Cultural Evening: A Song for Rodney

Many of the themes & ideas Walter Rodney wrote about in his short life persist and have relevance today. The last day of the Walter Rodney series fell on South Africa’s Youth Day. We therefore curated a cultural programme – a ‘Song for Rodney’ that featured young artists grappling with issues of decoloniality as a cultural celebration of black intellectual and creative thought. We commissioned original poems from two young artists: Koleka Putuma and Mbongeni Nomkonwana. We asked them to think about the following questions as a prompt for a poem:

  • What does an anti-imperialist politics mean for young people in Africa today?
  • What does development in Africa look like outside of a capitalist paradigm? 
  • How does neo colonialism influence culture?

The two poems here reflect complex themes connecting a brutal colonial history with a defiant present.

Koleka Putuma – Today peaceful, Tomorrow warlike, The next day warlike again

Photo credit: Kike Para
Koleka Putuma is an award-winning theatre practitioner, writer and poet. Her bestselling debut collection of poems Collective Amnesia took the South African literary scene by storm. Since its publication in April 2017, the book is in its 12th print run, and his been translated into 8 languages. Her second collection, Hullo, Bu-Bye, Koko, Come In, has forthcoming translations in Dutch, Danish and French.

Mbongeni Nomkonwana

Mbongeni Nomkonwana is a published writer and translator. He is a spoken word artist who has performed on many stages, both locally and internationally. He is also co-founder, Managing Director, and resident poet at Lingua Franca Spoken Word Movement, one of Cape Town’s premier poetry collectives, with a unique fusion of spoken word poetry and authentically South African music. 

Zoe Moelelekwa & Open Mic

Jazz in the Native Yards supported Tshisimani in hosting, young maestro Zoe Moelelekwa, son of Moses Moelelekwa, in a solo performance reflecting on the struggles of the ’76 youth. Zoe is a pianist and composer, currently studying at the Manhattan School of Music as a Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholar. This was a his debut performance in South Africa as a solo artist returning from New York. Zoe is young and emotive and captures the hopes and disappointments of young people today through his music.

Zoe Moelelekwa performs a piano solo at the Song for Rodney event.

Based in Gugulethu, Jazz in the Native Yards is a collective keeping the revolutionary spirit of jazz on the Cape Flats alive by curating events with jazz musicians based on themes of community, solidarity and cultural resistance.

Find out more about their work here : https://jazzinthenativeyards.co.za/

The Open Mic event presented a moment of expression to young people involved in the program. Here we heard activists through song, slam-poetry and performance.

The event was attended by young students and learners from all over Cape Town. It was hosted at the Surplus Radical Bookshop in Albert Road, Woodstock.

Course content Minisite Visual aid

Youth Arts Toolkit

The Youth Arts Toolkit is a collection of workshops (some online, some in person) that were developed over the year of the Imagining Otherwise project (2020 -2021). This resource is for anyone who wants to use the arts as a means of exploring social justice issues with young people, and includes drama, writing, and creative mapping workshops that the team (Tshisimani, Bottom Up and University of Leeds and freelance artists) developed. We would love feedback on this resource, and how you might or have used it. Please send to info@tshisimani.org.za  

Arts activism

Imagining Otherwise

Transforming Spaces through Arts Education

The #ImaginingOtherwise​ project ran from March 2020 to March 2021. Tshisimani partnered with Bottomup and University of Leeds to run this participatory arts process with young people from the Cape Flats. The project explored young people’s experiences of living in contexts of violence and spatial injustice, using film, performance, visual art and writing as modes for young people to reflect on their world, and imagine alternatives.  

The co-creator collective of young people located in Cape Town’s Cape Flats sought to establish a sense of place beyond systemic identification of place with gangs, drugs and violence. We aimed to challenge youth disempowerment related to lack of resources as consequence of systematic erasure and forgetting.

Together with our project partners, University of Leeds and Bottomup, we delivered arts-based activism and education, with an explicit focus on young people’s participation in the community and a mentorship programme. We built capacity through intensive workshops with local artists: performance, storyboards and graphic novel. The cross-arts collaborative storying of experiences and dissemination enables a wide audience to engage with what young people identify in their communities for developing resilience. 

Meet the Participants

ImaginingOtherwise young people explore Cape Town, introducing their understanding of space and the creative use of film-making to represent people, communities and lives from the perspective of creative makers.

Meet Jayden who reflects on his neighbourhood, coping with the loss of friends to gangs and finding freedom in art through imagining possibilities. “You can escape through art, but why should it just be art? Why can’t our art become reality?”

Meet Gomez who is studying engineering and was fascinated by the architecture of the building and reflects on art, representation and politics in his own life.

ImaginingOtherwise Mobile Digital Storytelling toolkit

Developed with young artists in collaboration with (Lo-Def Film Factory), this step-by-step film demonstrates how you can use mobile phones for telling your stories. A group of the ImaginingOtherwise participants learnt how to make films with their smart phones, including basic green screen techniques using minimal equipment. They worked with artists Amy Wilson and Francois Knoetze who run the Lo-Def Film Factory – an organisation that aims to make film making accessible to everyone (see their amazing work on Instagram @lodeffilms or Twitter @lodeffilms ). These three short films made at the end of our project by the participants, aim to reflect on the intersection of story-telling, film and politics. In the second video, the group shows us the basics of shooting with your phone. These videos are a culmination of our learning about how to tell meaningful stories through film.

Youth Arts Toolkit

The Youth Arts Toolkit is a collection of workshops (some online, some in person) that were developed over the year of the Imagining Otherwise project (2020 -2021). This resource is for anyone who wants to use the arts as a means of exploring social justice issues with young people, and includes drama, writing, and creative mapping workshops that the team (Tshisimani, Bottom Up and University of Leeds and freelance artists) developed. We would love feedback on this resource, and how you might or have used it. Please send to info@tshisimani.org.za  

Arts Activism Toolkit

The final #ImaginingOtherwise project is an Arts Activism toolkit. This toolkit intentionally brings together case studies of innovative arts activism practice from the global South, activities to develop one’s own art activism, and different ways to think about why creativity, the arts, and social justice can work together. This toolkit is free to down-load and  published under a creative commons license. Share widely: we would love feedback.

Reflecting on a year of youth and arts activism

The culmination showcase of IO participants sharing their art work and the celebration of the creative capacities of youth in poor and working class neighbourhoods. This short video highlights IO’s final sharing and reflections from participants and facilitators.

Power of Word

The POW (Power oWord) project  is a short extension of the Changing the Story (CTS) grant. We took up the politics of ‘voice’ using peer-exchange between  two projects – ImaginingOtherwise in Cape Town and Ilizwi Lenyaniso Lomhlaba – ILL in Graaf Reinet. The project interrogated the connection between language, power and social change. We aimed to build deeper sustainability through strengthening bottom-up, linguistically specific strategy that brings these projects together. We used arts based approaches (film, performance, spoken word) as a way of expressing research findings from interviews with elders and activists about language that participants undertook. Participants were cast as artist-researchers with a view to contributing to the ongoing political projects of self-representation, language, culture and education of peripheralized youth. 

The 4-month project resulted in:

  • A two and a half day camp in Simons Town with all participants, exploring notions of language, power, social change, and inclusion and exclusion through how language is used. We explored our own linguistic heritages, learnt more about the history of Afrikaans, Afrikaaps, the hegemony of English, and what a ‘people’s linguistic citizenship might look like. 
  • Following this camp, ILL produced, filmed, and edited a half hour film that collated diverse viewpoints about language and power and social change in the Karoo. This can be viewed here
A research documentary film about language politics in Graaff-Reinet and the surrounding Karoo in South Africa as part of the Power of Word! (POW!) project, implemented by the Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education, BottomUp, and Ilizwi Lenyaniso Lomhlaba under the auspices of the Changing the Story programme.
  • IO participants each interviewed one adult about their history and views about the languages they speak, where they speak them, and what meanings are of different types of language in their lives; this phase consciously set up participants as researchers, and created an inter-generational dialogue about language under, and post apartheid.
  • IO participants consolidated and translated their research into a performance presentation for a final sharing in March; 
  • A final public event which premiered the 30-minute film and a question and answer after the film; a presentation on the Afrikaaps dictionary and the linguistic citizenship research work undertaken by Professor Quinton WIlliams at UWC; performances by the IO group; and small group discussions with the audience) that looked at the following questions:

1. Imagine a future without language discrimination: can you describe what has changed in the landscape? What buildings do you see? What signs? How are people interacting with each other? 

2. What role do you think institutions could play in bringing this future about? Examples include: dictionaries, schools, universities, book publishers, businesses.

3. What kinds of actions are needed now in order to move towards a better environment? Think of things that could be done: this week, this month, or this year.

Below are interviews with two participants and one of the presenters at the final public event of the Power of Word