Ten years on: The rise and rise of the Cape Cultural Collective

From humble beginnings in a pub to a formidable arts and culture movement

From humble beginnings in 2007, the Cape Cultural Collective has grown steadily over time and this year celebrates its tenth anniversary as a powerful force for creativity and social justice in the arts and culture world.

The journey began modestly, tentatively, in a noisy Irish pub in the city centre in 2007.

Poets and musos competed with beer drinkers and loud crackling soccer television commentary to share their art with small audiences, who mostly came out of loyalty to their artist friends.

Within a few months, this informal initiative moved to the District Six Museum and the Cape Cultural Collective was born.

UWC 50TH Anniversary Concert in Mitchells Plain 2010

UWC 50TH Anniversary Concert in Mitchells Plain 2010

This week the CCC announces its 10th anniversary plans as an ever-growing, vibrant and dynamic organisation that registered as an NPO a few months ago, is financially stable and has a long list of incredible projects under its belt. The projects include:

• Monthly cultural programmes
• Four major celebration concerts for UWC’s 50th anniversary in 2010
• A poetry anthology in 2011
• The popular Rosa choir, that was launched in 2012
• The Uhadi poetry production, performed in Paris in 2013
• The Junior Rosa choir, initiated at the end of 2015.
• Cultural tourism initiatives

CCC founder member Chris Ferndale recalls the Collective’s origins. “The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) sponsored a reconciliation programme in early 2007 that focused on poetry and song-writing,” said Ferndale.

A performance during the launch of the CCC's poetry book At Truth's Edge in 2011.

A performance during the launch of the CCC’s poetry book At Truth’s Edge in 2011.

He said that the outcomes included a series of workshops and the production of a CD of poetry and music.

“Some of the poets – Khadija Heeger, Candice Prinsloo, Primrose Mrwebi, Amanda Nodada and I – decided to take this momentum into weekly sessions at Catu Irish pub where we were later joined by musos Mansoor Jaffer and Mark Jannecke and singer and poet Zenariah Barends,” he continued.

“A few months later we moved to the District Six Museum where the CCC began to blossom as a platform for music, poetry and dance,” he concluded.

“As the collective slowly developed, a small core group began steering its journey guided by strong humanist values of equality, justice, development, non-racialism and non-sexism. The group comprised former anti-apartheid activists and a young breed of talented poets who had collaborated in the IJR programme,” said Steering Committee member Kay Jaffer.

UWC 50TH Anniversary Concert held in Mitchells Plain in 2010

UWC 50TH Anniversary Concert held in Mitchells Plain in 2010

Elizabeth Schutter has supported the CCC from early in its journey. In 2010 she joined the CCC project team that organised the four hugely successful community concerts to mark the UWC’s 50th anniversary.

“My interest and involvement with the CCC started at the pub where young people were given the opportunity to recite their poetry. When the Collective was established I volunteered my administrative skills on a part-time basis,” she said.

“In 2010 I assisted with organising the UWC 50th anniversary concerts that united historically divided communities and was a huge revelation of the depth of artistic talent in our City,” she enthusiastically recalled.

Ncebakazi Mnukwana plays the bow at Women's Month programme 2012

Ncebakazi Mnukwana plays the bow at Women’s Month programme 2012

“In 2015 I started working as the Administrator of the CCC and witnessed the development of the Rosa Choir and later in that year the formation of the Junior Rosa Choir. It was a proud moment when the Junior choir performed publicly at the 2016 Cape Town Festival and then again at a CCC Africa Month programme to a standing ovation from the crowd,” said Schutter, who now manages the juniors.

She said it was “unbelievable what the CCC had achieved in 10 years”.

“Apart from the choirs and the host of other outputs, the collective has put together popular themed monthly programmes of music, dance and poetry since its inception,” she said.

The programmes first took place at the D6 Museum, then at a club called Ibuyambo and finally at the Slave Church Museum in the City.

UWC 50TH Anniversary Concert Bonteheuwel 2010

UWC 50TH Anniversary Concert Bonteheuwel 2010

The monthly theme-based programmes have continued to grow and have featured rage poets, belly dancers, exponents of capoeira, and all varieties of musos, comedians and actors. The programmes spotlight important social issues and are as much platforms for critical engagement and inspirational energy.

Zenariah Barends was the first co-ordinator of the monthly cultural programmes and June Knight stepped in after Barends took up a senior position in the media industry.

Knight described the programmes as a good mix between “professionalism, creativity and inclusivity”.

The line-up of performers and the substantial audiences that pitch month after month transcend the deep historical divides of the City. A growing team including Kay Jaffer, Zolani Pitolo, Aziza Davids, Razak Johnson, Schutter and a host of others works together to make the events a success and to include local communities.

“There is something really special when you look around the Slave church and see ALL of Cape Town sitting there. And when the aunties from the Bonteheuwel walking ladies get up and start jiving to the Rosa choir singing pata pata then you know we’re going to be okay,” said Knight.

“You can hear that new world whispering in the church during our programmes, when you see what we could be when we bridge our divides and connect as people across the artificial separations.”

UWC 50TH Anniversary Concert 2010 Mitchells Plain

UWC 50TH Anniversary Concert 2010 Mitchells Plain

The Rosa choir is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year and is becoming more and more popular, as much for its singing as for its astounding ability to break down barriers. The junior choir brings together children from across the City. The coaches – Tersia Harley, Monwabisi Mbambani and Chauvlin Pretorius – are injecting new energy into the choral formations.

Activist Thulani Nxumalo, a CCC founder member has facilitated the involvement of many young people in the projects of the collective over the years.

Nxumalo told the journalist that the collective’s relationship with communities has brought many benefits to the youth.

He said the programmes and projects of the CCC provide affirmation for many of the participants and contribute to healing.

“The conscious efforts of the CCC to create events that spoke to realities of the marginalised has had a really positive effect on members of the group who always felt that they had to conform to grand narratives in order to be recognised,” he asserted.

He added, “Many young and old members of the Langa community have seen themselves encouraged to become more than what the heights they initially imagined their futures as holding. This has been especially through the resource sharing methods of the CCC, that have made local cultural practitioners see new possibilities spurred on especially by the new types of relationships that they could forge.”

The Junior Rosa choir during a performance at the Slave Church in 2016

The Junior Rosa choir during a performance at the Slave Church in 2016

He concluded that the inclusive culture of the CCC made it possible for everyone to participate and for many to acquire a range of skills.

He said the participants performed on platforms throughout the City and that this broadened their horizons hugely.

A growing team drives the work of the CCC. Apart from those already mentioned, others in the steering committee include treasurer Heather van Niekerk, activist Lorna Houston, malay choir veteran Mogamat Taupe Jacobs and Rosa choir captain Chris Blaauw.

The CCC launches its 10th anniversary this week at the District Six Homecoming Centre when artists, supporters and members will gather for impromptu music, poetry and dance performances, some good local food and the announcement of plans for the 10th anniversary year.

The cast of Uhadi that performed in Paris in 2013

The cast of Uhadi that performed in Paris in 2013

More details will be made public in March but the year will include powerful monthly cultural projects, the further growth of the adult and children’s choir, a showcase event at a theatre in the City and a public event in a park.

The next phase in the CCC’s journey begins. And for now, the Irish pub remains a fond, but distant memory.

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