The perennially widening gap between the mainstream (read commercial and ‘inaccessible’) arts and the so-called community arts (often hailed for its people-centred and pedagogical capacity) warrants an urgent response.
After all, “artists make life interesting”, quipped an unidentified artist in Erik Krikortz’s (et al) 2015 Art Workers.
This gap, this friction, or “tension”, if you will, is a result of a number of factors. Key among those is the further marginalisation of communities are geographically further from the more affluent areas. Such disparities impede primarily on rolling out of services, and unfortunately, the arts always suffer.
Against this backdrop, community theatre exists and its proponents continue to make “life interesting” despite rigid odds; insisting community theatre is as important to nation-building as all progressive human activities.
South Africans’ insatiable appetite for arts in general and theatre in particular, are nowhere more apparent than in Cape Town where community arts and theatre spaces occupy an important part in the collective imagination of Capetonians.
There is Makukhanye in Khayelitsha, Zolani Centre in Nyanga, Black Box Theatre in Delft South. The last weekend of 27 September to 29 September will mark the third Iqonga Arts Mini Festival hosted by RAO in Black Box Theatre, Delft South.
The Rainbow Arts Organisation
This structure was founded in Delft in 2006 by its founding “father”, Mhloli Ngabangani, who sadly died last year. A community developer for the government at the time, he dreamt of building a home for artists after following keenly the after-school cultural work done by a collective of artists, mainly actors, in Simunye High School: this collective was composed of Sisa Makhawula, Luvuyo Gatshi and Bongeka Lamani among others.
Mhloli managed to convince these artists to organise themselves into a recognisable structure which was to be named Rainbow Arts Organisation (RAO).
This organisation, the first in a burgeoning Delft, was then conceptualised as a space to consciously work towards a collective vision; to organise and facilitate meetings among artists, plan and execute events, to plough artistic skills set, and tackle the tedious task of sourcing funds to ensure the day to day running of the collective.
It was then resolved that some of the funds must be allocated for proper annual art training where young people could be incorporated and equipped with skills in the art field.
The ‘Our Culture, Our Nation in Performing Arts’ initiative is one such annual project where RAO invites performers and actors who have established solid careers and brands in the industry to kindly run training programmes and workshops (without crowding out emerging talents); like this year’s picks, the legendary Mbulelo Grootman (White Wedding, Forced Love) who is a member of New Africa Theatre Association, as well as Theo Ndindwa, the co-founder of iKapa Dance Theatre and director, producer, choreographer, dancer. The free arts training ensures kids can receive professional training in dance, drama, poetry and music.
RAO has been modelled around the idea of allowing people to serve in the organisation and move on to further pursue other opportunities as soon as they arise. This meant the team has changed over the years though the dream remains the same; creating a home for artists and future theatre practitioners.
Black Box Theatre & iQonga
The Black Box Theatre, better known as Rent Office to the people of Delft (a common name at the taxi rank and one you want to know if you’ll be getting there by taxi as I did), is the hub that breeds these future theatre and arts practitioners. It has been home to two other editions of iQonga Arts Mini Festival; first in 2015 where a total of eight productions were showcased in a festival that spanned weeks, bringing some of the finest talents from townships beyond Delft; including Khayelitsha and Nyanga.
Luvuyo Gaji worked tirelessly to give life to this dream but did not live long enough to see the first show; he died shortly before the curtain went up.
The 2015 instalment secured a performance arts award from the Department of Social Development, largely due to its scope and range, enabled by a decent budget that ensured a much broader reach. Financial constraints meant subsequent editions of the festival could not run for extended periods; as a result, this year’s iQonga only runs for one weekend.
Despite the challenges, the organising team has put together a showcase of the best talent Cape Town’s fringe art scene has to offer; with interesting theatre productions, dance performances, open mic musical pieces.
Among the festival features are Nyanga’s Iziqhaza Art Combination, a traditional dance collective; iGugulethu Arts Project, a dance group from Gugulethu, Isingqala by Mbulelo Grootboom, Isiki lisiko directed by Asavela Mpayipeli, Heavenly Voices Youth Choir, as well as an in-house production by Rainbow Arts Organisation’s 2019 trainees called Ikakade.
iQonga and the team
Buntu “Manity” Jobela sits in a small, but warm office at Rent Office, comfortably clad in a denim jacket with white fur. He is laid back and soft-spoken. He is part of the organising team in the capacity of Facility Manager; working closely with Sinoxolo Njilo who handles administrative duties, Nkosikho Juqu as project manager, Masibulele Ntshinga who handles the finances of the organisation, and PR officer Philani Xhaga. Together their mission is to captain one of the most impactful fringe festivals and help discover gold talent in the dark alleys of Delft.
“We must not assume everything that has to do with drama only takes place in the town; they are here too,” laments Buntu. “But what we have to do,” he continues, “is to involve other people as well, other communities.”
“The impact of the work is very overwhelming. Each time we have something here new characters emerge, new talents, and the more we realise how talented Delft is”
He would know better. Buntu is a hyphenated all-round creative; a rapper-songwriter, stage manager, a rigger and stage co-coordinator, with an eye for raw talent. He has been an active Hip Hop artist since early 2000s as a part member of Delft South Origins (DSO), a pioneering rap crew and worked with Driemanskap, Kanyi Mavi, Jargon, Lush and Vegita. He is a social entrepreneur and ArtsCape Technical Training Academy alumni.
Buntu says “we must build and solidify good relations with other townships”. Against the cut in funding, sadly a global phenomenon, he says people must devise ways of sustaining themselves and their spaces in progressive ways that keep their “movements moving”, to paraphrase anarchist community organiser Jeff Shantz. MC