South Africa’s Creative Opportunities

A representative of Enviroserv visits the eMzantsi workshop while trainees are busy making the 630 beach cricket sets commissioned by the company. Credit: Lorraine Tanner

Carnivals across South Africa are a parade of creativity. These annual events showcase the country’s diverse arts, crafts, design, music and dance. Also, behind the scenes, carnivals are vital. They create scores of jobs, boost local economies and promote much needed social cohesion.

Capitalising on the events’ thriving markets, the Harlequin Foundation based in Cape Town, South Africa, trained a group of would-be cultural entrepreneurs to make carnival artworks using recycled materials. Reaching out to single mothers and people with disabilities from some of the most deprived areas of Cape Town, the Foundation empowered them to become retailers of their own work.

Project Manager, Lorraine Tanner, explained that poverty, migration and lack of education marginalise those living in the faraway townships of Cape Town such as Ocean View and Masiphumelele. “We are very far from any cultural centres. And people are kind of stuck at the very end of a peninsula. Single mothers in particular can become very isolated,” she explained.

With the support of UNESCO’s International Fund for Cultural Diversity, the Foundation implemented the 11-month recycled arts training programme for selected participants, including Fikelwa Nogqala, for whom, the training provided creative skills that will allow her to generate income to support her family. “[Thanks to the training,] I am able to make and sell and able to facilitate craft workshops. I can live a life thanks to the project,” she said.

Trainees learned to produce many creative accessories such as purses, school bags, necklaces, key chains, and book marks that can easily be sold in the local market. Learning from an array of specialised teachers, they gained hands-on experience creating all kinds of arts from recyclable materials such as newspapers, cardboard, wood, beeswax, bottles, caps, pipes, leather, wire, and foam.

The Foundation also helped the trainees improve their communication skills and gain practical experience with real life production deadlines. Commissioned by a consortium of local organisations, they made over 600 beach cricket sets from waste materials and got paid for it. “The group learned to work to a brief and respond to a client’s time frame,” – an indispensable quality for an entrepreneur, Ms Tanner said.

Other students set up stalls to exhibit and sell their products and even facilitated workshops for children and youngsters. At the National Arts Festival (Grahamstown of Eastern Cape), Ms Nogqala taught a group of children how to make musical instruments and carnival costumes.

Another milestone for the project was the construction of the giant harlequin puppet. Trainees themselves built it for the popular eMzantsi Carnival at AfricaBurn festival which mobilised 1500 spectators. ‘eMzantsi’ means ‘in the South’ in isiXhosa, and the Carnival is all about celebrating life in Cape Town's south peninsula. Using various materials to make the four meters-tall puppet, the participants learnt how to work directly with professionals and understood the dynamics of large-scale production.

Recycled arts are offering a concrete opportunity for the trainees to become cultural entrepreneurs. “Going forward we hope to create a production system and increase the quality of the products so they can really become a stable income for the apprentice crafters. The system we are aiming for will be able to incorporate all actors in the production of the products and components,” explained Ms Tanner.

Back to top