Sasol hosts Gauteng arts festival

About 1 500 learners from 25 schools in and around Gauteng descended on the Wits Theatre from 13-16 September as part of this year’s Sasol Schools Festival for grade 11s.

As a petroleum and chemicals company, Sasol funds school science and technology projects such as Sasol Techno X, but it has added art to its social responsibility portfolio.

The annual festival takes the form of workshops, lectures and productions in a range of stage genres, including hip-hop and modern dance, as well as productions such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Closely aligned to the school curriculum, the festival aims to develop learners’ sense of self-esteem, national pride and collective identity as South Africans.

Pamilla Mudhray, Sasol’s corporate social investment manager, said the company chose art as a “medium of expression and creativity” and decided to use various art forms to illustrate the country’s rich heritage and cultural diversity.

Tackling social issues
“We saw this as an opportunity to provide a platform for school children from different social, cultural, political and religious backgrounds to interact with one another — to connect in a creative and meaningful way,” said Mudhray. The festival’s content has been designed to encourage learners to tackle current social and political issues such as corruption, race, the economy, religion and gender, she said.

Rae Emslie, a grade 11 and 12 English teacher at The King’s School in Robin Hills, Randburg, Gauteng, vouched for the festival. “The festival allows the learners the freedom to express themselves without their teachers’ involvement. As teachers we take a back seat and come in only when it is absolutely necessary to do so. A lot of my learners who have been part of this experience in the past have shown a remarkable degree of creativity and openness,” said Emslie.

Jacques da Silva, a freelance actor who facilitated a workshop called Vuka-Vuka, said he was a product of the festival. “When I was doing grade 11 I took part in the festival and this deepened my passion for art,” said Da Silva. He then enrolled at Rhodes University to study drama and graduated in 2008.

“This workshop teaches learners how to use the body as a resource to generate material. The learners group themselves and present brief opening scenes in different performing arts genres using nothing else but their bodies. I then facilitate a review of each group’s presentation to critique and help them refine their presentations,” he said.

“I find it extremely exciting to work with kids who come from such diverse backgrounds. They are sharp, witty, creative, enthusiastic and engaging. They always have this incredible energy and appetite to try things out and are not afraid to delve into serious social and political topics.”

“Opens our minds”
Natasha Hamunene, a grade 11 learner at Roedean School, said: “I find the atmosphere here both creative and challenging. The festival opens up our minds and also stimulates our creative abilities. It helps us view and do things differently because most of the time we are so boxed in in what we do.” Hamunene, who is studying architecture, said art lends itself to her area of study because it promotes the individual’s artistic expression.

“As an architect, one would need a lot of broadmindedness and an enhanced sense of creativity to come up with stunning building designs,” she said.

For Caleb Kalonji being part of the festival helped expand his artistic horizons. A grade 11 learner at Emslie’s school, Kalonji is an aspiring musician who belongs to a hip-hop, classical and jazz outfit called Prototype. “We just released an album not so long ago and finding myself among such an energetic and creative bunch can only make one grow as an artist. As a musician, platforms like these help me a great deal to grow artistically and also to improve on my stage presence,” Kalonji said.

The festival’s director, Neville Engelbrecht, said the festival had, in the past, taken place at the State Theatre in Pretoria but the organisers decided to move it to Wits in order to accommodate schools in southwestern Gauteng. He said the amount of positive feedback from teachers has been encouraging.

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo reports for the Teacher newspaper, a Mail & Guardian monthly publication. Apart from covering education stories, he also writes across other beats. He enjoys reading and is an avid soccer and athletics fanatic. Thabo harbours a dream of writing a book. Read more from Thabo Mohlala

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