Creating the Cape Cultural Collective

| Margo Fortune
Mansoor Jaffer playing guitar. Photo by Cape Cultural Collective.

The Cape Cultural Collective (CCC) is as strange and unusual as it is interesting and inspirational. It began in 2007 when a small group of anti-apartheid activists, musicians, and poets decided to start a movement promoting social change in communities through artistic projects. Since then, it has grown into a large network of talented performers discussing important South African issues through song, dance, poetry, or whatever art engages and entertains their audiences.

This week, GroundUp interviewed the CCC’s Co-founder, Mansoor Jaffer and marketing manager, Nosipo Singiswa.

GroundUp: Can you tell me more about yourself?

Jaffer: In essence, I am a journalist and an activist. The two roles have always overlapped. As a black South African living in apartheid, we had no rights. We were second-class citizens. We couldn’t just be journalists working in an everyday, normal democratic society. It wasn’t possible. Therefore I have always been a journalist as well as an activist.

GroundUp: What is your role in the Cape Cultural Collective?

Jaffer: The process at CCC is driven mainly by a core team of motivated, young artists. We coordinate all our different activities, however, together as a large group. We are certainly not formal in our structure. Basically, we are more interested in the impact of a project and its output within the community rather than creating yet another bureaucracy. I think that’s what makes us radically free.

GroundUp: Can you tell me what inspired you to start the this project?

Jaffer: Well, some of us were anti-apartheid and like most younger people, we were interested in making social progress through the advancement of a common project. We met initially from a project initiated by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR). As a group, it was cleared that we shared common values and commitments stretching beyond anti-racism and the issues surrounding that. We wanted to work together to create a national identity for South Africans that focused also on gender equality, knowledge sharing across generations, and creative expression as the way to promote the development of people. Culture is a good means of development and education bringing people together.

In 2008, we migrated our growing group to the District Six Museum and this is where CCC began to take shape, hosting a series of exciting monthly cultural programmes with music, poetry, dance and drama. Early successes included growing a strong relationship with the museum, the birth of the CCC resident band JAHM, and the bringing together of a group who came to be known as the “CCC poets”.

GroundUp: How is the Cape Cultural Collective different from other artists and musicians’ projects?

Jaffer: While the CCC might sometimes appear to be a motley, zany and eccentric crew, the project is always driven by an independent, socially-committed creativity. I think it is safe to say we don’t have stuff like bureaucracy. It’s a team of people working together who know what they have to do and contribute to it accordingly. We work really hard on forming our networks and partnerships. For example, not too long ago, we partnered with the District Six Museum who provided the venue. Eastern Acoustics Sound was able to do the sound for us for a number of years. We also work in and amongst many different communities through our networks which is very important. Lastly, we didn’t apply for funding in the beginning. People often wait for funding to come in before they start and then we just go. Through our work, we generate funding like the donations people pay for our programmes. We don’t necessarily need to say how we are different from other people; we really just do what we need to do when we need to do it.

GroundUp: You often talk about “Creating a progressive Culture space” with this project what does that mean?

Jaffer: We provide platforms for social and cultural development. On the cultural front, we create spaces for people to perform. At our last performance, we had a group of young dancers from Langa. Now that they have been given a platform to perform, they will come back in three months time and have a chance to improve in terms of professionalism and quality. We also allow people from different backgrounds to come together. A good example is the Rosa choir singing in three different languages so you create social cohesion practice when you have Muslims, the Malay choir, veterans singing Xhosa, and young people from Langa singing Holland Afrikaans.

In September of 2011, we produced a poetry anthology involving nine of our poets. The contributors write both as individuals and as part of a collective with shared values, presenting a range of discourses on aspects of our social life. We printed and sold 300 copies of the anthology, called At Truth’s Edge.

These are mind blowing experiences created by these spaces and projects, but they also create fundamental debate, development, and progress in our communities as well.

GroundUp: hat are some of the challenges you have faced in this project?

Singiswa: Basically, our main challenges are with capacity. We are unable to run enough marketing and planning events. For example, we really need people to help plan and coordinate events. Right now, we have so many projects running without coordinators that it’s difficult to expand in the ways we would like to. We work mainly on a volunteer basis, but sometimes it’s hard to find people available when you need them on a regular basis. Funding will always be a challenge but we told ourselves to look past that and keep on doing what we want to achieve at CCC.

Jaffer: Capacity is a challenge in most organisations, but especially with us. It’s a big challenge to get people to cross their boundaries into new and unfamiliar spaces when they come from different backgrounds. It doesn’t come easily or naturally, but once people are in that space, they really get excited.

GroundUp: Your biggest Victories?

Singiswa: Having people from all over South Africa in the CCC. We have produced a poetry collection from our national CCC artists. This year, four of these poets will be going to France for the “Paris Autumn Festival” to express themselves in a South African way. Also, the Rosa choir that has been performing around Cape Town. It is expanding and has started creating YouTube videos. We’re clearly expanding in new directions, so it’s very exciting for us.

GroundUp: What projects do you hope to work on in the future?

Jaffer: We have all these projects running, so obviously we want to strengthen them as much as we can. I would love to make a documentary about the six years so far of CCC. We also want to write a book about a guy who has been involved in the Malay choir, bands and minstrels for over 50 years! He has so many of these stories written down that we thought of turning them into a book.

GroundUp: How can people in Cape Town get involved with or support the CCC?

Singiswa: They can join our Facebook page: Cape Cultural Collective, follow us on Twittter: @cultural_c or email us: capeculturalcollective [at] Once they follow on twitter and check our Facebook page, they can see what events we are planning.

GroundUp: What advice do you have for young South Africa musicians, writers, poets and artists?

Jaffer: We need to develop clear vision by identifying the problems in our communities and working hard to solve them. Driving through our communities e.g. Manenberg or Gugulethu during the week, you would think its Sunday! So many of those people are unemployed youth—young people who are not using their creative talent. I think organisations like ours and others need to find solutions moving forward to really inspire people to “work together, stay focused, inspire the new generation, give voice to the voiceless, shape the future”

Singiswa: No one will do it for you. Dreams are nothing without action. Note that today is the best day where you can do something, so how about you start now!

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TOPICS:  Society

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