As we stand on the side of a dusty road in Khayelitsha – the Western Cape’s largest township – the reflection of the sun glinting off the tin roofs is almost blinding. In the distance, beautiful swirling, black letters dance across a wall. They proudly proclaim: “The People Shall Share In The Country’s Wealth.”
The juxtaposition of this statement – against a backdrop of extreme poverty, is deeply ironic; more so because of the source that it is quoted from – the South African Freedom Charter.
This dichotomy prompted Juma Mkwela and Shani Judes to create Township Art Tours. Their mission is to shine a light in a stereotypical dark place and that light is public art.
Juma Mkwela moved with his family, from Zimbabwe to South Africa in 2006 . Living in Khayelitsha, Juma has been vital in many projects revolving around art and youth education. During the xenophobic attacks in 2008/9, he was placed in a safe hall in Khayelitsha where he met some volunteers from Lucca Leadership, one of who was Shani Judes – a connector, creator and arts facilitator. Together with her business partner at the time, they started working with Juma in Woodstock, the emerging creative centre of Cape Town.
Juma had been doing walking tours of street art in Woodstock for two years, when collaboration with Creative Cape Town last year, led to a sponsored Khayelitsha mural tour for twenty people – and Township Art Tours was born.
Bundled into our mini van, Juma at the helm, we leave early in the morning on a hot summer’s day. We’re a mixed bunch of locals, holiday- makers and a visiting journalist from Germany. The air is filled with the sense of anticipation that precedes a new adventure.
Our first stop is IKUSI Primary School, where the shiny, happy faces of school children greet us. We’ve come to view a large, colourful mural by local artist Freddy Sam. Silhouettes of children playing soccer, amidst splashes of purple and bright patterns, cover the small building on the pristine Chris Campbell Memorial Football Field. The mural is complemented by the expanse of green grass and is a striking contrast to the adjacent, monotonous school buildings and concrete playground.
The coffee addicts are craving a mid – morning coffee break, and so we head off to the train station, which is bustling with activity. A bright orange and red kiosk is home to The Department of Coffee. With shouts of, “Chocochino, flat white and macchiato” big, branded cups and bigger smiles, we could easily be at a hip coffee chain, except the R8.50 price tag gives them away.
Street art not only beautifies the urban landscape, but also raises awareness of social issues, in a way that is accessible to the community. The bold monotone mural at Makhaza bus terminus is by Freddy Sam and was created to raise awareness about women abuse, rape and domestic violence. Sobering statistics inform us that every 26 seconds, a woman is raped in South Africa. The message hits home even harder when one witnesses the surrounding deserted, barren landscape.
A series of guns painted on the side of a rusty shack with a blue banner asks, “Are you protected?” with the red HIV ribbon above. In a community ravaged by violence, the gun is a symbol of another killer. This is street art with a bigger purpose.
Two other vibrant murals highlight water scarcity issues – one by Mak1One for the City of Cape Town water education project, and another a collaboration of many artists, including Indigo, Mak1One, Fuzzy Slippers, Paul Senyol, Andrzej Urbanski, Juma Mkwela, Valentina Argiro and Willard Kambeva was funded by the Estria foundation.
It’s lunchtime and we all clamber out of the mini bus, happy to have some shade and enjoy delicious, traditional African food. Our hosts serve up steaming plates of food, which we polish off in record time, including my delectable vegetarian sausages with home-made relish, pap and salad.
The afternoon is spent walking through an area that is home to striking street art. A menagerie of animals emerge from corrugated iron ‘walls’ of shacks: eagles, elephants, cheetah and springbok, emblems of South Africa. Painted in a hyper-realistic style, they both stand out and blend into their surroundings. This is not art hanging in a pristine gallery. Weeds, washing, wires, rubbish and burnt out and abandoned cars all envelop the art work. This is the beauty of street art – it exists within, not apart of the community.
Juma brings an air of authenticity to the tour, as this is his community and he knows many of the artists personally. He is happy to engage in philosophical discussions as well as providing hard-hitting facts about the township.
He bridges the gap between us as outsiders; as a resident and artist himself, the feel of the tour is more like a friend showing you around his ‘hood, rather than my personal dread of feeling like I’m in a zoo, gawping at the inhabitants.
My favourite mural is a self-funded art piece by an American artist. Bold, bright shapes are painted on a black background with the beautiful message “One life to live, one love to give.” Hand painted in white and red lettering, the light and energy it emits, lifts the space around it. Our living spaces should all be filled with such positive messages.
Hot, tired and stimulated, we head home. Staring out of the dusty window, with scenes of sprawling Khayalitsha flashing past, I reflect on my day. The intention behind the tour is two-fold. Through the medium of art, Shani and Juma hope to give people an experience of a place they may never go to, thus, perhaps changing their perceptions. The tour aims to show not just street art but a cultural experience of Khayelitsha – a place that is bursting at the seams with life. In turn, Khayelitsha benefits from the beautification that the street art brings, and awareness is raised in the community about social issues, in a way that is clear to understand.
Public art says something about the community. It says: this is who we are; this is what we think; this is where we came from and this is what we want. Township Art Tours hopes to shine a light in Khayelitsha on those hopes and dreams.
Shani Judes: 083 509 5106
A percentage of the tour fee supports the creation of more murals, by funding the artists, both local residents of Khayelitsha as well as international artists. Generous discounts are offered to local residents taking the tour.