da THE STAR 11.01.2005
Sir Elton John 'moved'
by Durban Aids choir
di Liz Clarke
International music megastar
Elton John is determined to give "hands-on" support to South Africans infected
and affected by HIV and Aids.
John jetted into Durban
on Monday. The visit was hosted by the Aids Foundation of South Africa
in conjunction with the United Kingdom's (UK) Elton John Aids Foundation
and had been kept under wraps for several months. For the Sinikithemba
("give us hope") choir members at Durban's McCord Hospital, who learned
only seconds before their performance who their VIP guest was, it was a
moment they'll never forget.
Welcoming John and his party
to the hospital's Aids care and treatment clinic with a selection of traditional
songs, their performance ended with a personal invitation from the star
to sing at his foundation's concert at his UK home in July. "Your
beautiful singing, your grace and passion is absolutely thrilling," a clearly
moved John told the 15-member choir, who are all open about their HIV status.
"Seeing you, healthy and full of joy, leading normal lives again is an
inspiration to everyone. The world is a better place because of you."
He asked the choir to rehearse a special song for the occasion, The Circle
of Life, from The Lion King, which he has promised to sing with them on
stage that evening. He was fresh from his charity white-tie and tiara
concert in Cape Town, where R7-million was raised by his foundation for
a number of Aids projects. Dressed in low-key casual clothes, he
emphasised that the visit to KwaZulu-Natal was a time to "learn, listen
and understand". "Last year at our annual fundraising concert we
saw a documentary about orphaned children in Nkandla (a rural area in the
heart of Zululand) and their suffering. It was deeply haunting. This year
we want to focus on hope and the courage and tenacity of people to overcome
disease and despair. What I have seen and heard today has been wonderfully
uplifting," John said. The star could not resist joining the choir
on stage in a final impromptu choral number, clapping and cheering the
choristers. Said choir leader Phumulani Kunene, close to tears: "We
have sung for many famous people during our tours, like Bill Clinton, Michael
Johnson and Mary Wilson of the Supremes, but we have never experienced
anything quite like this. There is only one word for it - magic."
Debbie Matthew, the executive director of the Aids Foundation of South
Africa, said the Elton John Foundation had sponsored a number of projects
over the past two years. "The efforts of Elton John and the foundation
have been invaluable." In the past decade the foundation has raised
R50-million for Aids projects in South Africa. As the star left,
the choir sang Wathinta Thina - isiZulu for "you have touched us".
Choir member Ncamisile Yengwa said: "This is a good man - we can never
forget him." On Sunday, John charmed HIV-positive children in visits
to Nazareth House for Aids orphans in Cape Town and the Lizo Nobanda daycare
centre in Khayelitsha. "He was thoughtful, gentle and interested
in everybody. His visit was just lovely," Nazareth House social worker
Jane Payne said on Monday.