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The Diepsloot Arts and Culture Network provides a lifeline for many young residents of a township with an unemployment rate of 75 percent.
THERE is little doubt that Diepsloot has a bad reputation. A congested collection of shacks seemingly thrown on to any available space, rife with unemployment, is the singular impression disseminated to the public about the township.

 

ArtsChairperson of DACN, Papi Motlhompi SathekgeLike any community, though, it has nuances that need to be explored to be understood. And only once you start exploring these nuances will you find the vibrant heart beating in a body dismissed as ugly.
 

This is where the Diepsloot Arts and Culture Network (DACN) steps in. It is the lifeline of many young people in an area infamous for its unemployment statistics. It is estimated that as much as 75 percent of the population does not have jobs; with approximately 200 000 residents, this would equate to about 150 000 people who are out of work.

“With very little economic opportunity, theatre, dance, visual arts and music are emerging as paramount communication mechanisms, developing key connections both internally between the youth and various fragmented communities making up the population of Diepsloot, and externally in response to the isolation of the township from the wider Johannesburg population,” reads the Gamechangers website.

Gamechangers is an initiative by Architecture for Humanity and Nike to encourage community organisations to empower youth through programmes that will promote social and economic development in an area.

It receives proposals from countries across the globe, and selected local organisations receive a grant fund and are supplied with a professional design team to develop the proposed facilities. DACN submitted one such proposal.

Stage
It concerned providing the network with a moveable platform stage that could be transported to various sites around Diepsloot for music and dance performances.

“With a large sector of the youth population interested in participating in DACN, the goal is to provide a place where young people can perform together in a free and open environment regardless of cultural, class and educational backgrounds; encourage social and economic opportunities for artists (performers, dancers, poets, artists, crafts etc) to host their own shows, selling their own tickets; host a venue where residents from outside Diepsloot can be inspired to create their own artistic community,” the website says.

 

Papi SathekgePapi Sathekge and his group Umtonge Theatre ProductionThe proposal was unsuccessful, but this did not slow down the network. Papi Motlhompi Sathekge, who has been the chairperson of DACN since 2009, explains that the arts and culture network is “an umbrella organisation which deals with all elements of the arts”.
 

Sathekge got involved with DACN after his group, Umtonge Theatre Production, became affiliated to it. He moved through the ranks and now helps groups the same way his was assisted. “We focus on disadvantaged areas and people who don’t get the opportunity to perform at well-known theatres; we want them to experience it for themselves,” he says.

DACN was established in 2008 when Global Studio, an international research programme, visited Diepsloot for the second time. Four teams were sent in to work with the Diepsloot community to improve access to information, housing, environment and arts and culture.

Global Studio involves national and international students, academics and professionals in a city’s building industries coming together with local government and non-governmental organisations to collaborate with disadvantaged communities. It is based on the principles of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which focus on the need to improve the living conditions of the urban poor by engaging with these communities and placing them at the centre of development plans.

They found that over 30 arts and culture groups existed in Diepsloot, specialising in music, performance, dance and visual art. “As an important first step to sustainable cultural industries development, the Arts and Culture team helped relatives develop a creative network,” Global Studio said in a report on its projects.

Festival
The arts and culture network was launched by one of Diepsloot’s ward councillors, Jan Mahlangu, and the first order of business involved organising a festival called Diepsloot Art in Action. It was held at three locations around the township and included plays, storytelling and groups of musicians, dancers and visual artists.

DACN has continued to thrive. There are now 52 groups on the network’s database; Sathekge is unable to estimate how many individual artists there are, though, as he says the database is not static.

The artists who join up with DACN receive the organisation’s support as they try to build themselves up. “We use what we have to help groups establish themselves,” he says. “We support them when they create their own events and we act as the liaison between communities and groups of performers.

 

Wssup DiepslootDACN works with Wssup Diepsloot to get their message across“Our main aim is to promote our artwork within and outside of Diepsloot, both locally and nationally.”
 

That is an uphill struggle, though, as the network lacks funding and its tax returns are not in order. “We are still working on our tax documents and we cannot get funding to expand the network until then,” he says. But members have not let this dishearten them, and have continued to showcase their various talents whenever the opportunity arises.

For instance, they were part of the Africa Day celebrations in 2009 and 2010. There are also hip-hop sessions known as King of the Street every Sunday at pubs around Diepsloot, and they work closely with stakeholders such as Pikitup and the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) to produce industrial theatre.

Edutainment
“If they want a specific message put across, they come to us,” he says. “We specialise in edutainment, which enables people to learn while being entertained.”

Work includes WASSUP (Water, Amenities, Sanitation Services Upgrading Programme), an initiative sponsored by the JDA. DACN works regularly with it to get specific messages across to the residents of Diepsloot, such as how to properly use and maintain facilities.

What’s more, Sathekge has big plans should he be re-elected as chairperson at the network’s annual meeting in July. “I am hoping to get elected again so that we can expand. I want to put us on to the map and for the network to be successful.”

This may not be as far off as it seems, as the network has a full calendar for July. Groups of performers within DACN are gearing up for the I Love Diepsloot Public Environment and Art Programme on Saturday, 2 July.

An initiative of the JDA, it involves upgrading the taxi rank with new ablution facilities, paving, planting, furniture and the erection of a pedestrian bridge over Diepsloot River in Extension One, as well as a community-driven performance. Stage Overtakers, a theatre group affiliated with DACN, will be performing on the day.

In addition, the Diepsloot Arts in Action Festival will hit the streets on 16 July. A parade from the youth centre into Diepsloot is guaranteed to get residents involved and bring further exposure to the various groups’ talents, Sathekge says.

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