Journeys and intersections: My Artivism and Activism

Stock images: art and activism can be an engaging mix

It is said that while culture is about the way we live our lives; art is about the ways in which this is represented or projected –  and (for me) also the ways in which representations are suppressed. The canon can sometimes be akin to a wrecking ball on a young mind.

And so struggle is everywhere, I learnt. Without and within … at the barricades and on the plains of the heart.

On the activist side, I followed the breadcrumbs laid by figures such as such as Biko, Paulo Freire, Amilcar Cabral … learning of these at the same time one learned of the liberation movement. They infused ideas, even as I learned of the single-mindedness and courage of the likes of Oliver Tambo and others who found voice & power in the precepts of national liberation. Although I can only frame it this way now, I wove my way through the neo-Ghandian and Fanonist approaches, supporting both but as a community worker leaning to the former with its notions of co-operation, self-reliance & community rebuilding.

On the art side: I grew up ironically in what I may describe as non-culture or denuded culture. A community with very little self-esteem and self-valuing – or where self-esteem occurred in flashes and small doses. The marginalised within the marginalized. My involvement in art and culture is perhaps a response to this …. to growing up starved of the kinds of representations that affirmed, that gave value, that enhanced belonging.

In the midst of this I found a voice from within. That voice found its form and expression through words. The love of words … a true love … came to me almost out of the blue. The die was cast. (From then on, I would go the route of engaging with words and in the battle of words.) And from there, I found access to the pleasures of engagement with the arts.

Artivism was a winding road that ran through engagements with Vakalisa Arts, though dabbling with linocuts at CAP and through voluntary exposure to the in-your-face art and artistic representationsof black consciousness artists. There were direct and indirect influences. From early times, I engaged with the work of Andries Oliphant, David Koloane, Jackson Hlungwane, Helen Sebidi, Noria Mabaso, Tyrone Apollis. It tied in with exposure to jazz and to the influences of musicians like Abdullah Ebrahim, Hotep Galeta, Philip Tabane of Malombo[1], Allan Kwela and later Zim Ngcawana (who I later worked with to a small degree).

In the eighties (to pick a random moment), I worked in the trade union (as spokesperson for COSATU, a position I gained partly as a follow-on to working as a newspaper reporter). I was also an active supporter or helper to the workers cultural movement. I worked closely with Mi Hlatshwayo (See the special edition of Staffrider focusing on worker culture that I edited with him, with support from editors at Ravan Press[2]). This movement allowed me to grapple with tensions and connections between orality/performance work and the written word; the canon versus the rights of expression from below. Here, and in the Congress of SA Writers, my artivism had me mobilizing/advocating to bridge from what Njabulo Ndebele called “pamphleteering the future[3]” to art that awakens the human spirit way beyond the specific question(s)a piece or work asks us to deal with.

By about 1990 (to pick another random moment, one where the intersections, chemical reactions and dance of politics and art was foregrounded), art in the ANC came up for very pointed discussion. Bear in mind that, whereas for black consciousness, cultural expression was at the core, the ANC incorporated culture, underlined its importance, saw it as a vital aspect, but nevertheless viewed it essentially as a support for its liberatory work. These are the questions Albie Sachs grappled with in his paper “Preparing Ourselves for Freedom (See Spring is Rebellious)[4]: What happens when art (of the ANC-based artists that he knew) strives to go beyond the limitations? Would the new democracy give it that space? Will we as artists occupy that space? Will we create the room again to advance what Terry Grove has termed everyone’s right to beauty or to have access to beauty.

***

I now turn to the threads, connecting lines, the spanning truths; the sensibilities, the arteries, the makeshift bridges. These lines represent an ongoing dialogue between the two fields which comprise my journey. The three threads holding together my Artivism and my Activism are Healing, Hope and Creativity. [Some may wonder that I don’t cite resistance as one of the threads. And it’s true, resistance was an energy and an impulse within both Art and Activism. Yet, resistance as a concept has its pitfalls. Too often the emphasis is on what you “oppose” than what you are “for”. Resistance also, when it forms itself into a movement, can become a very centralized and solid phenomenon simultaneously strengthened and weakened by its strong sense of “in” and “out”. Also, although needed to right wrongs and work for justice, resistance can close off rather than open up avenues, exploration and possibilities.}

Healing

There is a need for healing. There is the unfinished business (that has got some if us to ask whether we need another TRC). There is a need to work through and process. There is a need to deal with past trauma. In the corridors of power, there are signs of a wounded leadership whose governance is blighted by it.  There are the entanglements (the webbing, the knots and the complications) between the collective and individual need for healing. In my own writing I use the page (or that open space of creation) as that place of reflection, of working through, and of creating something new out of my pain and the travails we have been through. Nevertheless, where it is viewed as a sense of agency, as “voice” and as the deep-seated power to shape one’s response to circumstances, is also present in both activism and artivism.

Hope

I believe in hope. In one sense, I don’t actually want to believe in hope because it can be sentimental, it can be distorted and it is so often used in brainwashing and in creating false consciousness. But Mary Zournazi[6] and others rework and renew the concept of hope. They refer to radical hope. Says Stengers (2002): “Hope is not about miracles. It is about trying to find  what lurks in the interstices of life (for) life is always lurking in the interstices, in what usually escapes description because our words refer to stabilized identities and functioning.” Zournazi links hope to the idea of dialogue:  She says that … “(H)ope can only come when we live in public and political cultures where there is truly a space for dialogue – that is, a public arena where ideas are allowed and there is a space made possible for those yet to be heard.”

Zournazi adds: “Reflections, conversations and dialogues build new social and individual imaginaries – visions of the world that create possibilities for change. They lift us out of despair and let us take new risks in our encounters with each other.”

Creativity

In my worldview, we are both the co-creators of the world and we operate way beneath our capacity to create. The noise &distortions of life, the pursuit of life in its modern form (both the lighter and darker side of modernity if you like and, in the SA case, both the agitational and the aspirational), choke and clog thecreativity that is striving to find its way out.

Massumi (2002) has said:“ … freedom always arises from constraint  — it’s a creative conversion of it, not some escape from it”.

Edgar Pieterse (who co-edited with me the book Voices of the Transition[7]), in applying creativity to development work, speaks of balancing “purposefulness and provisionality”; he also underlines five sensibilities:

Code switching between multiple registers of knowledge; using a multi-focal perspective in reading reality; exercising self-reflexivity; being empirically informed and symbolically attuned to navigate the material and the phenomenological, and; curiosity.

In this regard, creativity can be experienced and understood as a way of life and a way of being in the world.

Frank Meintjies

Written NOV 2015, Uploaded 1/9/2020


[1] See Phillip Tabane performing live at the Market Theatre: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIbmhZV6xG4.

[2] See theHlatswayo, M., Meintjies, F. with Oliphant, A.W. and Vladislavić, I., (eds.),1989, Worker Culture, Ravan Press, Johannesburg.

[3] Njabulo Ndebele made the remarks in a paper entitled “Against pamphleteering the future”. This essay was presented as the keynote address at the inaugural conference of the Congress of South African Writers, Johannesburg, July 1987. The paper was later included in Ndebele, N., 1991, Rediscovering the Ordinary: Essays on South African Literature and Culture, Cosaw Publiishing, Johannesburg.

[4] See: I. de Kok and K. Press (eds.), 1990, Spring Is Rebellious: arguments about cultural freedom by Albie Sachs and respondents. Buchu Books, Cape Town

[6] In the book she edited, namely Hope: New Philosophies for Change, 2002.

[7]Meintjies, F. and Pieterse, E., (eds.), 2004, Voices of the Transition. Heinemann, Johannesburg

Activism and art … an engaging mix.

Kemp tells her story of resistance

Stephanie’s Kemp’s book, ‘My Life’, is one of a string of biographies that look back at the apartheid period and the role of activists. Such books, when well done, are not just about the life. They are also about completing or complementing the historical detail, adding details and texture to the broader narrative.

Kemp’s writing is unsentimental  and packed with factual information. This lack of sentimentality does not mean the story lacks colour. Many snippets, cameos and remarkable anecdotes lift the text from being just a dry recording. In one instance, from a cell high up, she watches a dog fall into a swimming pool used by warders. It swims round and round, unable to find a footing to lift itself out. By the time it is rescued (at the end of that day), its back legs have gone lame. In another instance and from the same vantage point, she watches a white and a black warder in the yard keeping watch as black prisoners troop off to undertake prison labour. The white warder carries a gun while the black counterpart bears a spear. Yes, a spear. In an early part of the book, she discusses her father’s frugality. He wouldn’t buy a coat if he still had an old on, so Kemp and her mother “kidnapped’ his old one and forced a new one on him. “He had the grace to laugh,” she writes. She also says he taught her to save water, switch off the lights and “wash fruit before eating”. On one occasion, at ten years of age, Kemp went to a Boer festival in Cape Town. One of the festival exhibits, she recounts, were “Bushmen in an enclosed stall” and behind glass. “I unexpectedly made eye contact with a man behind the glass and I cringed at the humiliation. He was old, I was a child. He looked steadily into my eyes with a piercing look that could never be forgotten.”

Although she doesn’t shy away from describing moments of vulnerability, disorientation and fear in detention, Kemp is resilient and stubborn. In her engagements with the police, she holds out, engages assertively and — for an extended period — refuses to ‘break’ and give sensitive information . She only gives a name after a security policeman severely assaults her. While the media at the time of her trial (in 1964) presented her as a ‘poppie’ and a naive person who was misled by others, she was anything but that: she had the resolve, grit and sense of purpose to endure a high-profile trial, to handle her prison term and to survive the instability of life in exile.

My Life begins with Kemp’s upbringing in ultra conservative towns dominated by the Dutch-Reformed Church (places like Steynsberg where she was born and Malmesbury where she grew up). Her father, a school principal, was a staunch nationalist and ‘verkrampt’. So it was rather surprising that after she landed at university (UCT), Kemp joined student protests, rejected Afrikaans and was recruited into the African Resistance Movement which had embarked on a campaign of sabotage. The book describes her claustrophobic upbringing and her transition to an activist fervently committed to social change.

As the police pounced, Kemp was arrested. While she was in detention, ARM member John Harris’s actions — placing a bomb at Park station — caused death and injury. A leader in the movement, Adrian Leftwich gave the names of his comrades and testified against them. His action brought about the demise of ARM and haunted people like Kemp and Hugh Lewin for many years. In one of his books, Hugh Lewin describes his inability to forgive Leftwich. According to Kemp,  Leftwich’s life was effectively destroyed and Kemp herself had to wrestle with what forgiveness meant and how to react when she  met Leftwich many years later.

A salient aspect of the book is Kemp’s discussion of her political views, which included support for the South African Communist Party and passionate rejection of liberalism. On Kemp’s return to South Africa after her time in exile, she struggled with the dominant attitudes in the white community – that, in a context where many white people appeared to take reconciliation for granted, had very little inclination for restitution and often responded with fear and defensiveness to transformation proposals. In this context Kemp had to deal with and overcome her anger or, as she put it, her “burden of hatred.” She also believes whites, even those supporting progressive social change, should be more sensitive and aware of their position. “I am still annoyed when white students jump in, dominating space, their eager contributions not very helpful,” she states, describing interactions in the physiotherapy class she taught at university. “We whites have difficulty listening and hearing. In overcoming our inflated self-confidence.”

Kemp makes no reference to feminism. However, realities of a patriarchal society and the particular pressures and oppression faced by women come through in the text. She tells how she used a ‘towelling square cloth’, which she washed and re-used, as a sanitary pad when she began menstruating. She describes how her parents pointed an accusing finger at Ralie, the first domestic worker in their house, for ‘everything that went wrong’ or missing. Most painful, Kemp speaks of her mother’s suffering and hardship after the divorce — emotional pain plus denial of material well-being.

In the book, Kemp’s path crosses that of key political figures – Chris Hani, Harry Gwala, Joe Slovo, Thabo Mbeki and many more. In one scene, in London, when Kemp states that whites should let other voices speak first in plenary discussions, Thabo tells her: “You are being patronising.” Her story also intersects with the biography of Albie Sachs – she married Sachs in 1966, although they were divorced just before Sachs was severely injured by a parcel bomb in Mozambique. But her story is compelling in its own right – and would be powerful and complete even without the mention of such names.

 After the unbanning of political parties, Kemp returned to South Africa and worked in Alexandra township, Johannesburg, and at a Durban university. She was active in ANC branches but, as she witnessed the growth of division, factionalism and the sins of incumbency, resigned from the ANC in 2008.

It’s a gutsy, well-told tale and Kemp has gone to lengths to provide details, many of them backed up by information in footnotes. My Life is an important book; it stands alongside other accounts of radical Afrikaners who joined the main liberation movements or other organizations to launch militant action against apartheid. It’s an edifying read and gripping in many parts.

June 16 story for teens is a landmark

After a dearth that began under apartheid and dragged on into the new South Africa, we have begun to see more books that are relevant to the experiences of black children in South Africa. But more are needed. Sandile Memela’s book, Malume’s Painting, is a welcome addition, addressing both the need for books in which children can ‘see themselves’ and the need for accessible history on the apartheid struggle.

The narrative is organised as a story within a story. In the outer layer, the story is about a brother and sister, lazing around on a Saturday morning while their mother is at a funeral, one of many in the townships on weekends. Their uncle pays a visit, too late to go to the funeral but not too late (or too early) to have a few tots of whisky and tell stories. Many ‘decent’ community folk would raise their eyebrows at the behaviour of this uncle – what with his alcohol addiction, his bent for instant parties saturated with loud music, his irreverence, his ‘unfashionable’ beret and his repetition of unsettling stories of the past . But I warmed to this old-timer.

In the embedded story, the same uncle holds forth next to a huge picture he has painted depicting a 13-year-old Hector Pieterson being carried by a weeping Mbuyisa Makhubu after Hector was gunned down by the police. The painting is based on Sam Nzima’s famous June 16 photo of that historic moment. The painting becomes a focal point for a story that spans decades and involved hundreds – no, untold thousands  – of people. That story is heroic in parts, tragic in others; it crosses oceans (into “the house of exile’), is fragmented, has many loose ends and finishes on a sad note. “We came back,” says the uncle, “to empty homes, without our parents that died of heartache … longing for their children they thought long dead.”

The story is long but the children are spellbound and moved. The niece, previously skeptical of the uncle and critical of his penchant for telling long-winded stories of the old days, understands him much better. She also grasps what the uncle meant when he made statements such as: “Family is everything,” and; “English neither makes you English nor it is a sign of intelligence.”

Malume’s Painting sparkles in several ways. The story is skillfully woven, the book is exceptionally well-illustrated and Memela’s rich language deepens understanding of ‘what happened’. In one part of the text, he resorts to the poetic form to describe how roles in the township shifted in the aftermath of 16 June 1976: “Teachers became pupils,/parents were reduced to children,/the young became old,/and the old became young, again.”

Malume’s Painting also contains many ‘teaching moments’. The sister’s preference for TV-watching and her initial dislike of the uncle mirrors the impatience of many young people with stories about the bad old days. The story illuminates the ways in which the anti-apartheid struggle was largely a peaceful mass struggle – and how state violence prompted a resort to armed struggle.  It recounts how South Africa’ transition generated widespread praise but – at the same time and for a significant number of people – unease prevailed over those who remained missing, those who died and the returnees who found they had “no-one but ourselves and empty promises.”

The cover blurb gives no indication of the target age-group for Malume’s Painting. But looking at the sentence structure, I would imagine the target readership is older teens, learners between from Grade 10 to 12. Many young people probably learn the broad outlines of the Soweto uprising as part of school history. But the book forces another form of engagement; it stimulates debate and reflection by putting today’s youth at the centre of the story and by problematising young people’s own relationship with recent history. Without doubt, this book – a landmark for how it tackles recent history – should form part of the list of books prescribed for use in schools.

Earth poem

In this poem, I focus attention on the earth. I see the earth as taking her place (in the poetry universe) next to the sun and the moon. The poem is in Afrikaans with an English translation. I’m honoured that Edouard Duval Carrle, an artist I met recently, created this painting in response to the poem.

Painting (40.5 cm x 9.5 cm) by Edouard Duval Carrie. Poem by Frank Meintjies.

Resilience and issues of identity skilfully surfaced in ‘Gau-trained’

Flow Wellington is a well-known figure on the Johannesburg poetry scene. Her book Gau-trained adds to that presence. The book, Gau-trained is about Johannesburg and about the city-region in which the city resides. It captures poetically what we know about major cities in the developing world. They are magnets for people who hail from different parts of the country (and beyond) and migrate to the metropolis in search of a better future and a decent livelihood. At the same time, the cities are often poorly prepared to receive them; their plans for roads, houses, schools are often several years or even decades behind the wave. And those who come must (for a seemingly indeterminate period) use all their resources to keep the flame of hope alive amidst the precariousness that afflicts the poor and marginalised. Those who come — we now know — are a self-selected group: they are the ones who are more resilient, determined and entrepreneurial, and, indeed, we can learn much from them.

Flow translates this story into a captivating creative work.  She gives it her own slant. She makes the story concrete and visceral by her close observation and her skill with words. I showed my 16-year-old daughter the Park Station poem. Not knowing the churning of emotions, edginess, bustle, hopes and fears that happen at Park station, she said she found the poem “dramatic”. And yes, that experience of in-your-face descriptions speaks to the grittiness and immediacy that comes through in many of the poems in Gau-trained.

At one of the launches (Saturday, February 24, 2018), Flow described herself as a storyteller. The storyteller’s skill is to draw everyone around; he or she lays great store by communicability. Although Flow’s poetry uses figurative devices and images/references that make you see old things in new ways, there is also great communicability in her writing. It is the kind of writing that can have old and young sitting together, nodding and finding points of identification.  In this sense, storytelling taps into our being human; in the hands of a great storyteller, even if the narrative is about something more brutal and rawer than we have personally experienced, we can — even in small ways — relate.

This book is divided into sections that in themselves constitute a narrative arc: The Platform, Derailed, Crossroads and Full Steam Ahead. With all the poems, we see images of the city: the high-rise buildings, the sex-work, the “doctors” that promise penis enlargements, the feelings of depression, women’s particular insecurity in the city, the hustling and the many instances of people ‘making a plan’.  The poetry is written in a manner that you can smell the smells, feel the claustrophobia of cramped space, touch the stickiness of drool on a train-station bench and hear the sirens ringing in your ears. In one of the poems, “Second Floor”, the birds have nests (a space that provides some ‘holding’ and repose) while at street level there is “women screaming” and people being robbed for “small change”.  The contrasts that arise from these observations, as well as the poet’s reaction, gives this poem clout.

As the poems roll out in the book, one gets a sense of the poet becoming more resilient, on the one hand, and clearer about her positionality in this, on the other.  In one of the poems, the poet states: “Drink your tears when your heart begins to parch/And blood is cleansed by oxygen;/ so breathe  … breathe and exhale the toxins of your conditioning.”  One gets a sense that the poet is crafting her resilience as much as she is fashioning poems.

But this movement (towards a greater sense of comfort and belonging) is not a straight line; progress is interrupted by depression, identity issues and a discovery — during return trips to Port Elizabeth — that “where I’m from” is not the same anymore. The identity poems are particularly engaging. These poems add an additional core of authenticity; they convey the sense of ‘finding of self’  and a continued grappling,  the very sensibilities which often fuel powerful works of art.  In “Mixed Enough”, the poet speaks about having names thrust on her and issues of acceptance/being properly accepted within the melting pot that is Johannesburg: “They call me yellow bone here/Where I grew up, I was brown skinned”.  The poem ends without resolution and with the poet taking note of the unenviable distinction of being a novelty at social gatherings and of being “(j)ust mixed enough” to be accommodated.

The poem, “Afrika Kind”, also in the book section called Crossroads, continues with this theme of searching for the truth about self and finding acceptance. The poem, in Afrikaans, exhorts the poet (or indeed any child of Khoi descent) to stop hiding her beauty behind relaxers and concealing mother-tongue rhythms behind the constant use of lingua francas. Through this poem, the poet situates/defines poetic works like the ones in Gau-trained, and indeed much of the storytelling tradition, as a connection between the ancient bloodline of the Khoi and the culture, creativity and humanity of the entire continent.

The last section of the book, entitled Full Steam Ahead, is less about an easy resolution and the gold-filled potjie at the rainbow’s end. Rather, it is about the ways of carrying on and, despite the scars and continuing turbulence, finding ways to face the future. It is about finding meaning (a factor so critical to elevating human existence, as Viktor Frankl has noted) and moments of pleasure and happiness that are still there for the taking. In “Instructions for Chaos”, Flow advises those who  want to make it in the concrete jungle to live life to the fullest, to “wear your cap back to front”, to “show your bra straps,” to “bulldoze boardrooms in a doek” and to speak out when words of courage are needed.

Connie Ngcaba tells how she survived & fought apartheid

Connie Manse Ngcaba’s book, the story of her life titled May I Have This Dance, is a stirring and inspirational read. This book demonstrates again the contribution by many ordinary people to the overthrow of the apartheid regime. By ‘ordinary’ I mean those who aren’t recognisable as the big names of the struggle or the transition and people who have not occupied top posts in the ANC and other liberation  movements.

May I Have This Dance describes facets of life in the Eastern Cape under apartheid. The book remains compelling because Connie’s telling is granular and particular. In that tough social milieu, Connie plugged away at her desired career in nursing and at her ambitions to have a family. Along the way she endured many obstacles and not a few setbacks. Her life as a child was hard. After her father died, she was sent as a young girl to stay with an aunt, Mamkhulu. Life there was rule-driven, and the children toiled to help the aunt run the many activities on her smallholding. Children had to fetch water, gather eggs, take the sheep out for grazing, milk cows, pound maize and help with kitchen work.

For Connie, the crunch — in terms of pricks of awareness — came when she entered nursing studies and the profession. It was a rough ride without a safety belt. She encountered racism by members of the white management team; she also encountered systemic discrimination in the differential treatment of white and black patients and the subjugation of black nurses. She became outspoken, which triggered further unjust treatment against her. He outspokenness was born out of a natural sense of what was right and what was wrong.

A strong thread through the book is the love story of Connie and Sol. He, the handsome dancing instructor that caught that attention of many other nurses, deepened her political understanding — only for Connie to later become the more active, outspoken and persecuted of the pair. Her sons also become active and suffered detention without trial during one of the bitter states of emergency in the eighties. The book relates how one of her sons, Andile, crossed the border to join MK; he later returned to become director-general of the Department of Communications in the democratic government.

Connie comes across as a stoic and austere person. In pursuit of her goals (being successful at community work, nursing and building the family unit), there was hardly a time in her adult life when she wasn’t hardworking and focused. In this regard, she remained true to the values she learned at an early age from Mamkhulu’s farm. Despite her rugged determination and intimidating seriousness, she did take pleasure in dancing, time with family and making friends.

People like Connie carried the struggle forward through small acts of organizing and resistance. The cumulative effect of such actions taken by hundreds of thousands of people made apartheid unworkable and contributed in no small way to the downfall of the Botha and de Klerk regimes. At the same time, most of these grassroots stalwarts remain unsung, their stories present within but largely submerged beneath, the broad narrative. In particular, the voices of women are insufficiently heard and their actions in fighting apartheid inadequately acknowledged. I trust many will read Connie’s book and, of those, a good number of people would be inspired to write their own stories (autobiography, testimony or even just the snippets that form part of ‘life-writing’) of survival, activism and organizing for justice in South Africa.

Capacity building in SA over 20 years

This article was first published on Sangonet on 28 July 2010.

The Community Based Development Programme (CBDP) in 2009 celebrated 20 years of existence. The organisation was launched during the latter stages of apartheid rule, and played a critical role in the transition and preparations for the changeover. A joint venture by Kagiso Trust and Wits university and the brainchild of Achmat Dangor and David Adler, the CBDP anticipated the need for high and middle level management skills to complement leadership abilities.

When the transition came, CBDP ‘graduates’ were part of the many activists who went into government. Alumni are in local, provincial and national government, and it is our belief that they are better prepared for their roles there than they otherwise would have been.  During the management training they received, emphasis was placed on planning, budgeting, and management of projects.

In the nineties, the organisation formally adopted the slogan, “Are we ready to govern?’ This slogan was taken directly from Trevor Manual (later Finance Minister Trevor Manual) who had made this the subject of his seminar series when he lectured at CBDP. Manual engaged with the students and, together with other lecturers, often challenged students to indicate how fulfilling the demands of the Freedom Charter were to be funded. In those days, it was the norm to point to a bloated ‘Defence’ budget and to argue that such monies would be redeployed to ensure housing for all and that the doors of learning and culture would be opened. The point Manual was already making then was that leadership and management (‘governing’) involved making tough choices – prioritizing even when it seemed impossible to, and getting results despite constraints. 

CPDP operated in heady times. The social movements and the trade unions were in full bloom. There was secrecy and intrigue as the ANC strengthened its interface with above-ground politics, the black consciousness movers and shakers were articulate in debates and government repression attacked freedom of speech while the third force seemed to kill at will in the dead of night. The programme had bumpy rides: hot debates in the classroom, class boycotts over security police presence near the class venue, arguments with activists who neglected their studies in favour of mobilizing work, and disputes over whether the new SA would be able to meet Freedom Charter demands if the economy did not grow rapidly. Interspersed between concrete training on “how to manage” students held fervent debates. Although most favoured socialism, students could not avoid lively debate on socialism versus capitalism versus a mixed economy. Of course, being based at a business school, it was often up to visiting lecturers from the school to defend capitalism – either as devil’s advocate or apologist – and in at least one case this led to a class walkout.

The management of CBDP needed to – and did – have a clear vision. Although part of the democratic movement and favouring redress and transformation, the Board and management agreed that proper training in effective management was of critical importance.  In this regard, learning included reference to research, models and management thinking in management practice and teaching worldwide. Management insisted on using the term managers, at a time when NGOs preferred the term co-ordinators and “management”, moreso than now, was a swear word to trade unions. Thirdly, the CBDP training team, led by David Adler and subsequent directors, rejected rhetorical responses, empty slogans, and claims which could not be substantiated. In this regard, many activists from community organisations were shocked when on their first day at class they were asked questions such as: “In what way are you community based?”, “What does ‘consulted the community’ mean?”  and “whom do you define as ‘the people’?” The anger subsided and the learning continued, and to this day, all the students have nothing but praise for the learning obtained.

CBDP itself has been affected by the societal transformation and has negotiated profound changes if its own. It has over time given up its link with Wits University. It also no longer runs the certificated management training programme; in the last ten years it has focused on community based training in a programme called Community Empowerment for Development (“CEFD”). In this training it works with representatives from organizations in specific communities, and it situates training in the context of area based participatory planning. The management training aspect is still there – perhaps at a different level – but it is strongly augmented by processes of community empowerment.

Of late CBDP has again considered the need for a management training course for managers of NGOs. It has noted the huge challenges facing non-governmental development organizations, including declining resources, relative marginalization from policy processes and the sustained effects of its loss of leadership to the democratic government since 1994. CBDP is currently exploring a new programme, a diploma-based Development Management Course. It is currently engaged in consultations with the sector and the School of Public and Development Management  at Wits University. And because many NGOs are too cash strapped to pay the real costs of such training, CBDP is also busy mobilising donor support.

CBDP has achieved much: it has trained scores of persons in management skills, many of them from disadvantaged backgrounds, it has successfully completed numerous community empowerment processes and each year its work results in the launch of livelihood projects in communities in different parts of the country.

CBDP is a proud partner of civil society, and 20 years on, remains fundamentally committed to the strengthening of the sector. Although government and the private sector have central roles, the non-profit sector remains a critical resource and vital base of capacity in a society where distribution and delivery has fallen behind, and where the private sector has so far not contributed nearly enough to broad based social inclusion. (by F.Meintjies – A former executive director and board member of CBDP)  

Participation in Arts and Society seminar

In late 2015 I had the opportunity to participate in a seminar on social transformation through the arts. The seminar or colloquium was convened by Cynthia Cohen, Michelle LeBaron and Kim Berman.

The event took place at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) from 30 November to 5 December 2015. You can see a list of participants here: http://www.socialtransformation.pwias.ubc.ca/ .

The event examined practice in the light of theory and vice versa. It explored the role of arts in creating resilience, in strengthening possibilities for reconciliation after conflict as well as in forging compelling narratives about social justice in contexts of inequality.

My contribution focused on the persistent challenges of inequality, gender/racial strife and ongoing marginalisation in South Africa circa 2015 and the ways the arts might relate to this. Using my own creative work as a reference point, I wondered how the arts could work against avoidance of burning issues and at the same time help open up new possibilities rooted in deeper understandings of and emphasis on our shared humanity. I held out the possibility that artists can simultaneously adopt both the role of the clear and strong voice, on the one hand, and be willing to be vulnerable and create channels of deeper communication, on the other?

Participants explored work on the ground as well as thinking frameworks. They further saw the STIAS event as a springboard for further inter-disciplinary and intercultural conversation on what it means to be human in times of great upheaval, and the role of arts in social change.

Frank Meintjies, arts & culture, profile

Frank Meintjies is based in Johannesburg and currently works as an independent development consultant. Before that, he was based for several years at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, coordinating one of its global campaigns. Starting out in COSATU, Frank has spent 13 years in the field of improving organisational effectiveness and in human resource development. He has worked at senior level in the new democratic government, at Deloitte Consulting and in developmental and educational organisations.

Frank Meintjies is member of the Association of Non-Fiction Authors of South Africa and writes commentary on social, organisational and cultural issues. He has also, over the decades, been active in the arts world through writing and other activities.

He has been guest editor of Staffrider magazine, was a founder board member of Zimology Music Development Institute (providing music training). He formed part of a reference group for an in-depth HSRC study on the visual arts in South Africa (2010), cited as the first major study into the visual arts in South Africa. He also gave  input to Culture and the Right to the City (2008), a study undertaken for Isandla Institute by Zayd Minty.
Frank’s poetry has featured in various anthologies. In 2009, he released My Rainbow, a poetry collection that spanned poems from early years and more recent work. His latest work, Connexions, builds on the wide range of themes that appeared in his previous work. Frank was a columnist for the Sunday Times from 1998 to 2001. He was co-editor of a book, Voices of the Transition, which featured commentary on the many faces of change – and the stubborn challenges – in the first decade of democracy. Frank’s articles on culture have dealt variously with film in the townships, the role of resource centres in communities, language issues and the role of arts in society.