"THORISO LE MORUSU"- one of the many wonderful performances at Infecting the City

"THORISO LE MORUSU"- one of the many wonderful performances at Infecting the City

Infecting the City

On Monday evening I spontaneously decided to attend the first night of “Infecting the City”, a public art festival located right in the center of Cape Town. Festival goers travel on different routes throughout the city streets to view different performances and exhibits which occur one after the other. I had the opportunity to attend five exhibits which ranged from an opera performance to a video that looked at “the inescapable aches of contemporary urban life” (festival program). As we walked from one exhibit site to the next we were subject to the “polite force” an ode to police brutality and buildings giving out hugs which was a chance to stop and truly appreciate and “love on” the local architecture. While I enjoyed the deep themes of every exhibit, my favorite was “Couched” a choreographed duet performed by Shaun Oelf and Grant Van Ster. According to the festival program the performance was representative of, “the dancers’ past, present and future – their growth as individuals, friends, partners and colleagues”. Aside from the sheer talent of the dancers I most enjoyed this exhibit because it was performed by two males. The duo danced together in a way that is usually associated with a pair consisting of a male and female rather than two males. 

The performance was obviously indicative of their personal lives but I believe it stood for a lot more. I think it was a great representation of gender roles and how society perceives and establishes such roles. I feel as though had this performance been performed in the United States there would be a great deal of scrutiny of the pair. 

I have to be honest, when I first saw Shaun and Grant performing together I was a bit shocked. I was not shocked because I have any ill feelings towards two males dancing together but rather because I have been raised in a society that has set pretty strict constraints on what a women should be like and what a man should be like. From a young age we are instilled with the belief that things like Barbies and the color pink are for little girls and trucks and the color blue are for young boys. As young children we don’t always know that it is ok to deviate from the walls society builds around gender. I think “Couched was an eye opening chance for me to take a look at my own beliefs and how they have been so affected and molded by society.

Gugulethu Township Homestay

For those of you who may not know what at township is, they are often underdeveloped urban communities located on the periphery of major towns and cities of South Africa. From the late 19th century to the end of Apartheid, townships were established for non-white South Africans which include Black Africans, Colored people and Indians.  

Prior to making our way into the township of Gugulethu some of the Roxburgh House girls and myself had a conversation regarding our trip to Gugulethu. Some girls were anxious to stay in a strangers home while others were absolutely excited with the idea of getting to stay with a host family. A few girls felt as if this was intrusive to the community and the people of Gugulethu while others argued that the educational benefits and real world experience, gained from staying overnight in a township, outweighed the negative aspects of our stay. After hearing each of the different individual opinions I realized that prior to our conversation I hadn’t put much thought into our Township homestay. After thinking about the feelings and thoughts my housemates had suggested, I realized that everyone seemed too concerned with how people were going to feel about our stay in their community. I think it valid to be concerned with the feelings of others but the way that I viewed the Township homestay was as more of an opportunity to experience someone else’s way of life that is very different from my own. I viewed this trip as a very meaningful life experience rather than an opportunity to judge Gugulethu or make the people of Gugulethu feel as if they were being judged.

With that being said, there were several aspects our trip to Gugulethu that I saw as a positive experience and others that were not negative but certainly not what I was expecting. One of my favorite parts of our trip was when we had the opportunity to walk through the community. One of the biggest things that caught my attention was the attitudes of the community members. Just about everyone I saw was either waving or smiling. All the children wanted was a hug or to have their picture taken. They were so excited for us to be there that it validated all my reasons for wanting to be staying in Gugulethu. The community seemed not only intrigued by our visit but extremely welcoming at the same time.

One of the most difficult parts about our township stay was our walk through the areas of Gugulethu that are crowded with makeshift huts with tons of garbage. While I am glad that I had opportunity to witness the hardships some residents face on a daily basis, it was hard to fathom ever being in that situation. This is the only part of Gugulethu where the attitudes and facial expressions of the people changed. Smiles turned to frowns and the friendly waves were now wide eyed stares. In speaking with my house Mama, I learned that while most areas in the Gugulethu are dangerous, these areas are particularly dangerous. Mama Toto expressed that drugs and alcohol fueled the majority of violence and crime around Gugulethu. She said that they are often brought into the community from other countries and that children as young as twelve will begin to sell drugs in the local schools.

If there is one thing that had me begging to stay in Gugulethu it was the food. After our Thanksgiving like feast at lunchtime I swore I wouldn’t eat for another week. (This later changed as Mama Toto prepared yet another meal followed by dessert.) As a vegetarian there was no shortage of tasty options. Mama Toto later told us that her and the other host Mama’s had been cooking since 6 am the day we arrived in order to prepare all the food for our group. All of the food was amazing and it was very obvious that a lot of time and love went into preparing all of our meals.

The aspect that I was most excited about was leaving our big group to stay with our individual host families. Myself and three other girls got to stay with Mama Toto. We were able to meet her two grown sons and her two young neighbors. Her neighbors, who are currently in grade twelve, seemed extremely close with Mama Toto. During our time at Mama’s house they helped her take out her hair braids and cook dinner. Mama said that they were only neighbors but it was clear that Mama Toto and the two girls shared a much closer relationship. Also sleeping at Mama Toto’s house for the night were four of her young grandchildren. These kids gave “energy” a whole new meaning. From the moment we arrived around 5pm the kids were playing outside and they stayed out there until around 11 pm. When we woke up for church at around eight in the morning Mama said that the kids were outside playing yet again and had been doing so for hours.   

Mama Toto had such a beautiful home and she was such a wonderful host. I felt as though she was constantly cooking, cleaning and making sure that we felt comfortable. The one thing that was a bit disappointing was the lack of time we got to spend talking with each other. The only times we really got a change to speak about her life in Gugulethu was during dinner and quickly during breakfast Sunday morning. While I did not get to learn as much about Mama Toto as I intended to, I still learned a little bit about her. Mama Toto has been living in Gugulethu for the past 20 years and prior to Gugulethu she had been living in “PE”, which I later found out is Port Elizabeth. When I had asked Mama why she liked living in Gugulethu she said because of how quiet it is and because of the small sense of community.

Staying in Gugulethu was a truly incredible experience. It was interesting to see what life is like living in a South African township and I thank Mama Toto for being such an amazing host. I only hope that Gugulethu continues to make positive changes within in the community so that the youth are given the opportunities to succeed in which they deserve.  

ENKOSI MAMA!