Making the Artscape inclusive for all

Struggle activist Connie Brown and Zinzi Mandela share a moment at the unveiling ceremony.

The Artscape Theatre launched its annual youth training and education programme on Thursday February 16 with an unveiling ceremony of a painting of Nelson Mandela donated by ZAM magazine in the Netherlands.

Nelson Mandela’s daughter, Zindzi Mandela, visited the Artscape to unveil the painting, while a number of government officials from the national Department of Arts and Culture, City of Cape Town officials, foreign officials and activists came to celebrate the event with the Artscape.

At the event, the Artscape CEO Marlene le Roux said the day was an emotional one for the Mandelas, who had celebrated Winnie-Madikizela Mandela’s birthday five months ago.

“Like Madiba, who made South Africa inclusive for everyone, we are working towards the same thing for the Artscape Theatre. I am very proud to see where our country is now. Today we are going to unveil Nelson Mandela, our icon, as a symbol to never forget where we came from because it can happen again.”

She said South Africa as a democracy is only 22 years old and its people are still on the journey to freedom.

“To all who helped free our country from oppression, we will never know what you have been through for us, and all we can say is thank you.”

To Nelson Mandela’s daughter and grandchildren, Ms Le Roux said: “It is not easy to hold up the name of a legend. We want you to know that we salute you and support you.”

The Artscape’s annual youth training and education programme, which outlines some of the productions for the year, is aimed towards building social cohesion and making the theatre an inclusive space for all, with the country’s youth at the centre of the programme.

The Dutch Consul General, Bonnie Herbach, who is a partner of Artscape and forms part of the its exchange programmes, said the Artscape has come a long way with creating a space for all artists who were previously marginalised from using the theatre or coming to watch productions.

“This week was a special week for South Africa. It marked 27 years since the release of Nelson Mandela after he was in prison for the same number of years. We seem to forget what was achieved. It’s amazing how far the country has come, but it still has a long way to go. It is a long time till the impoverished communities feel part of this movement.

“Artscape has taken its role seriously. They have made it an inclusive space, where previously it was predominantly so-called white, and where people of all colours now feel like they belong. They now engage with all forms of art, including from the Cape Flats, making so-called coloured youth believe that they can be anything they want to be.

She quoted Nelson Mandela as saying, ‘South Africans must recall the terrible past so that we can deal with it, forgiving where forgiveness is necessary, but never forgetting.’

“We are at the beginning of this process, and the arts play a big role in this. The Artscape is reinventing themselves, and it is accessible for all to come and see productions and try new things. Artscape’s endeavour to be welcoming and inclusive should be applauded. They offer young people a space to learn, practice and show their productions free of charge as a way of giving back.”

Bart Luirink of ZAM magazine, which donated the painting, said: “I’ve been here in South Africa many times, but I try to go back to 1990 and try to remember the country back then compared to now, and we find ourselves in a different world. This theatre is a symbol of this.”

He thanked the Artscape and South Africans for allowing ZAM magazine, to be part of the international solidarity and the journey brought about by South Africa. “we have been part of the movement up till today and it has been a fulfilling experience. Part of the work is now at the Artscape, as Nelson Mandela played a role in bringing us together.”

The launch evening ended with snippets of productions the Artscape will showcase throughout the year.

Said Ms Le Roux: “Tonight will be a party, because that’s what our icon showed us how to do, party!”