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Project profile: Emthonjeni Rural Development

Emthonjeni Rural Development is a multidisciplinary arts organisation with a vision to provide efficient and profitable quality services in the arts, culture and heritage, and tourism industries.

Emthonjeni aims to develop and market quality products through discovering talent, especially in neglected areas; develop discovered talent through workshops, and adopt crafters’ exchange programmes and product development; create market demand for trade fairs and exhibitions; and forge partnerships with progressive structures operating in similar fields.

The name Emthonjeni Rural Development refers to the formalised transmission of indigenous knowledge with a key focus on rural development. Institutions that transmit formal indigenous knowledge – particularly with regards to arts, culture and heritage – in rural areas are commonly known as “umthombo”.

In craft, for example, producers involved with Emthonjeni are brought face to face with issues that challenge their own cultures, the interpretation of their heritage, as well as the demands of a capitalist economy. As a source of reflection, exchange and dialogue, Emthonjeni has served to unify knowledge and inspire effective and creative training. It also serves as a foundation for achieving social cohesion and nation building in ensuring effective community development.

In this regard, Emthonjeni is continuously in the process of challenging itself to do much more towards achieving sustainable development in South Africa’s rural areas. This is done by offering project management services for exhibitions, workshops, conferences and festivals; providing services in interior design and product development; and organising skills development initiatives, training and research projects.

With activities specifically focused on arts education, Emthonjeni prioritises all disciplines in the arts and culture landscape as per the requirements of school curricula. Funding received from the National Arts Council (NAC) during the period under review assisted Emthonjeni in creating jobs for 10 artists, six of whom are disabled, as part of the Artists in Schools programme. These artists were deployed to teach art at four schools around Nelspruit, Mpumalanga.

Importantly, funding from the NAC in 2015/16 enabled Emthonjeni to effect positive changes in the lives of these artists as well as the pupils they teach, as the artists were given an opportunity to contribute artistically to their local community and gain respect and dignity from learners. Most learners’ marks have improved as their creativity blossomed at school.

The funding also assisted Emthonjeni in contributing to the broader government and international agenda of developing arts education in rural schools. Along with support from the NAC, the Artists in Schools programme is also supported by the Department of Arts and Culture, the Department of Basic Education, Unesco and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.

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