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by Rob Scher, images Malibongwe Tyilo / 06.06.2011

Fawu Community Hall in Gugs is packed. I decide to stand near the back, waiting for something to happen. The blasting of Brenda Fassie’s anthem, “Weekend Special” cues a large section of the seated crowd to suddenly spring from their chairs into a choreographed routine of High School Musical proportions. It’s a surprising start to the afternoon’s events, leaving me wishing that large groups of people would break into perfectly synchronised dance routines more often.

The ticket I’ve been handed at the entrance informs me the group we’ve just witnessed is the Jazzart Dance Theatre. Along with this information the ticket serves as my meal voucher and ballot for the proceedings. The first thing I’m told about Skaftien is that it’s a community-based meal. And on this day it seems to be bringing more white people to Gugs than Mzoli’s. The promise of food is enough for me, combine this with an opportunity to exercise my social conscience and you’re on to a winning formula.


Skaftien is an experiment in instant fundraising and cultural philanthropy. Inspired by a similar concept started in the States called Sunday Soup, Skaftien combines this with the local idea of Stokvel to produce a recurring community-based meal where the 60 bucks entrance goes towards awarding a micro-grant to a deserving creative project, pitched to the attending crowd, and democratically awarded by a crowd vote. The concept kicked off in Joburg this January, while this past Sunday saw Cape Town’s first Skaftien gathering.

The cold begins to bite as the crowd waits patiently for the proposals to get underway. Coordinator of the event, Pamella Dlungwana or Ma-ella as she prefers to go by, informs me that the venue had in fact been double booked and the community really needed to pull together to pull things off in time. Local Gugs trio, Big Brain keeps the crowd at bay with their smooth jazz. My sax-envy immediately kicking in as the front man woos the audience with his melodic tone. The smell of soup occasionally wafts over the hall, and the collective anticipation of a hot cup of broth is tangible. Athi-Patra Ruga regains the attention of the crowd with his well-spoken manner, introducing the first project – a proposal to start an e-zine focused on gender based violence and highlighting the rights of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) community. The concept sparks interest from the crowd, and it seems a definite contender for the grant. That’s until the good people from the Red, Green and Gold Creche in Phillipi step up. The two ladies from the crèche don’t have a prepared speech; their problem doesn’t need much explanation. Their crèche, which offers a host of programmes including drama and art classes, is facing closure due to a broken roof. My immediate thought is that awarding the grant to this project, as relatively little as it may be, will make an instant and monumental difference.


It’s tough to pay attention to the rest of the proposals. Apart from becoming increasingly hungry I had pretty much made up my mind. Nonetheless, an interesting project involving a documentary about local circus company Zip Zap and another film proposal entitled “The poet and the Lute” both seemed to be worthwhile candidates. However, it seems that with the grant generated by the event this would still fall short of the respective budgets required to make a documentary film.

The next presentation is cued with a hi-def video of Obs Fest, depicting romantic images of smiling faces and families strolling through the streets, to which a friend seated nearby muses,
“How the fuck did they get Obs Fest to look so wholesome?”
It’s amazing what a good camera can do. The presentation boils down to an initiative to clean up the subways of Observatory, transforming these subterranean urinals into performance areas. It’s a quaint idea, but the rain-soaked kids in Phillipi probably need the money more.

The final presentation is a proposal to create a “Langa Community Award” to reward the efforts of a deserving citizen. It’s another fantastic project that’s most deserving. Voting time presents a challenge and it seems I have far more options than that other recent voting experience. Taking these options into consideration, a sheet of paper briefly outlining each project’s goals and proposed budgets would have been quite useful. Nonetheless, my decision was made some time ago. This seems to be a shared sentiment and the roof receives the reward. The repairs will be filmed and shown at the next Skaftien.

The soup is warming and watching such a large crowd gather in a cold hall for an event like this is equally so. A large problem with most fundraising efforts is the process from donation to effect. With all the administration costs and running fees, it’s hard to know where your money is going. Skaftien is brilliant in its simplicity. Soup is cheap, all the people involved are volunteers and the money is both raised and rewarded in the space of an afternoon.
Ma-ella seems satisfied, “I’m glad people just showed up and hung out in the freezing cold, clutching their tickets and waiting to vote.”
At Skaftien there’s no problem with voter apathy.


* All images © Malibongwe Tyilo.

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