On 23 April, Africa invited the world to zoom into the leadership and legacy of Yvette Hardie. This followed her stepping down as the President of ASSITEJ International, a role she constitutionally assumed for three consecutive terms since 2011. Welcoming the guests was ASSITEJ Nigeria Chairperson and ASSITEJ International Executive Member Pamela Udoko, who introduced the event’s theme: Celebrating a Child of Africa; The Case Study of Yvette Hardie and added that Yvette could move mountains to make sure that every African child experiences theatre for young people. As such, she said she would leave it up to the Gifted Steppers Art Foundation, a Nigeria based charitable organization that uses performing arts to reach out to less privileged children, to show how much “we love her, how much we appreciate you, my sister”.
Through a call and response performance, they started: “Did you know that the reason we are here is to honour Yvette Hardie?” They then spelled out her accolades including leading the organization through a difficult time of COVID-19 and leading it to the 20th ASSITEJ World Congress held in a blended format of online and on the ground in Japan. They explained her roles as a community leader, a theatre director, producer, educator and cultural leader in Theatre for Young Audiences. They explained that she forged new opportunities for Africa, and knew how to work in difficult social and political challenges.
Niclas Malmcrona who stepped down as Secretary General from the ASSITEJ International Executive Committee in 2008, said during his tenure, his mission was to increase membership of the organization from all parts of the world, and to ensure that it transformed from the Western Eurocentric organisation to one that was inclusive, practiced fairness, professionalism and openness. In this capacity he had met Yvette at the beginning of her journey and introduced her to the African network of ASSITEJ. At that moment he had not anticipated an African President leading the organisation for a decade.
Erwin Maas from Pan-African Creative Exchange (PACE) and ISPA weighed in and said he saw Yvette as a bridge builder for young voices as well as for international cooperation. He pointed out the ASSITEJ Next Generation programme as an invaluable initiative that aims to centre the voices of young artists and said Yvette was very instrumental in shaping the programme.
Emmanuel Dandauara from Nasawara State University said he admired Yvette’s courage and vision and added that he found her to be a very resourceful person, whom he believes is always looking into how the world could be impacted in a positive way. And he said that Yvette carried the voice of Africa everywhere.
ASSITEJ SA Board Member, Ismail Mahomed, praised her for her cultural leadership, even at a time when the country was plagued with challenges that could have possibly dimmed the dream of Africa hosting the 19th ASSITEJ World Congress. He praised her for her ability to transfer skills and said “if Yvette were a tree, we would be forests, and in those forests, there would be leaves and branches, and birds and bees, and fruit, and out of that fruit, we would have more and more seeds – that is what Yvette does, she becomes a seed, out of that seed, she allows all of us to grow like branches and reincarnate ourselves”.
Current ASSITEJ International Executive Committee Secretary General, Louis Valente said that from Yvette, he and many others have learnt the importance of both vision and action. He said her extraordinary love and passion has been inspiring. He shared an occasion since the pandemic where he was sceptical about the idea of developing a manifesto for theatre for young audiences and said he was amazed at how it turned into being a powerful tool for national mobilization and solidarity building.
“Without a doubt, Yvette loved the power of stories to transform lives”, said Mignon Hardie, Yvette’s sister who spoke on behalf of the Hardie family. She expressed gratitude that her sister was honoured in this manner, and shared that she was happy to have been Yvette’s first cast member, celebrating the power of her sister’s imagination.
Sophia Mempuh, a Theatre Maker from Cameroon said Yvette pushed her toward excellence, and said through her motivation, she has been able to publish four plays. And then 8 year old, Keisha Ncube, who has been active in the ASSITEJ SA storytelling project, conducted online, introduced ‘the child of Africa’, Yvette Hardie.
Yvette said she was humbled by the event, which brought so many memories of her interactions with her African colleagues across the continent. She noted that when she first learnt about ASSITEJ international, she realised that South Africa had much to catch up on compared to other African centres that were well established, and at the same time noted that Africa had to be far more vocal and present in the association than it had been. Yvette said she was indebted to so many people that she met along the way; “you have planted in me a sense of purpose”. She then went on to thank her African colleagues, the international community, her Board, her staff and family, and everyone in the virtual room. Most importantly, she had an opportunity to thank her partner, Simon Sephton, who has supported her on this journey.
The event was broadcast live on Face Book and more than 500 people watched, with many sending goodwill messages. Ntaoleng Patience Labane consolidated the people’s reflection on Yvette with the poem below.
Indulge your senses
You who are intentionally starving
You whose souls have been unfed
You who have been deprived of her very essence
Come a little closer to the spark of her heart
It screams Art, Art, Art
I call all who are secretly yearning to learn
How to move your bodies according to the music of her heart’s chords
You who wish to kiss the velvety tongue of poetry
Or You who thirst for theatre, who wish to feast over warm bodies telling stories
She shines this light the brightest
Like an Olympian entrusted with the ancient beauty of Art
She has heart
She flickers in the dark places that have been deprived of life’s HeArt
She is Art
Mosali ho ikana sesali tjhabeng sa Ramaseli
Ho phuthulla pelo sefuba ho ruta ho oka ba utlwang
Ho tloha maseheng ho isa ho ba hotseng
Tse molemo oka unela ho yena
Hotswa botjhabela, bophirima o fihlila
A Anya thuto ho fitisa lefa
Kajeno re Sheba ho yena ho ithuta puo ya lerato
Some says she carries the essence of Ubuntu
She’s the definition of peace, equality and love
She just doesn’t love what she does, but she pours herself infinitely into her work
Ka lebitso ke Yvette Hardie
You are yet to know her
Those who have suckled on her know her as a diplomat, a creative, a finder of solutions, an activist of the arts, a keen and adamant driver of the growth of our young
Her work bleeds art for she is heart
I said her name is Yvette and I hope you remember her
For all she was
For all she did
ASSITEJ SA Chairperson, Lalu Mokuku expressed a vote of thanks and said she echoed the sentiments shared by all and added that more than anything, Yvette was a gift to South Africa, Africa and the world. Led by Chief Ofonime Okon, the Udomariam Cultural Troupe ushered the audience out by playing Jerusalema on xylophone.
The event was co-hosted by ASSITEJ SA Board Member, Lindiwe Msiza, a change strategist, wellness and transformational coach as well as Jahman Oladejo Anikulapo, an Arts and Cultural Journalist who for over three decades has been covering Performing Arts, Visual Arts, Literature and Cultural Affairs.