Maggie: Back when he was just ten years old, Vicus Visser became a YouTube star. Singing a song by the ‘90s R&B group All-4-One. But the nineteen-year-old singer from South Africa has come a long way since then. After his YouTube hit, talent scouts searched the country looking for the young boy but could not find him. Then a judge on Idols South Africa, Gareth Cliff, helped spread the word about the search for Vicus. And two years ago, he was finally found living in poverty.
Vicus Visser: It was kind of a little mind boggling for me, because the time is coming closer now for us to go overseas for the first time. And it is really overwhelming to me. I even get butterflies sometimes, you know. And it’s a great honor, I must say.
Maggie: That great honor was the chance to travel from his home in South Africa to Washington, D.C. to perform at the Kennedy Center. Last night, he performed in a tribute concert to honor former South African President Nelson Mandela and American civil rights hero Martin Luther King, Jr., something that is personal for both Vicus and the man who helped discover him.
Gareth: South Africa and the U.S. share a story, and there couldn’t be a better time and a more, I think, powerful celebration of our common threads than to celebrate these two iconic men.
Maggie: Like Martin Luther King, Jr. here in the U.S., Nelson Mandela is the face of the civil rights revolution in South Africa, a country that was an international symbol of hatred and violence just two decades ago.
In 1948, South Africa’s ruling party, made up of whites, instituted a system of racial segregation called apartheid, or separateness. Blacks were forced to live in poor areas with few opportunities. They were not allowed to hold certain jobs, to marry whites, and not allowed to travel freely and always had to carry a pass.
The people risked their lives to protest against apartheid. Punishment for even non-violent demonstrations was severe – prison, torture, even death. Something one leader of the movement, Nelson Mandela, learned firsthand when he was sentenced to life in prison.
But for decades, the people refused to give up and finally after spending 27 years in prison, Mandela was released on this day in 1990. Shortly after, apartheid was abolished. The country and the world celebrated when in 1994, Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa, marking a new era in the country. Today, the Nobel Peace Prize winner is still a hero to South Africa, as Martin Luther King is to the U.S. And Vicus says he was honored to pay tribute to these men.
Vicus: It is something that I never anticipated or expected would happen so soon, getting the opportunity to perform or even to represent, or give tribute to, Nelson Mandela and such a great man as Martin Luther King, and representing our own people – South African people and our cultures here and our diversity and languages.
Maggie: Maggie Rulli, Channel One News.