Grass not so green on the Fringe

A hip-hop bassline booms out of a community hall on Albert Street in Grahams-town’s Hlalani ­township.

Inside, the walls are lined with posters of young South Africans who disappeared during apartheid. About 15 young people are throwing themselves around as one of them raps over the beat.

Xolile Madinda of the Fingo Revolutionary Movement looks on. “We do a lot of projects to keep the kids off the street and away from crime. With music and art, we want to develop their potential — So we’re hosting our own festival to run parallel to the National Arts Festival — there are open-mic sessions, local music and things like free face-painting,” Madinda says.

The movement is an activist group that holds cultural events in the townships on the periphery of Grahamstown. Madinda (31) says the movement is influenced by the writings of thinkers such as Steve Biko and that its ethos is to “get up and change things for ourselves”.

Activists say that away from the tree-lined avenues of Rhodes University and the middle-class town centre, unemployment in the townships stands at between 70% and 80%. The roads are crater-filled and low-cost government houses in areas such as Vukani are falling apart. Electricity, water and sanitation are often a luxury.

Dismantling representation
In addition to the Fingo Revolutionary Festival, Madinda says the movement has also helped to stage an art exhibition at Grahamstown’s Hoërskool PJ Olivier, entitled Dis-remembering and Remembering, which seeks to dismantle white representations of “black people’s history, which has been left in the ghetto for too long”.

The movement raised financial support from the Kulumani Support Group and the local council, which sponsored a marquee. But Madinda hopes the festival, in its second year, will gain the same status “as Think!Fest and Word!Fest that run in association with the National Arts Festival, not in competition”.

“This year we had talks with Ismail [Mohamed, director of the National Arts Festival] about being part of the festival, but there were financial barriers. Hopefully something will ­happen next year.”

Madinda says there are not enough National Arts Festival events in townships such as Hlalani, or enough platforms for local township artists to expose themselves to new audiences. He hopes the growth of the Fingo Revolutionary Movement will change that.

Grahamstown has always been divided by race, class and apartheid spatiality. In 2009 the decision to move the traders’ market from the Village Green, between Grahamstown and the townships, to sports fields at Rhodes University drew the ire of locals, who saw it as a further indication of isolation of the have-nots from the festival.

This year, according to Makana Tourism, bookings for township homestays during the National Arts Festival dropped by 20%. Last year township B&Bs and the Kwam eMakana company, which organises township stays, received about R600?000.

Brick-orange newness
Not all the local activists are as conciliatory as Madinda. Across the road from the Fingo festival, a square has been bricked up at the intersection of Raglan Road and Albert Street. For a block in four directions the pavements shine with a brick-orange newness and snazzily designed lampposts hover overhead.

A block further, the scene changes back to cratered roads and litter.

Ayanda Kota, of Grahamstown’s Unemployed People’s Movement, says this bricked square will host President Jacob Zuma on July 14 when he is granted freedom of the city and Raglan Road is renamed Dr Jacob Zuma Drive.

Kota is critical of Zuma’s decision to accept the freedom of Grahamstown. “How can the President accept the freedom of a town that is failing?

“People still use the bucket system here. There are no houses and the new ones built by government are falling apart while the municipality receives audit disclaimers every year,” he says.

Kota’s movement plans to protest against Zuma’s event next week. He is out on bail after being arrested for public disorder in connection with previous protests.

For more from the National Arts Festival, see our special report.

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Niren Tolsi
Niren Tolsi is a freelance journalist whose interests include social justice, citizen mobilisation and state violence, protest, the Constitution and Constitutional Court, football and Test cricket.

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