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African profiles and photos: Zozo

14 photos of the South African dancer Zozo Mposula. Read Zozo's story below and click on the photos to view full-size slideshow with the images.

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Copyright © Jacob Crawfurd - crawfurd.dk 1996-2017. All Rights Reserved.

Profile: Zozo Mposula

Zozo from Soweto

Zozo Mposula grew up in South Africa during the oppressive Apartheid regime. She is proud and happy to speak the name of her Township outside Johannesburg. “So-we-to” she says, tasting the word once again. As we all know, life has been tough in the South African townships. “Our mothers and grandmothers has suffered so much,” Zozo recalls. But a lot of strength and will to change things also grew from here.

10 years ago a nightmare was suddenly over when Nelson Mandela was released from prison and later elected president. Life conditions didn’t change overnight, but the feeling of suddenly being free is almost impossible to comprehend for somebody who hasn’t tried anything else. The doors to the world suddenly opened up for Zozo and her age-mates. “It was a liberation. I could look at my life in a new way. Suddenly it was no longer up to a white government to decide what I could do and couldn’t do. Now I could actually get a passport and walk out wherever I wanted.”

Zozo finished her 12 years of schooling and got a diploma from a dance academy in Johannesburg. She always loved South Africa and didn’t have any intentions of leaving the country, but a few years later a Nordic/South African exchange programme gave her a chance to travel for the first time, and to pursue a professional dance education. The “Shuttle99” programme brought her to Denmark, where she was accepted on the 4-year diploma course at the School of Modern Dance.

Noise and silence

“At the time I didn’t know much about the world outside South Africa, and it was a shock arriving in Northern Europe. I remember thinking: Why is everybody so quiet? Nobody is smiling to each other or talking. Did somebody die? I came in February, which is probably the coldest and darkest time of the year and I later discovered that the climate has a lot to do with it.”

Zozo was also surprised to see how small, safe and controlled everything is in Denmark. “It is so different from what I am used to. In Europe people are going somewhere calm and quiet if the want to relax. I like the chaos and actually feel more safe and comfortable in a noisy environment. In South Africa, silence is something associated with death. But then again, death is part of daily life a place like Soweto. In Denmark, death is something distant you rarely see at close hand.”

Zozo was looking forward to go back home. But while graduating as professional dancer and getting slowly acquainted to European life, she also fell in love. Plans changed and she is now married in Copenhagen and mother to a son of almost 2 years. Life in Europe is a constant challenge, but not giving up easily is surely one of the lessons she has learned being raised during Apartheid.

Life is a dance

Life changed again. Living in Europe and being a mother, Zozo soon realised that “security” is a keyword. The need for a steady job has forced the dance ambitions a bit in the background, at least for a while. Her first job in Denmark was working at a hotel, but she soon realised that the cleaning wouldn’t get her anywhere. As soon as she shifted to working with children she started picking up the Danish language much easier. Zozo has now finished her language classes and is currently employed full-time as a nursery teacher. She will spend the coming year to decide for some kind of extra education in a field where she can get a good job.

Dancing IS still her big passion and she is always looking out for any openings in that direction. There is not much to do for a dancer in Europe, even for someone who is talented both within African dance and contemporary dance. But a few times a year Zozo is invited back to South Africa to perform with the professional groups “Soweto Dance Theatre” and “Lebohang Dance Project”.

Some of the dancers she used to work with in Soweto are now touring the world with the Umoja show. They made it their way, just as Zozo is making it her way: “You have to believe in a dream and keep dreaming,” she says. “The ambitions and hope makes you want to see the next day. Without dreams there is no point to it all. There will always be obstacles in front of your dreams, but they are only there to make you stronger. Don’t listen when people tell you what you can do or what you can’t. I have been told all my life, but I am choosing my own way.”

© Text and photos: Jacob Crawfurd

Zozo Mposula was featured as "Face of the month" on a 3-page spread in Coloured Pictured Magazine Issue 03-14.

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  Copyright © Jacob Crawfurd - crawfurd.dk 1996-2017. All Rights Reserved.