Marlene le Roux

Kirvan Fortuin's killing. How do we heal?

What a sad week it has been, as we have witnessed acts of femicide, genocide and senseless killings. It seems unconscionable that a 14-year old girl could stab a 28-year old man to death.  Kirvan Fortuin was a respected dancer, choreographer, and LGBTIQ+ activist, who ploughed his artistic talents back into the community of Macassar, the community from which he hailed.

The arts is a powerful tool through which to engage communities, empowering them and giving a voice to the voiceless. The arts encourages dialogue; develops creative learning; creates healthy communities capable of action; provides a vehicle for community mobilization and activism; and helps to build community capacity and leadership. Kirvan is the perfect example of an underprivileged young man that developed as a professional and human rights advocate through the arts. He not only progressed to stardom from his humble beginnings, but importantly, generously gave back to his community.

Kirvan travelled the world through his Art and inspired everyone with his activism for gay rights. Just before his death, he wrote the following on his Facebook page: 'I have been judged, criticised, mocked, sabotaged, bullied and even received death threats for being who I am and for the work that I do. Today we celebrate International World Pride Month, and I would like to say that I will always and forever fight for the visibility and voice of the marginalised within mainstream, whether in corporate, civil, commercial or the art world'.

Throughout his career, Kirvan often mentioned his native Macassar, one of the Cape Flats communities created to further isolate persons of colour during the Apartheid Era.  In keeping with this pattern of marginalisation, the South African government ensured that Music and the Arts were never part of the school system during these years. Under these conditions, Kirvan’s journey to become an exceptional dancer--through a community music and dance project that complemented the school system—was ever more outstanding.

Ironically, this iconic and much-revered choreographer was killed in the very community where he grew up and that he constantly gave back to. This native son, proud of his roots, sadly met his end just as he had achieved widespread success in the Arts. When crimes of this nature occur, our initial reaction is often that of sheer vengeance and retribution, often supported by a call for the return of the death penalty. Is capital punishment the answer?

Unfortunately, South Africa is a violent society, with Cape Town ranked as the eighth most violent city in the world.  Our violence stems from many underlying factors. Some thought leaders blame it on the cruel legacy of Apartheid, others on unemployment and/or poverty. Often we fail to question whether it is just due to a lack of humanity or more precisely, the erosion of the all-important practice of Ubuntu— the cultural quality that includes essential human virtues, i.e., compassion and humanity passed on from generation to generation. Over the years, the implementation of capitalism has focused on the ‘I’, while Ubuntu focuses on the ‘We’. Indeed, this emphasis on the individual as opposed to the collective, is often believed to be the primary catalyst of the historic erosion of the values of Ubuntu.

What caused her to take the life of a young man who had risen above his initial status?

Thus, when we consider the just punishment to young perpetrators (also perhaps a word that needs examining when speaking about young people)—in this case, a mere child—we should reflect on what leads them to commit such horrific crimes, such as taking the life of another human being.  What I am about to say does not in any way excuse this young girl’s behaviour; however, it should be noted that the wrongdoer of this crime hails from the same impoverished suburb (of Macassar). What caused her to take the life of a young man who had risen above his initial status to become an active contributor to his community and the greater society?

Here, we have the classic juxta positioning of two individuals with different choices and levels of access to opportunity. In response to these inequities, why are we not creating greater opportunity for young people to succeed and give back to their impoverished environments?  If she had been given the opportunities that Kirvan had, how would she have fared?  As a society, we need to nurture the young, especially the youth staring poverty and unemployment straight in the eye: give them hope for the future, as well as a future to live for. 

In South Africa, the Children’s Act, 2005 has clearly provided an institutional framework for safeguarding the rights of children, as contained in the South African Constitution.  It not only guarantees the care and protection of children, but also clearly defines parental rights and responsibilities and provides for early childhood development.  Consistent with the historic practices of many traditional societies throughout the world, the principles of Ubuntu encourage members of our communities to look out for and support children. This emphasis on the collective good is an essential element of child development.

As for justice for these offenders, should we continue the norm of vengeance and retribution, or do we need to explore restorative justice? This young girl of 14 years of age could likely be rehabilitated. When she is convicted and sent to the juvenile section of the correctional centre, one trusts that she’ll be taught skills to equip her and all other young prisoners with skills that increase her economic contribution to society and enhance her humanness. To this end, may Kirvan serve as an example of how youth can succeed through the Arts, even under the most difficult of circumstances.

Kirvan will be remembered for having choreographed the life of an iconic Khoi San woman, Ouma Katriena, the last of four speakers of the Nuu Language. He made history by combining the dance vocabulary and movement of the Khoi San indigenous  steps, classical ballet, and contemporary dancing to the music of Coenie De Villiers and the voice of Katriena in her mother tongue. In his short life, Kirvan Fortuin has provided us with a myriad of legendary work.

Finally, it is my view that the Community of Macassar has lost a genius, a child of the earth, a human rights activist with a bright future ahead of him, and South Africa, the world has lost a visionary.

Marlene le Roux is the CEO of the Artscape Theatre in Cape Town.