Art in a Time of Viral Vulnerability

The Inaugural Social Impact Arts Prize 2020

Just a one-and-a-half meter distance can make all the difference between surviving the COVID virus or a lifetime of trauma. Creative thinkers and problem-solvers have already been thinking; how can an arts-based practice address a pressing social challenge, creatively?

In response to the Corona Lockdown, the TEARS BECOME RAIN, David Brits & Raiven Hansmann, Fiona du Plooy and Themba Stewart, with the members of the Mzansi choir and various musicians of Graaff-Reinet, reconceptualised their awarded mass choir project - singing for rain- at the time of the thousand year water crisis in the Karoo district.

Drawing on the rich choral history of the greater region, the project uses choral song as a tool to educate people about our precious water resources– whilst uniting people in their shared predicament through music. The narrative is a story that follows the journey of a young San boy, told by |xam rainmaker and master storyteller //Kabbo, in a time of great drought. Crying, his tears of grief turn into rain and restore abundance to the world. In an inspired act, Ronelda S. Kamfer interpreted the original story from the Bleek and Lloyd Archive into an epic poem which became the lyrics of the composition connecting contemporary lives to a story from our shared past.

Join the creative journey of this inspiring choral project rousing hope and bringing the stories of a diverse South African community to light.


About The Social Impact Arts Prize

The Social Impact Arts Prize identifies social impact arts practices which are marked by inclusive and expansive participation. Especially, participation of the artists in the life-worlds of the communities in which, with whom, and for whom, they imagine their art projects. Participation by members of such communities are not only measured in numbers, but also in the intensity of their participation; the time spent and the knowledge gained, the skills learned and the inspiration manifested, and without any conditions.

The awarded projects, Tears become Rain, WOLK and PLANTed. were evaluated by an international panel of judges representative not only across race, gender and sexuality, but also originated from geographies under contemporary capitalist pressures of globalisation, defiant populist cultures or suffering from the disruptions of climate change. All the artists of the finalist projects attended an arts residency in the town of Graaff-Reinet, the site of the first awarded projects, getting under the proverbial skin of the Karoo town, and into the hearts of the people of this town.

The photographic essay is by Noncedo Gxekwa, resident documentarian of the Social Impact Arts Prize 2020.

For more information visit:

A Rupert Art Foundation initiative
Photo by Noncedo Gxekwa

Road to Graaff-Reinet

Graaff-Reinet in October 2019 was experiencing the worst drought in living memory. It really was a valley of desolation.

Good rain had not fallen in more than five years and the effects were catastrophic. Graaff-Reinet’s bone dry Nqweba Dam looked like a desert. 14,000 desiccated catfish lined it's barren, mud-fissured floor. In the mornings, if the wind was blowing in a certain direction, the stench of the dead fish would hang over parts of the town like a toxic cloud.

Entire districts of Graaff-Reinet had run out of water. Residents in the highest-lying areas had to queue for water at communal taps connected to a network of newly-drilled boreholes supplied by an NGO. Residents in low-lying areas experienced daily water cuts. Tap water often ran brown.

Large trucks, burdened with JoJo tanks or enormous water drilling devices continuously rumbled through the streets. Perhaps the worst affected of all, farmers from the surrounding valleys drove to town to buy feed for their sheep and cattle at agricultural depots in a desperate effort to keep their starving herds alive. People held church services and night vigils to pray for rain. The drought drummed in everybody’s minds. It was almost all anybody could ever speak about.

Bleek-Lloyd Archive

Tears Become Rain is an adaptation of a story transcribed in the Bleek-Lloyd Archive of KhoiSan Oral History. Recorded some time between 1871 and 1873, the story was told by //Kabbo, a |xam rainmaker and master storyteller. The narrative is the hero’s journey of a young San boy in a time of great drought. Crying, his tears of grief turn into rain and restore abundance to the world.

The narrative of Tears Become Rain comes from one of the 2000 notebooks containing 13,000 pages of oral stories transcribed by Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd. These oral narratives are verbatim accounts //Kabbo, and a small number of San informants who temporarily lived with the writers in Cape Town between 1870 and 1884.

This invaluable transcript inspired this adaption of Tears Become Rain. The visual concepts, epic poem and the lyrical and musical compositions drew richly from the archive to evolve into this moving film.

Photo by Noncedo Gxekwa

Research in Graaff-Reinet

Then a miracle. Come February 2020 the drought had finally broken. Nqweba Dam was 17% full. Skies of swirling grey thunderclouds danced overhead as the summer afternoon rains quenched the parched earth. Graaff-Reinet was green. Homes had running water again.Grass had returned to the farmlands, and farmers no longer had to feed their livestock with purchased grain. There was a tentative, yet palpable sense of rejuvenated hope and celebration in the air.

Graaff-Reinet has one of the richest choir traditions in southern Africa. Boasting a vibrant cultural asset base that is deeply embedded in all aspects of community life, there are an estimated 50 choirs in this historic Karoo town.

Choral music has a long history in the Graaff-Reinet and neighbouring towns, and is often described as the “glue” that binds many communities together, church-going and secular, alike.

During our second research trip to Graaff-Reinet we set about recording as many of these choirs as we could. Without much more than a brief introduction, much to our surprise, people warmly welcome us out-of-towners into their spaces of song. We spent our evenings and afternoons, and entire weekends, in reception halls and classrooms, people's homes and school quadrangles, garages and churches, recording over a dozen of the town’s finest choirs.

A shared love for music and singing is something that celebrated almost all residents of Graff-Reinet, a town a whose boundaries are still - as with just about every dorp and city in South Africa - haunted by the template of apartheid spacial planning. Yet singing is that which has the uncanny ability to form a bridge across the divide of race, class, sex, and religion.

Making a Film in the Times of COVID

In a pre-pandemic world, one of the most obvious ways to bring the people of Graaff-Reinet together through music was to create a mass choir event in the town square. We envisaged a choir of 2500 people amassing in Angel Park coming together to sing for rain.

The uncharted epoch of the with-Covid world came with new, unforeseen restraints. No longer could we the townsfolk of Graaff-Reinet gather to sing on mass. Yet constraints can be a fantastic vehicle for creativity. Pivoting, Our creative team chose instead to make Tears Become Rain into a film.

Coinciding with the lifting of South Africa’s hard lockdown, and when interprovincial travel was once again allowed, we packed our bags and headed to Graaff-Reinet it for a week long “creative residency”.

Firstly, we needed to put together a choir. We hand-picked twelve of the town’s best singers to form an all-star Mzansi Choir that reflected the many choirs, diverse choral genres and language groups present in Graaff-Reinet.

We commissioned the highly-acclaimed South African poet Ronelda S. Kamfer to interpret the story of Tears Become Rain, transforming this story from the Bleek-Lloyd Archive into an epic narrative poem.

In a week-long musical workshop hosted at the John Rupert Theater, our Director of Music, Raiven Hansmann facilitated a creative process whereby the newly-minted choir began to put Roldeda S. Kamfer’s poem to music. Different stanzas of the poem were given to choir members to interpret in their own unique singing styles. These stanzas were then put back together, forming a cohesive song which was rehearsed and then recorded in the mobile recording studio that we set up in the theater. This was quite a remarkable feat considering this newly-minted choir that had never sang together before and that for the majority of them, this was their first time recording music in a studio. This process was enlivening as it was challenging and it is an incredible accomplishment that the choir achieved so much in such a short space of time.

At the same time that music workshops were happening in the John Rupert Theatre, we shot a film in Graaff-Reinet and the surrounding landscape. The three main characters were all first-time actors and were cast by Anziske Kayster, the curator of the Reinet House Museum. Each of the ‘leads’ were important people from the town in their own right. Annie Nortjé is a respected community elder. Milriano Elias is the head boy and of the Narsingsraat Primary School. Allie Jafta is the chief custodian of the KhoiSan tradition in Graaff-Reinet.

This ambitious, multi-dimensional creative workshop showcased the transformative power of creativity and was equally elevating for the creative team as it was for the singers and actors from Graaff-Reinet. Within a week much took place. Having never been in front of a camera before, our ‘street-cast’ lead characters became confident actors. Graaff-Reinet’s most gifted singers came together to form a brand new choir, interpreted an epic narrative poem into a highly complex original song, and became first time recording artists. This is their story told in their words and their voice.

Mzansi Choir

“Xam Rogu Cawi Gera, Trane Word Reën”

by Ronelda S. Kamfer

Ek is ie vyfde //
Kabbo innie lyn
Die lyn wat begin het in die nag
Dié issie bloedlyn van waa ek kom
mý _bloed my bloed kom
al lankal al an vanne vê plek
As Tafelberg jou wegjaag
moet jy hys toe gan

Die eerste //Kabbo
was die ster wat geval het
die ster het nie dors geken
voor hy geval het nie
Toe hy op die aarde land
en water uit die grond uit drink
toe groei hy ‘n hart, longe en verstand

Mens word mens wanneer jy water proe

Die ster wat //Kabbo was
het nie dors geken nie (taken out)

- tussen die sterre met die maan op wag –

Uit die as van die eerste Kabbo
het die tweede een gekom
die //Kabbo was ‘n blom
sy water was ‘n rivier
maar tweede Kabbo was stom
sy taal was ingesluk
deur die sekelmaan
en sy hart is uitgekruis
sy ster is boeke toe
en sy water
in pype onder grond

mens word mens wanneer hy water proe

tweede //Kabbo het ander
drinkgoed gekry
en met sy trane gesing

Derde //Kabbo was in kettings
te veel water les nie dors
maar die reen
is ‘n kinderkoor
derde //Kabbo was gestuur
in ‘n koorsdroom
van water na woestyn

derde //Kabbo moes die hele
storie hoor
die bokkop het ‘n boodskap
en die storie van die sand wat bloos
die son se goue tentakels
en van riviere wat nie see toe loop nie
Die vierde //Kabbo was die mooiste een
want hy was ver van dors
en gemaak van klei
met genoeg water
en sagte sand
die vierde //Kabbo
se werk was
om vas te hou

“//Kabbo die reënmaker
vra vir Agama om Nqweba
weer vol te maak
vra die waterbul om net aan
die dam se soom te raak

dan is it wee ek
//Kabbo nomme vyf
Tafelberg het my trug
hystoe gewai op wind
en gesê
jy soek veniet
vi eeste //Kabbo hie
hy is al lankal weg
maar toe die berg wegdraai
en vyfde //Kabbo omkyk
om te groet
sien hy die maan
die sterkste ster
sy sê vir //Kabbo
ek staan op wag
luister na jou trane
dan word dit die reen
‘n mens word eers mens
wanneer hy water proe

Spandau Kop
in hoogtes bo
of hou van laagtes dop

Spandau Kop
in hoogtes bo
of hou van laagtes dop

in hoogtes bo
of hou van laagtes dop


Milriano Elias
Young //Kabbo

Allie Jaftha

Anna Nortjé
//Kabbo’s Grandmother

Allan Hoffman
Limweli Thamsanqa Innocent Swellendam
Therlow Baai
Wesley Adams
Melissa Sibongile Samyala
Sivuyile Thanda
Natasha Greyvenstein
Marylene van Zyl
Neville Oormeyer
Abigail Betsha
Evelyn Goliath
Chris Bouwer


Eric Peterson
Clayton Bezuidenhout
Zahne Lewis
Marlon Harmse
Rochne Botha
Leon Japtha
Barleon Japtha

Special Thanks
uMasizake United Voices
East Street Congregational Church Choir
Uniting Reformed Church Choirs
Thembalesizwe Primary School
True Voices Vocal Band
Graaff-Reinet Choir

Rupert Museum
The Rupert Art Foundation
The John Rupert Theatre
The Jan Rupert Art Centre
Urquhart House Museum
SA College for Tourism
Drostdy Hotel
Dr. Beyers Naude Municipality

Annie Phillips
Bennie Roman
Bishop Louis Williams
Blue Sky Technologies
Ellen Tom
Grant Hobson
Hento Davids
Karoo Connections
Karoo Taxidermy
Marie Jorritsma
Milona Dorfling
Narsingstraat Primêr
Neco Bokwe
Oasis Water Graaff-Reinet
Petrus Gysman
Prophet Jane Fannie
Relay EMS
Reverend Leon Martin
Rosie Swemmer
Sakkie van Zyl
Sanet van Tonder
Sunette Brink
The Urquhart Caravan Park
Tim van Heerden
Wellwood Farm
Willem Kayster

Narrated by
Toroxo Denver Breda

Poem written by
Ronelda S Kamfer

Head Production Assistants
Jason Wright
Chevonne Prinsloo

Production Assistants
Makhenzi Mhopkela
Thabiso Sota
Thando Fredericks
Emmanuel Silhe Mathenjwa
Mandilakhe Matalengwe

Puppet Workshop Assistants
Lukhanyiso Witbooi
Stephanie Swartz
Temia Jantjies
Keanen Stoffels
Brian Hector
Carryn Davids

Props Stylist
Jen Rubidge

Final Edit & Post Production
Left Productions

Jarryd Duthoit

Title Design
Johann Saaiman

Archie Collier Birch

Animation Artist
Fred Mpuuga

Esther Badenhorst

Director of Photography
Quinton Fredericks

Cultural Consultant
Anziske Kayster

Director of Stage
Themba Stewart

Fiona du Plooy

Operations & Producer
Mignonne Saaiman

Director Social Impact Arts Prize
Hanneli Rupert
Roelof P. van Wyk

Concept Development Team
David Brits
Raiven Hansman
Themba Stewart
Fiona du Plooy

Original Concept & Music Composition
Raiven Hansman

Original Concept & Film Direction
David Brits

Dedicated to Trevor Moos, inspirational community leader and principal of the Narsingstraat Primere Skool, as well as every other departed soul from the community of Graaff-Reinet as a result of Covid-19.