By Marlan Padayachee
The fun-loving people of Plettenberg Bay stole a march on the rest of Covid-19 plagued South Africa when, at the weekend, days after the lockdown was eased, about 700 townsfolk were captured performing the deft dance moves to the tune of Jerusalema.
And in Durban about 50 women, grounded for months by the lockdown, swopped their aprons for gym wear and had a good go, gyrating and jiving to the rhythmic beats of the global anthem that has taken the world by storm.
Plett or Piet, a tourist-dependent town on the Garden Route, rallied the townspeople to take the gap offered by the easing of the lockdown to level two and danced the town into world history by organising the event.
In the past five months of the lockdown that brought the economy to a near standstill, millions of citizens were restricted to their homes until popular DJ Master KG and his dancing-singing partner Nomcebo unwrapped their Jerusalema Dance Challenge. The challenge swiftly travelled beyond the borders of a cash-strapped country that ranked in the top five of the world’s coronavirus hot spots.
Under-siege South Africans – cornered without cigarettes and their favourite tipple – were busy butting heads with the government over the stringent lockdown as a restless republic revealed its bad habits and worse: alcohol and drug abuse, binge drinking, gender-based violence, reckless driving, and corruption over the procurement of personal protective equipment worth hundreds of millions of rand.
However, there was some socio-comic relief on the horizon as the deadly disease continued its ruthless march across the country: a new social line dance that got the world moving to beat the dreaded Covid-19 blues.
And while Plettenberg Bay did it first, Durban refused to miss out on the newest craze to hit a country still at odds with itself since the rainbow warriors danced to democracy.
Durban women – wearing masks and observing social distancing – came up with the idea to get out into the open and take the challenge head-on.
Here, in a city with many cultures, they decided to break a leg, as they say in the world of theatre and dance.
Durban’s former deputy mayor, Fawzia Peer – who lost her top job after the mayor, Zandile Gumede, surprisingly promoted as an ANC MEC, and the eThekwini Municipality became embroiled in a multimillion-rand fraud and corruption scandal linked to tender fraud – was stuck at home, until she got the idea of dancing in the park to the beat of a song that has become the universal Covid-19 anthem.
Peer, also head of the Minara Chamber of Commerce’s businesswoman lobby, created a WhatsApp chat group of 200 women participants.
She and Nqobile Masombuka got the colourful choreography going in a bid to get the women out of their kitchens: ‘’Our WhatsApp group became the key channel of communication. We were up for the challenge and voted to get out of our homes and get down dancing to this popular song and dance.’’
‘’Just getting out of our kitchens was a breath of fresh air and joining this craze had simply revitalized our bodies and rejuvenated our spirits. Many of us were cooking, eating and putting on the kilos around our waistlines,’’ Peer said.
The inner-city Jameson Park was the stage as this intrepid group of business-minded women put their best foot forward on Saturday afternoon.
Among the passionate participants was aviation school owner and pilot Fathima Khan, who was grounded by the coronavirus outbreak for weeks on end – including a nightmarish 21-day quarantine after she contracted Covid-19 from a visiting relative.
She was anxious to get out of her home, and the challenge injected new life into her and got her and friends moving at the weekend.
This local dance demonstration debut also went viral.
Among the high-flying dancers was Khan’s daughter, Tasneem, who also had also been in quarantine.
This new business brigade brought the busy park to a standstill with their new-found dancing skills.
Social media users say the Jerusalema Dance Challenge has brought positive energy to millions of ordinary people around the world – many still fretting over the socio-economic impact of Covid-19.
But it was no walk in the park for our free-spirited group.
Khan’s daughter, Tasneem, an Afrikaans teacher at Wembley Primary School in Phoenix teamed up with Westville North’s Nqobile Masombuka as the de facto dance instructors who quickly got the troupe into the line-dancing rhythm of the global anthem. Masombuka said: ‘’I can dance, so I said let me do it for my women. I viewed the video footage and, being Women’s Month, we just got to the park and danced our way out of our boredom.“
Since becoming an instant social media craze, “Jerusalema” has side-stepped South Africa’s nation-building and social cohesion war dance and knocked the politicos off their feet.
The 45-minute dance in the park was a showstopper for hordes of visitors and passers-by.
These women have also battled the Covid-19 challenges – shock death notices, the loss of business and income streams, and some, like Fathima, her daughter and husband, Ashraf Gaibie of uMhlanga, were infected with the deadly virus.
‘’It was really amazing to get out of the lockdown and dance around the park while building up a sweat. We were free-spirited and full of fun.’’ Khan said, while Tasneem described it as a ‘’great chilled session’’.
Women’s empowerment champion Vani Moodley spent the days tutoring women in small business online, and cooking and baking for her cricketing son, Senuran Muthusamy, 26, who finally got out of their Glenwood home to join the Dolphins and Proteas on a culture week at the Kruger National Park that attracted 10 000 visitors on day one of its opening to tourists: ‘’I used the lockdown to encourage women to come up with bright business ideas and how to make money,’’ Moodley said.
On the Jerusalema Dance Challenge, she beamed: ‘’It was absolutely refreshing to get out and enjoy the air of freedom. I just loved it and enjoyed the camaraderie and positive energy of our members.’’
Masombuka wrapped it up: ‘’It was a life-changing and fun-filled experience that augurs well for our future business ventures in these trying times.’’
From the beaches of Cape Verde to town squares in Canada, people are still jigging and jiving and posting videos of themselves and others getting into the groove on Facebook, Twitter and TikTok. ‘’The world is dancing together during the coronavirus pandemic,’’ said a user from Jamaican, a compound in Tanzania.
Other users have commented that the song-dance craze has transcended boundaries: ‘’The world has been dancing to its vibrant rhythm. It is so vibrant that it has inspired a dance challenge that has taken social media by storm.’’