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By Bonginkosi Tiwane

Digital Journalist

Caleb Swanepoel’s courage steals the show at Naledi Awards

In 2015 a then 19 year-old Swanepoel was attacked by a great white shark and unfortunately lost his right leg.

Actor Caleb Swanepoel was one of the highlights of the 19th Annual Naledi Theatre Awards at the Joburg Theatre on Monday night.

At the end of his thank you speech after being bestowed with the Lesedi Spirit of Courage Award, Swanepoel quoted words his mother told him just hours before the award show.

“Please remember, that if you can take a breath, your time is now…spend it well. Live with the palms of your hands wide open, your mind soft through all and understanding your heart unbound, take a deep breath –in, claim your time and claim your place, each day is a gift.”

His mother, Tracey, was the one who introduced him to theatre and storytelling.

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The accident

While enjoying a mid-year break from his theatre and performance degree studies at the University of Cape Town in June 2015, a then 19-year-old Swanepoel was attacked by a great white shark and unfortunately lost his right leg.

His mother’s words are poignant in how Swanepoel has had a new appreciation of life since that tragic accident.

Even with the lights turned down inside the Nelson Mandela Theatre, Swanepoel’s emotions were palpable as CEO of the Naledi Awards Lihan Pretorius spoke about how inspirational his journey was to overcome the tragedy he went through; before calling him up on stage to receive the Lesedi Spirit of Courage Award.

The young actor rightfully received a standing ovation and thanked his family for encouraging him through his nine-year recovery.

“You’ve dragged me off the couch to make my own cup of tea; you’ve nudged me to water’s edge and whispered ‘try’.”

“You’ve told me that day at a time is sometimes the best way and the only way. [Given me] my courage to continue to adapt and find healing, to return to everything that courage was and is lit by you,” he said to his siblings.

Swanepoel remains a water enthusiast.

Just last year the 28-year-old claimed first place in the SA Para Surf Championships – in the Above Knee Stand division – at Surfers Corner in Muizenberg.

Titled And Yet, I Remain, a documentary detailing Swanepoel’s unwavering positivity, strength, and his enduring love for the ocean was made in 2022.

It is directed by Rick Wall and co-devised with Dougal Paterson.

Instead of succumbing to victimhood, Swanepoel turned his experience into a source of empowerment, undergoing therapy and embracing the use of an artificial limb.

Last year the film was selected by the Mountain Film Festival in Telluride, Colorado in the US for a screening. Last month the doccie was screened at the Cape Town Adventure Film Fest.

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The Naledi’s

Swanepoel also won Best Supporting Actor in a Play for his role in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Other notable winners on the night included the Best Ensemble in a Play which went to the cast of The Promise On Stage (Club Dezza Productions & The Market Theatre).

It was a bit comical on the night when the winner of the Best Performance in an Independent/Fringe Theatre Production, Qondiswa James accepted her award for her play, Retch.

While the audience expected a speech from James, she just said ‘thank you everyone’ and coyly and rapidly walked off stage, leaving everyone in stitches.

Theatre’s most glamorous night was well-attended at the Joburg Theatre with guests such as Dr John Kani and his son Athandwa.

There was a star-studded lineup of performers who provided the entertainment on the evening, which included the likes of Jonathan Roxmouth with the hilarious and moving medley from his hit show Key Change.

Actress Thalia Kodesh opened the show with a performance of I’m Here. While Abel Knobel gave a captivating performance of My pa se huis from Die Kaplyn.

“When it came to judging this year, the judges were faced with a very difficult task, as the standard of productions we see are competing at the standard aligned with fulfilling the Naledis’ mandate of celebrating excellence in the performing arts,” said Chair of the judging Panel, Renos Spenoudes.

A new award, the STAND Foundation Mohlopi Award (in association with the Naledi Theatre Awards) went to the seasoned Gerard Bester.

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