahamstown in mid-July.


What, I ask again, is to be done? Somewhere the buck must come to rest in this chaotic society we have inherited. Jackie, and the rest of us, tended to look over his shoulder at the past. I think it is time we started to acknowledge the need to blame the present as well. In so carelessly losing Jackie Semela in the course of a senseless car hijacking, 10 years after we have finally won the privilege to stand up for ourselves, our revolution has surely suffered a dismal, unacknowledged failure.





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Founded in 1994 by C. Brian Williams, Step Afrika! is the first professional company dedicated to the tradition of stepping. Under Mr. Williams’ leadership, stepping has evolved into one of America’s cultural exports, touring more than 60 countries across the globe. To share your Step Afrika! story, visit Step Afrika!'s 30th Anniversary Timeline is made possible by the generous funding of Bloomberg Philanthropies, with additional support from the Mellon Foundation and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

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