Community Lunchboxby Dela Gwala / 10.10.2011
I arrive to an empty stage, a collapsed yellow couch and a household fan. A cluster of the dreadlocked and the skinny have gathered around unpacked chairs, waiting on instruction. A voice above a pair of crayon coloured cigarette pants tells me that I’m early. Outside the barbed wire, a shop front sports the Coca Cola emblem – the mark of an industrial township. The concrete doesn’t reach next door though; a white tent cornered by a car park labelled the Ethiopian Church of South Africa. Back on this side of the fence, brick-lined pathways lead to grass grottos, recycling bins and a vegetable patch. This spot of green is part Eternal Sunshine and part R10 drinks: an environmental centre with a built-in bar. It’s an open gate on Washington Street – Tsoga lounge in Langa.
Women in floaty clothing and heavy earrings are pasting the word “SKAFTIEN” on every surface. It’s a black monogram promising a display of fledgling community initiatives, live entertainment and a not-so-free lunch. R60 bucks pays for a notch on your community involvement record. In exchange for your cash, you are privy to four arts-orientated community project proposals and a vote. A mark on your ticket potentially awards one of the projects all the money generated that day. It’s a stokvel with a heavy helping of spinach and starch: a micro-lending scheme that not only feeds you but also honour’s its namesake. A community lunchbox: people providing their own financial sustenance.
The starting time has to negotiate a series of problems: missing sound equipment, tardy food and an AWOL crèche. As time ticks by, more and more of the paraphernalia invades the stage – wires from open suitcases crawl from the floor onto the abandoned couch. During the wait, paper plates are handed to the small crowd then the veg, chicken and carb combo is dished out. Before this, the little legs of accountability walk down the pathway. The crèche who won the money at the last session of Skaftien are here to give an account of what they’ve done with it. Their meal from this metaphorical lunchbox has meant the repair of a broken roof and the evasion of a threat of closure from social services.
The kids only respond with fixed stares and four fingers indicating their age. They provide the light in a dingy room and give the DJ something to do. They bend their knees in time to the afrocentric beats and have an American lady jiggling the jersey tied around her waist. After a couple of dance numbers from the kids, the MC gets on stage and announces the start of the actual show. The proposals are put on hold for a performance from Buli – a dreadlocked singer with a hat on her head, beaded trinkets around her ankles and nothing on her feet. She laces her English and Xhosa vocals together and ends off by clipping together a couple breaths of fast-paced free verse.
The first proposal doesn’t seem to touch the ground. It hangs in the air as an abstract means of trying to achieve what the speaker is aiming for – “to engage the community intellectually”. He is proposing a web publication that goes beyond the avant-garde. A space for alternate media. He wants to document the lives of those who exist in “the crevices of society” – the artists. The MC opens the floor to questions, and then decides to ask her own. If this is a web based project then what would the money be used for? “Salaries” is the answer, he reminds us that we live in a capitalist society and no one works for free.
After him, a woman championing the cause of youth development has her turn at the mic. She speaks the opposite of every message concentrated on disadvantaged South African kids. She says that maths, science and academics are not always the way out. She props up the platform for drama and performance. The money is needed for equipment and volunteers.
Next up is what looks like the average pantsula and his African queen; they’re from an outfit called Hip Hop Kaslam. They’re punting a form of Capetonian street talk, and its music genre counterpart called “Spaza”. They run a show with a venue gifted by the Baxter but the event can’t sustain itself. The organizers keep handing over their own money and dealing with complaints from the very mouths they’re trying to feed. The goal is that urban myth, “building a brand”. All they need are some t-shirts and some recognition on TV.
Last up is an art academy in its infancy. Sinebhongo collaborates with established art schools in projects involving theatre, poetry and film. But they want to build their own, an art school in one of those dusty locations their kids come from. In terms of achievement, they put up something concrete by inviting the audience to their upcoming staging of the Taming of the Shrew. It makes them the vaguely obvious frontrunners. The MC wraps up this part of the proceedings by requesting that we use our ballot wisely, then stay for the music acts and don’t let the waning sunshine scare us. Langa is pretty safe these days.
People slip marked pieces of paper into the jagged hole of a refurbished Ola mayonnaise jar. Whilst these are being counted, everyone gathers under the garden umbrellas and an unplanned imbizo takes place in front of the vegetable patch. The dialogue is centered on the improvement of Skaftien. Phrases like “pooling resources”; “bring in the corporates” and “better communication” are thrown out for deliberation. The resolution is an innocuous little list passed around for contact details. After inking our e-mail addresses, people move back inside for the announcement of the winner. The money goes to the building blocks of Sinebhongo’s art school.
The post-fundraising festivities are conducted by Plan Be who take the alias of the soul house movement. They promise a shelter for every kind of soul but focus on the lost or broken. The four man band waxes lyrical about being the saviours of our better selves, our stint of salvation at the end of a Sunday afternoon.
*All images © Dela Gwala.