In recent times, we have increasingly seen the narrative of development revolve around the economy and some or other form of industrialisation. This ignores the great value contributed to society through the arts. Not only can the arts keep the heritage of a nation intact, but it is also a valuable way of expressing and understanding the world. And as history has taught us, the arts also has an important role to play in the quest for social justice. At the height of the struggle, artists such as Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Lucky Dube, amongst others used their art to not only to share the atrocity of apartheid with the world but also as an act of resistance. In recent times, we have seen the emergence of groups such as the Power TREE Poetry Movement and artists such as Simphiwe Dana who do the same. This shows that art can evoke strong responses, be it joy, sorrow and it can even be used to restore our sense of humanity.
Born in Mdantsane, Eastern Cape, Activator Athenkosi Annex Baba has always dreamt of helping people. Although in his earlier years, he always thought it would be through medicine, his passion led his to doing it through the arts. He explains that “there are stories, experiences and truths that can only be expressed through pictures, music, dance and stories”. He believes that all these have their place in creating positive change in society.
Athenkosi, who is now based in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, is part of African Tales – a network forum, for artists and arts organisations. Inspired by his interactions with young people, as well as his own life experiences, he has been tasked with co-ordinating the organisation’s events and youth discussions on arts and culture.
Since the organisation’s inception, it has grown in huge leaps. From a forum of four groups, it is now home to more than fifty groups and ten individual artists all of whom attend and fully participate in the programmes being offered. It has also grown from offering two programmes “Tales under the look-out Hill” and “Dance Stage Productions” to adding five more. All the programmes run by the organisation require the full participation of the youth involved.
A milestone that the Activator is proud of is the manner in which the organisation has been able to shift the mindsets of young people. Within the forum, “they have truly come to use their power of making something where there was nothing”, he says. And it is this same drive that saw the organisation get the Khayelitsha Cock-Tale Arts Festival started. The festival, which is hosted by artists for artists has grown to be an annual event attracting many and its success has seen African Tales forming partnerships with other organisations, government departments and the business sector.
The support shown by the enthusiastic youth, community leaders and the broader community means that the future of this organisation has no limits.
A firm believer that young people need to be hands on in the decision making process, Athenkosi attributes the success of African Tales to “maintaining its objective of working with young people rather than conducting activities for them”. This is achieved through sparking the aspirations of youth and through authentic youth involvement in all the organisations programmes. This has allowed all involved to feel that they are heard and valued, that they are shaping the agenda of action and that they are making a contribution to other youth; their community and society at large.
At the presentation of the White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage; the then Deputy Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and technology said “Now is our time to sing, to dance, to paint, and to create. This is our right as citizens of South Africa”.