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July 9th 1998
By Adrienne Sichel; picture: Montgomery Cooper

Story of an African Queen

MAKE NO MISTAKE Miss Thandi is 100% pure diva. She is the only drag act on this year's Festival fringe. In a way that makes me sad, but mostly it makes me glad because it means that nothing distracts form this goddess of African rhythms.

She is drag that breaks tradition. In an industry stereotyped by feathers, satin, flamoyant wigs and mimed renditions of I Will Survive, Miss Thandi is none of those things. Sure, she's statuesque and shimmering, and she pulls all the right faces, but this woman is a pulsating, gyrating, live-singing tribal Venus. She may say she's Dutch - she now lives in Holland - but the way she wraps her tongue around a click, it's clear she's a Xhosa girl at heart.

Miss Thandi towers over me, and her purple velvet dress is tiny; and when I look at her legs, I make a mental note to go back to gym. Sipping on a tall glass of water, she speaks with a delicacy that directly contrasts the power of her stage voice. I fully expected to share make-up tips with this magnificent chic-chick but our chat was issue-driven relevance all the way - with just a little bit of soccer thrown in.

Born in Port Alfred, Miss Thandi sees the festival as "coming home" and although she doesn't live here anymore, she is defined by all things South African - it's a roots thing, you see. She looks at herself as some sort of cultural ambassador: "Everything I do in Holland is strange. I have to maintain the African in me, just to keep me alive. By doing that I bring Africa to others."

Maintaining the African involves teaching traditional dance, choral singing and working with Fuba (Federated Union of Black Artists). However, the stars in her eyes are only glitter on her eyelashes. This rainbow lady is not knocked out by the rainbow nation: "Our colours must be bound. Everyone needs to give their all to building the country. There is potential but I don't feel that we're pulling in the same direction. We have to believe that we are completely, 100% South Africa."

If dancing and prancing is her life then soccer is her passion: "The day Bafana Bafana got knocked out of the World Cup I was unspeakably sad. I was performing during the match and had to keep running off stage to check the score. As their match went down so did my voice and by the end I sounded terrible."

So, I had to ask: "If Bafana Bafana played against Holland, who would you support?" There's just a moment's hesitation before she dips her head to one side and coquettishly replies: "Honey... there's no doubt - it would be my homeboys."

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