Eoan book ‘tells important history’

“This book (Eoan – Our Story), which captures the memories of the past, shows the way to the future. It shows how important it is today to tell the stories of yesteryear, otherwise the generation of tomorrow who follow in our footsteps, will not find their way. Without the stories of the past, we will never understand the present completely.”

SU Rector, Prof Russel Botman, delivers his speech at the launch of Eoan – Our Story.

These were the words of Prof Russel Botman, Rector of Stellenbosch University (SU), on Thursday (31 January) in the Cape Town City Hall at the launch of the first book on the history of the Cape Town-based cultural organisation, the Eoan Group.

SU’s Documentation Centre for Music (DOMUS), headed by Prof Stephanus Muller, houses the Eoan Archive, and this book, titled Eoan – Our Story, is one of its outcomes.

Amongst the guests who attend the event were about 50 former members of the Eoan Group who were interviewed for the book. They were mostly opera singers who sang in the group’s successful opera productions from 1956 to 1975.

The Eoan Group was started in 1933 by a British immigrant, Helen Southern-Holt, as a cultural and charity organisation for the coloured community of District Six. At first, only elocution and physical training classes were presented, but in later years the Eoan Group performed theatre, ballet and eventually operas.

Their greatest success in South Africa was with opera productions, which they performed in the Cape Town City Hall and later in the Joseph Stone Theatre in Athlone. Today, the Eoan Group still runs a dance company from the Joseph Stone.

Eoan – Our Story was compiled by a committee, known as the Eoan History Project, with Dr Hilde Roos and Wayne Muller as editors. It is published by Fourthwall Books. The book is an oral history comprising extracts from interviews which has been structured into a narrative around themes and complemented by photos and other archival material.

Botman said it is a privilege for SU to play a role in the making of this book. “We celebrate the life and stories of all who were part of the Eoan Group. Art was their tool for resistance and activism, although in some cases they might not have seen it that way themselves.”

According to him the group is a bearer of an important part of South Africa’s heritage.

“Most of you here tonight were part of a history that dates back to the apartheid years. In the light of our history, institutions of higher education – like SU – have the responsibility to actively play a part in the process of dealing with and healing a traumatic past.”

In her speech, Mrs Patricia De Lille, Mayor of Cape Town, said the Eoan Group made an invaluable contribution to Cape Town’s cultural life, and it is wonderful that this history has been documented.

Mrs Ruth Fourie, a member of the book committee whose husband, Lionel Fourie, was a well-known opera singer for the Eoan Group, said in her speech she hopes this book will be an inspiration for the descendants of the former Eoan members.

The evening was concluded with an opera concert in which five young singers, a choir and the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra performed music from the operas which the Eoan Group staged in Cape Town.

Visit www.fourthwallbooks.com or phone 011 482 2899 to order Eoan – Our Story.