The Creative Society is an arts employment charity that helps young people into jobs in the creative and cultural industries.
I left Zambia with my family when I was still a little girl. When I arrived in London, with my brown afro and Zambian accent my mother tells me that I spoke to anyone and everyone in my native language, Bemba. 20 years on – I am a fully converted Londoner, never been back home, no afro, no Zambian accent and a slight smattering of Bemba!
When I was told that I would be sent on a 10 day voyage to sunny Johannesburg, I was ecstatic but also slightly apprehensive as I wasn’t too sure what to expect on my first trip to Africa. I can confidently say that, it was amazing! The warmth, intelligence and resilience of the people, the rich taste of the food, and the vast beauty of the land were all overwhelming.
No sooner than we had gotten our bags unpacked we were sitting in the outdoors of a beautiful Italian restaurant, at the Rosebank mall with artist Lemn Sissay. The difference in culture was immediately apparent to me; people were sat all around, looking like they were having great conversations and enjoying one another’s company, relaxed. They all looked like they were on holiday, not stressed and without a care in the world.
The first few days were spent watching shows at the Market theatre, visiting malls and dining in nice eateries with Lemn teaching us the South African customs he had learnt from his visits over the last 15 years. When the day came for us to visit the Soweto Township, I could not wait. We stopped at Little Ethiopia for some traditional Ethiopian food which consisted of spicy vegetable and meat dishes, thick stew, served atop injera, a large sourdough flatbread. Then we were ready for our drive to Soweto. As we drove further away the fragmentation of the rich and the very poor became more and more visible. The clean, quiet streets filled with a mix of races and colours discontinued and dirt, poverty and degradation, although not everywhere soon became a familiar sight. However, the township also brought to life an entrepreneurial spirit and a sense of community and cohesion among the people. This was articulated by the groups of young kids sitting on street corners, a young man asking for money after a zealous performance of a rap he had written and the man named Sydney who sold paper mache models he had made of traditional South African figures. The paper mache model of the mother cooking at home, the maid at work or the drunken man on the street corner that seemed to represent black South Africa. Sydney engaged passers by asking them to tell the story of Sydney, his biggest paper mache model that he placed on the walk way. He also had a guest book that he asked everyone to sign, his aim was to complete it by the end of the year and use the material from it to form a website.
It was also really inspiring to visit the different institutions that are dedicated to documenting the victorious struggle against apartheid; the most moving thing for me was the constitutional court in the centre of constitution hill. The court which was established in 1994 is open to all visitors and is a real sign of the hope for the future of South Africa.
This is just a handful of what I saw in Jo’burg. There were so many encounters that have forever changed my perspective on life, I share some of these in part 2 of my blog, Lessons from the Motherland!