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Taking it One Step at a time

Imagine a young man’s journey from his roots in a rural village to the sprawling township of Mamelodi near Pretoria. He is in search of wealth, love and connection, and for the first time in his life, he makes contact with people of other races, cultures, traditions and languages.

He is simply amazed by the ability of these seemingly different people to work together. Through his discovery of the rich and diverse tapestry that makes up South African society, the young man is taken on a beautiful, and at times challenging, journey of self-discovery.

This coming-of-age story is called Umshado – Marriage of Heritage, and is written and directed by the multitalented Bogosi Bolokwe, who is also the director of One Step Productions, the company responsible for the creation of Umshado. The National Arts Council (NAC) has been involved in the production since inception in 2013 through grant funding, and is proud to be continuing its support. NAC funding, according to Bolokwe, assisted the company in the development of young singers and musicians “to expose the hidden talent of artists from disadvantaged communities” in Rustenburg, North West.

Bolokwe says the aim of his company and the play itself is to “preserve and educate about African values, and ensure that the historical traditions are honoured”. Bolokwe continues: “Self-hate is evident among Black South Africans, as most of them don’t appreciate their culture and heritage, especially in urban areas. The West is more attractive to them; they do not realise that we can rise to those heights of excellence.”

It is for this reason, according to Bolokwe, traditions and customs should be regarded in the highest esteem, as they form part of our cultural heritage. “We should all stand up and applaud when men and women dedicate their lives to the preservation of our heritage,” he says. But in a globalised world, where a strong Western influence has somewhat overshadowed appreciation for our heritage, it becomes difficult to maintain, preserve and honour our heritage; and this, according to Bolokwe, begins with understanding the value of the family unit.

“The family institution is one of the things that is constantly under attack and devalued. The institution of marriage is no longer seen as strong, particularly among the younger generation. It is within families that good values and traditions are passed to the young ones. It is within families that love for good education and success is imparted to children. Marriage should inspire more young people to embrace the noble institution of families,” says Bolokwe passionately.

Not only does Umshado carry with it a strong message of unity and tolerance, the production plays its part in job creation, having already created employment for 40 people, mostly youth. One Step Productions also engages effectively with various global arts producers, who, according to Bolokwe, have shown interest by investing in productions of this genre. “Our focus is mainly long-term – to run this production abroad and locally to alleviate poverty and to promote the arts associated with our culture for economic empowerment,” says Bolokwe.

Umshado, therefore, could be seen as a cultural beacon to follow towards rediscovering our culture and heritage, and celebrating our rich diversity. After riveting performances at the Performing Arts Centre of the Free State in Bloemfontein in October last year, the critically acclaimed play will be back to dazzle theatre lovers, this time at the State Theatre in Pretoria from 16-26 November.

So, like Umshado’s protagonist, fall in love this summer with your heritage, your culture and, most importantly, yourself; and revel in the treasures of our heritage.

The National Arts Council Of South Africa Awards R23 Million In Arts Grants

The National Arts Council (NAC) of South Africa has awarded R23 million in grants to 116 organisations countrywide who will receive funding for the next three years in various arts disciplines. This is an increase from the last funding cycle where 98 organisations received three year funding.

To support the strategic initiative of promoting equity in th arts, encouraging to note that 108 of these beneficiaries work with the youth and 50 projects that received funding are steered by women.

The provincial allocation followed the usual trend with Gauteng leading in the number of funded projects (39), followed by KwaZulu Natal (17), Limpopo (15) and the Western Cape (14). Freestate and Mpumalanga both had 9 funded projects; Eastern Cape and Northern Cape each had 5 and the North West with 3.

Furthermore, 36 multi-discipline organisations received grants; 23 in the music field and 18 in dance. Ten theatre organisations were awarded funding; craft received 12, visual arts 7 and literature 10.

A call for proposals for the three year funding cycle for arts organisation support opened in November last year with the arts community required to submit business plans outlining their artistic programmes and budgets for a three year period from 2016 to 2018. This was the fifth time the NAC has requested funding proposals for this funding category. Nearly 500 applications had been received when submissions closed at the end of January.

The adjudication panel consisted of Jayesperi Moopen (AOSF chairperson and multi-discipline chairperson), Kim Mathews (music chairperson), Erika Elk (craft chairperson), Georgina Thomson (dance chairperson), Nakedi Ribane (theatre chairperson), Nontobeko Ntombela (visual arts chairperson) and David Maahlamela (literature chairperson). Further assistance was enlisted from other members of advisory including Nthabiseng Makhene (craft discipline), Londiwe Langa (multi-discipline) and Wandile Mgcodo (theatre discipline).

The NAC Beneficiary Profile is a developementally oriented system that aims to redress and transform the sector. It guides the funding process in meeting the objectives of the NAC. Furthermore it guides the budgent allocation to the various life cycle stages of organisations. The Profile identified three (3) life cycle stages of organisations and the kind of support to be offered as follows; Foundation Phase (20%) for emerging individuals and organisations (0-5 years, Intermediary Phase (30%) for intermediate or mid-carre artist and organistaions (5- 10 years) and the Established Phase (50%) for established artists and organisations (10 and more ermaked for shorter term funding)

Says Rosemary Mangope, CEO of the NAC: “As we celebrate the central role played by South African women during the month of August, the NAC’s focus on empowering and upskilling women across all arts fields continues. Central to our mandate is the importance of facilitating strong leadership roles for women of all ages within the creative industries, where their voices continue to be under-represented. We are proud of the progress we have made in this important sector to date and the NAC will continue to work towards empowering the current and next generation of women during Women’s Month and throughout the year, not just in SA but on the African continent and worldwide.”

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.

Industry head quotes

Heritage month is about celebrating who we are as a people and one way of doing so is through the arts. Having just come out of heritage month we look back by speaking to four arts industry heads on the importance of the arts in celebrating our heritage.

Ashraf Johaardien, Executive Producer of the National Arts Festival
When we speak of heritage, what heritage and whose heritage are we referring to? To my mind the answer to those questions is entirely a matter of perspective and has a lot to do with which side of history you find yourself on. Heritage is arguably, just as much about our collective relationship with the future as it is with the past in that it is an ongoing process preserving tangible and intangible aspects of who we are and where we come from. We do this for posterity — so that they may know who we were and who they are. And the role of the arts in that process is about shaping those stories — and in fact telling them — so that they, and we, can live.

Michelle Constant, Business & Arts South Africa CEO
A recent viewing of the production ‘Ubu and the Truth Commission’ at the Market Theatre made clear how the arts are intrinsic to our country’s heritage and intangible heritage. The show which is going on two decades old, remains a powerful and searing telling of South Africa’s history. Watching it too, one realises how the play, its genre and style, gave birth the extraordinarily ferocious offering, ‘Animal Farm’. Indeed ‘Animal Farm’ is the offspring of ‘Ubu’, it is the hashtag generation’s ode to our heritage, view on our present and vision of our future. We should be listening to its message with care.

Adv. Sonwabile Mancotywa, CEO of the National Heritage Council of South Africa
We have come a long way as a nation to recover our heritage from the relics of the gruesome past. In the past 21 years of celebrating our heritage since 1995 in a democratic era, South Africa has inspired the nation and shared the true cultural traditions of its people with the world. The country now boast with festivals that proudly exhibits African heritage. We look forward to a future where young South Africans can voluntarily defend the country’s heritage and embrace the inter-cultural diversity. Each generation will have their work cut out for them to preserve this heritage that define us. Whether they choose to do it through political intervention, artistic expressions, legal frameworks or any other means that would be relevant at that time, is up to them. The generation of today should do the same and most of all, proudly celebrate African heritage. Happy Heritage Day South Africa! Let us celebrate human treasures and legends as our living heritage!

Ismail Mahomed Market Theatre CEO
The Market Theatre Foundation embraces the opportunities during Heritage Month to celebrate its rich and textured legacy that spans 40 years of authentic storytelling. Firmly ensconced in the former Newtown Fruit & Vegetable Market, the Market Theatre complex with its vibrant performances spaces and galleries continues to inspire, engage and entertain its audiences. It honours the writers, directors, actors and many other creatives who use their talents and skills to share and celebrate the values, histories, cultures and traditions that makes South Africa such a beautiful nation.

CEO’s foreword

Often when engaging in matters relating to the creative fields, we mention the phrase “arts, culture and heritage (ACH)” without paying much attention to the “heritage” part of the phrase. In a sense, the “H” in the abbreviation has become redundant and somewhat of an ornament in our everyday parlance, superficially incorporated into our jargon and lists of catchphrases.

This is surprising because heritage and the awareness of it, to me, is at the very core of many, if not all, forms of artistic expression. By implication, in being at the core of artistic expression, it becomes central in shaping our culture and identity.

In this regard we at the NAC find ourselves in a strong position to leverage off and collaborate with our sister organisations towards incorporating support for heritage initiatives into certain areas of fulfilling our own mandate. Along with the NAC, other implementing agencies of the Department of Arts and Culture, such as the National Heritage Council (NHC), the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) and Business Arts South Africa (BASA), are in place to adopt collaborative and holistic approaches to socioeconomic development, nation building and social cohesion.

An example of this can be seen in the recent creation of the Development Agency Forum, which includes the NAC, the NHC, the NFVF and BASA. Not only has this forum already identified a few projects for collaboration, its creation serves as a means of opening dialogue in the heritage sector in order to identify efficient methods of preserving our heritage. This, in turn, will contribute towards mainstreaming the heritage sector into the broader economy and opening a path of growth for employment. Another example is our involvement in supporting 19 writers to develop manuscripts in indigenous languages.

But conceptualising ‘heritage’ and the broader economic development imperative that underlies enhancing the heritage sector can only be served practically and appropriately from the grass-roots level up. As the primary drivers of what it means to be South African, the youth should play a critical role in identifying the most salient features of our heritage that need to be preserved and celebrated.

But for South Africa’s large youth population to begin appreciating their heritage, they need to be educated accordingly and made aware of the benefits of staying true to themselves and their past. This in the context of a globalised world where culture, especially youth culture, has by and large become generic and homogenised in favour of the developed world, which has had the means over centuries to impose dominant artistic and cultural modes and, in essence, the celebration of a certain eurocentric or Western type of heritage.

It is for this reason the NAC adopted the message “know thyself and you will never sway” for Heritage Month. As an agency mandated to support and develop arts and culture in South Africa, and by implication preserve and uphold the country’s heritage, our central role is to develop people, especially the youth. It is also our responsibility to foster a sense of respect for our dignity as Africans, as well as restore and uplift our people, through artistic expression in recognition of our past struggles, from centuries of exploitation and oppression. It is therefore in our best interest, in looking ahead towards the future of South Africa, to inculcate a sense of belonging and the spirit of togetherness among our youth, as it is only through belonging and togetherness that their susceptibility to negative influences will be diminished.