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Appreciating our heritage and living Madiba’s dream

The late, great Nelson Mandela once said: “Our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our nation.”

True to this vision of a cohesive and tolerant society, the Ifa Lethu Foundation was launched in 2005 by former arts and culture minister Pallo Jordan with the aim of bringing struggle era art to South Africa and rolling it out to communities, especially the youth, through creative educational programmes.

Today, the Pretoria-based non-profit organisation manages South Africa’s efforts to repatriate its heritage and develop creative entrepreneurs. Art collections repatriated from across the world have been used to educate South African women, youth and children about their cultural heritage, and encourage troubled individuals in geographically isolated areas to develop their own creativity as a means to overcome adversity.

Ifa Lethu aims to increase the capabilities of underprivileged creative practitioners to enable them to gain access to resources, use services and information, and be innovative and explore new conditions and resources. It encourages the development of South Africa’s creative sectors to create economic growth, in line with the National Development Plan and the Mzansi Golden Economy, a job-creation initiative of the Department of Arts and Culture.

Over the past three years alone, the foundation has successfully trained and assisted 2 300 young practitioners, especially women and youth in rural areas, in the fields of visual art, craft, sculpture and fashion, resulting in successful businesses and trade being developed, cultural tourism being generated, and employment being created in rural areas. Its ultimate goal is poverty alleviation through creative and social entrepreneurship.

Ifa Lethu receives funding from the National Arts Council (NAC) for its innovative Creative Hands Project, which develops creative entrepreneurs in Clarens, Free State; and Nababeep, Northern Cape. The relationship has proved mutually beneficial, allowing Ifa Lethu to continue with its business development of the arts and craft sectors, while allowing the NAC to provide access to rural communities for its national and global partners. It has also provided the NAC with a platform to deliver on its mandate of youth development and poverty alleviation through the arts.

NAC funding assists the foundation by allowing chosen participants in Free State and Northern Cape to achieve social change and economic sustainability, and thereby address the pressing social challenges of unemployment and poverty through innovative solutions in the areas of art and craft. The project targets women and unemployed youth who were earmarked to undergo production and business training relating to painting, embroidery, basic jewellery making, wirework, fabric painting and printing, enamel painting, fine art painting, papier-mâché and crochet. This training enabled the crafters to produce and market their own products.

As part of the project, the Creative Hands Truck was stationed on site to train selected crafters in craft product development and production, as well as business development, giving participants the opportunity to obtain vital competencies for their trade. The first retail outlet managed and owned by the participants will be opened in Clarens in 2017.

The funding from the NAC also resulted in 60 high-end, export-ready products being created as samples for retail markets. Interest in these products was generated through the Southern African International Trade Exhibition, and hospitality establishments have already placed orders to enable participants to enter the economy and become active participants in retail markets. Ifa Lethu is in the process of negotiating contracts with retail establishments in India, Chile and the United Kingdom, as well as with duty free stores.

It is only with such progress that we can gauge the true extent of Madiba’s wise words and understand that appreciating our culture and heritage is not just something rooted in the past, but one that has profound implications for our present and our future.

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