In September of 2001, Maboneng Township Arts Experience (MTAE) was established by Siphiwe Ngwenya in Alexandra Township; a neighbourhood in Johannesburg, South Africa that is one of the most marginalised while being literally situated next to the richest square mile in the whole continent of Africa. Since being conceptualised & led by Siphiwe Ngwenya – THE FOUNDER, our organisation has worked across South Africa as a destination development organisation that works with people on the ground pursuing research, interactions, collaborations, platforms, exhibitions, activations, as well as spaces which have culminated in our lead project – The Neighbourhood Co-operation for Property and Development (NCOPD).
Allow me to take you on a journey looking into the contributions advancing South Africa communities made by this non-profit social enterprise through the impact areas comprising Practice; Society & Environment; Public Policy; Teaching & Learning; Economy; plus Knowledge.
The First Decade (2001-2010)
After matriculating from The National School of the Arts, the road less taken was chosen after being shunned by commercial galleries, THE FOUNDER decidedly continued in his art practice. This was achieved through exhibiting his works in his own surrounding landscapes via public arts exhibitions, murals, soundscapes as well as designs & installations across South Africa, while reaching as far as Antarctica.
An innovative achievement it was indeed when together with colleagues & collaborators, we designed and built a mobile base station unit powered by solar panels and a wind turbine. For testing purposes, we took the base station for a reconnaissance mission to the South Pole with the ship, the SA Aghulus I for 30 days in the sea. As an artist organization and a crew of 4, we worked with engineers, scientists, architects and even space physicists to design build and test the unit- Umthombo Womlilo, in the inhospitable land of Antarctica. The duration of this project was an inspiring 3 years, wherein I learned how to interact professionally and for lengthy periods, with specialists over what might seem to be a crazy idea at first. Achieving at the end, a legacy style project where we returned with our unit from the Antarctica to our township in Alexandra in Johannesburg. We celebrated with a renewable energy powered music procession around the township, as well as a school tour of Umthombo Womlilio. This was art-science bridging the gap between very diverse communities and environments.
Society & Environment
By the time that the 2010 FIFA World Cup came to South Africa, Maboneng Township Arts public arts festival was ready to partner with willing parties to produce community centred centenary celebrations commemorating the foundation of Alexandra Township in 1912.
Due to the Attraction Gallery Homes created, ample artworks & handcrafted products have been sold over the years. Being added to the supportive MTAE network, along with the imparted skills enabled program participants to start, sustain their businesses and ensure that they grow beyond the initiative. Hundreds of employment opportunities for local youth and adults were created, where they served as tour guides, curators and other roles, during the respective project periods. Other members of the community were employed in security and cleaning ensuring that crime and unnecessary vandalism was mitigated and that the environment is clean. The involved community members took full ownership of their responsibilities; which instilled self-worth, a sense of having a personal stake and respect for the environment and the community itself. According to the focus group discussion findings, the women headed households benefited the most as they were paid for the use of their abodes, the guides and security personnel were family members or children (dependants), and they acquired unique skills they would not have ordinarily gotten, from the facilitators.
Developing people & places through job creation & skills development has resulted in the program empowering a notable number of program participants, providing decent income opportunities & helping with the learning of new skills. Through the initiative’s activities throughout the country, there has been evident improvement in the social cohesion in almost all project locations & surrounding environments. The interactions with community members in various townships across provinces all over the country set the stage for what is now our international award winning public participation model.
Research & Development Pilots (2011-2015)
South Africa’s legislative capital is Cape Town where the national Parliament is located. Being stationed in close proximity to the legislative houses gave our team the chance to test the openness of the South African Parliament by attending parliamentary meetings & making written submissions whenever possible. Several solid civil society engagements allowed us to be part of roundtable discussion, seminars & workshops related to shaping public policy surrounding the local arts industry. The social capital accumulated through the operation of MTAE has seen THE FOUNDER contribute to ideas & policy in the arts & culture & tourism arenas, respectively.
Our participatory framework has been also noted in Parliament as a key catalyst to nation-building in accordance with the 2030 SDGs.
Teaching & Learning
The season of exploration in the Africa tourism hub of Cape Town saw countless collaborations, commissions forming hubs, networks, Innovation Homes, memberships, fellowships coming into being for & through MTAE. It brings great gratification to an organisation like ours to be able to create inter-generational knowledge exchange opportunities through our numerous programs.
Over the years program participants have been empowered to:
▪produce public arts festivals;
▪develop audiences by increasing art appreciation & consumption in the
small town townships involved;
▪ educate participants through the implementation of visual arts & crafts
outreach training programs;
▪ advocating for economic development in the townships; plus
▪ champion responsible tourism through the growth of our networks.
Transformative Arts Tourism (2016-2020)
Working together with local small, medium and micro-enterprises (SMMEs) in South African communities, is key to supporting the township economy. To this length we have prioritised enlisting service providers from local townships, who can be mindful of the diverse socio-economic contexts. The ongoing programs impact the cultural, social, economic and environmental conditions of all participants. They transform the Township economy and improve quality of life for the long run. Our non-profit programs do not only encourage art and creativity in Townships, they also provide economic opportunities for the families opening their homes, as well as a platform for artists to showcase and sell their work.
The sustainability component of our initiatives includes daily tours available to view the thoughtfully curated exhibitions. Following their respective launch events, the community based & operated cultural attractions become part of an ongoing cultural tourism program where beneficiaries receive income from the use of their attraction homes, and through the sale of art in their homes.
Knowledge is a tool we will wisely use & share, especially with THE FOUNDER embarking on a mission of increasing the impact of Maboneng Township Arts Experience as a transformative tourism industry leader by formalising his learnings at the helm, in academia. This is an endeavour that forms a part of our persistent plan towards turning #townshipsintotowns & sharing the lessons for others worldwide to use to build their communities.
This era sees the vision which established this organisation almost 20 years ago, grow & expand as THE FOUNDER continues to learn & share more of his experiential learnings on various platforms worldwide.
Into The Future
Mandated with incrementally converting the community of Alexandra – Maboneng into a successful participatory tourism and innovation hub under the umbrella of:
The Neighbourhood Co-operation for Property and Development (NCOPD).
Families have been socially and economically emancipated from the participatory tourism models that our organisation has mastered through its journey. The past journey of 2 decades has been an interesting one filled with ups and downs of biblical proportions. We therefore, in our own right, feel blessed and christened for this new decade. Changes and plans for this new decade are going to be a new part of people’s lives in South Africa. Participating families are in for an inspiring engagement full of global visitors as we include other neighbourhood experiences in the network of our celebrated international community spaces.
We usher this new decade with the announcement of Nalongo Palesa Ngwenya as our new Managing Director (MD), after her contribution to the organisation’s growth with her skills & insights for the past 9 years in the role of Development Co-ordinator. Palesa has amassed enormous experience in community participatory tourism & high impact social innovation. She has also developed a keen interest in tourism and public participation around deserving communities in the world. One of her first formal tasks as MD is representing Maboneng Township Arts Experience internationally as we strengthen bonds & relations with partners & collaborators around the world. Our organisation intends to increase communication & engagement with you. This means you will have more involvement in our movement which encourages high-impact global citizenship.
Yes, we invite you, to journey with us we step into this season of Boldly Developing Communities, spreading light together.