Shack attack: Unchained SA story will rattle your gilded cage

Mandisi Sindo, 28, and the spruced up box theatre at the shack-based Makukhanye Art Room deep in Khayelitsha. The floors, side panels and other stuff have been put in by the Cape Town Fringe.

Mandisi Sindo, 28, says he is the artistic director of “the only shack theatre in the history of SA”.

This is a grand statement, and today he might just be right.

Mandisi is indeed sitting in the most amazing theatre.

The Makukhanye Art Room has been hammered and cemented and wired together in the heart of shackland Khayelitsha.

And a cool-looking theatre it is with its new acting boards, side boards, curtains, functional loos, a laptop and wifi – all provided by the Cape Town Fringe (CTF), and the gear is here to stay.

The lights and other theatre equipment is for use during the two-week CTF.

It’s 60 plastic chairs may look well-used and functional, but they are actually a lot better than the postcard stamp-sized bank cushions on cold, bony metal at many National Arts Festival venues in Grahamstown.

But clearly this venue needs more, and it is getting it from that urban centre: the Fugard Theater and Eletrosonic have R230 000-worth of stage equipment, dimmers, racks, lights and other kit ready to deliver, says Mandisi.

The project also won a Fleur du Cap award for innovation last year.

But it’s all small fry compared to his next delivery; he needs R5-million to build a formal theatre complex right here. It sounds fantastic and the amount not that beyond the reach of those at the centre of the system who have the resources.

In our interview we do a lot of traversing from the outer world of Khayelitsha to the urban centre of corporations and government. It’s a love-hate thing.

While he klaps the big players, he also seems to have a knack for pulling in the resources. And why not!

Mandisi, is a buff guy with biceps and a barrel chest which produces a deep, gritty voice. He has a great smile. He gets energised and gives it to you. I wanted to pump my fist in the air, shout “Arrr!” and give him a big bear hug, none of which would have been appropriate.

Yoh, you gotta love his place! It’s a fairly shipshape oasis of creativity bobbing about in an ocean of shacks.

He says the arts centre is home to hundreds of youths who heed the call of the sound decks bouncing off the big green floor canvas, and the many arts and culture activities on offer which infect, infuse and enthuse this space.

He needs all this vibrancy to keep the shack arts centre on a roll.

He shows me a full-on box theatre, a library, a props room holding township movie set pieces, and more in this lo-o-o-ng shack, which has just been extended further and further as the community gets more involved in filling the very air with local art and culture.

Function in the junction. Mandisi’s shack office and famous wall planner.

His programme planner is schweet – a large piece of packaging making up the wall behind his table. The board has been ruled into what looks like 362 blocks, some filled in with koki — Makukhanye’s unique progamme of arts.

Makukhanye was established in 2007 and its first artistic director was Thando Mpengezi.

Last last year, one of its earliest supporters, who started out as 17-year-old township street performer, one Mandisi Sindo, returned home.

He was academically sharpened, fairly freshly graduated, and ready to put it all together right here, in the toughest environment, but one which is also rich with culture, vibe, raw talent and bounce.

Going back a bit, he was just a primary school kid in Khayelitsha fresh out of Cofimvaba in the Transkei, when artist Zimasa May and Ikwhezi Theatre came to Umagaliso (the miracle) primary school in Khayelitsha and performed.

“What’s this?!” thought the young Mandisi, “What is this thing theatre?”

There was a call for May to come back to the school, and he did, again and again, inspiring and nurturing a love of the arts among kids.

“There were 70 of us and I am the last one standing,” exclaims Mandisi.

In the next two weeks the venue’s CTF programme will see up to 100 artists performing in 22 shows, 16 of them devised in this space, and six coming in from the CTF.

The programme will reverberate through the neighbourhood. Music, poetry, theatre, bars, beats, and rap – ikasi style, formal style and much of it Makukhanye, Khayelitsha style.

Calling all youth. Here you will find your true self, and express it. Mandisi and the great green canvas – the courtyard of Makukhanye Art Room.

Last night The Champion was on, and it was packed, says Mandisi. The crowd was totally into the tale of a young boy growing up without a father, and raised by women. “It was touching and healing” ­– themes he mentions often which appear to underly the shack theatre project.

“People cried.”

Mandisi got his diploma in the urban centre, from UCT’s drama department starting in 2008, where he honed his mind with Jerzy Grotowski’s poor theatre, Bertolt Brecht’s political theatre and and Antonin Artaud’s theatre of cruelty where “artists must crawl, and scream” as they are healed. He may have been mentored by performer and UCT lecturer Sabata Sesiu, but all of that was was aimed at developing arts which comes straight out of the alleyways and bustling shanty-sided avenues of Khayelitsha.

Stage door – mind the kids and the laundry.

After working in the city, getting a hip job as the artistic director of the Infecting the City programme, Mandisi said he nonetheless never stopped feeling like “an animal going still just before the slaughter. Someone always had a knife to put me down.”

He returned to Khayelitsha last year. “I said I would stay here. I will make work here. I would take no other jobs.”

He talks about building a programme which now has 30 young unemployed Khayelitsha creatives who are trained at the centre from 9am to 4pm. From 4pm to 7pm there is the after-school programme where 60 new artists will work at music, traditional dance, poetry –  all of it dedicated to finding and rediscovering their identity and embracing it.

“They need to know that there is a theatre in the community which is accessible to them.”

He says he had a dream in 2011. “I saw myself running a theatre right here …”

He is angry with rich, big-city centralism and ideas of domination. Out there he was exploited, enslaved..

“I got used left, right and centre.”

Working in the shacklands, where washing hangs on fences and children play in dusty spaces inches away from the theatre door, has been hard. But he is unrepentant. “I do not beg to be liked. I speak truth. We have no resources.”

If he is getting stuff now, it is because he fought for it, raising his critical voice on Facebook, rabbit punching the selfish centre, prodding, pushing and agitating for theatre to shift its comfortable arse out of Rosebank and city bowl, to invest resources out here where dust and and zinc and electrical wiring and people, many people, conglomerate into a resilient uncompromising cultural epoxy.

That is the backstory. The story before your eyes is fizzing, it’s popping and bopping. You can get anything you want in the shacks around Makukhanye – tshisa nyama, beer and even pizza, says Mandisi on a roll.

You will also get militancy. Mandisi talks about calling in the CTF to meet with black artists and giving it to them.

“I called a meeting and we mandated CTF to look at the structure of CTF so that we can have all-year-round activity to bring in audiences so that artists can get money.”

He’s pleased with what he got so far, but feels that they have already got a big programme going, bigger by far than anything CTF can offer.

He speaks of many more shows going through the venue on Nelson Mandela Day, and of programme run by women directors, and even a “double-bill” where for the price of one ticket, the theatre-goers gets more than that, as many as four shows in a day.

Critter arrived for the first 10am show of Luks on Friday. It was piss easy to get there, thanks to Aunty Google maps.The roads were brilliant, and the only two turns well signboarded. Please look out for “Loxion Cycles”, a bike mechanic’s shack which has metre-high piles of bicycle parts outside.

There was some hesitation when I presented my ticket at a door down that shack alleyway.

Hey, so the show was not on today, some paffle about programming and late advertising, but I got a great interview with the man himself.

If the programme shifts and stretches, you go with it, because that is how it is here. Elastic and bouncey. But hit it right and you are going to have your world turned delightfully upside down. This is going to be a theatre experience like no other. You will be dancing on the brightest, sharpest edge of SA arts and life. I look forward to it.

*This content is sponsored by the National Arts Festival.


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