Oriental Wisdom

Mpumalanga can be in a lucrative position to stage its own arts festival the size of Arts Alive (Gauteng) and Poetry Africa (Kwazulu-Natal) if artists from the province started believing in the capacity of the province's artistic landscape to grow and create opportunities for existing artists without them having to go to Johannesburg to seek what is known in this country as a better life. Further on that can help in eradicating the obsession with the bright lights of Jozi, usually harboured by people from the deep-rural areas of the gigantic province and boost in the development of future artists at grassroots, so believes Mpumalanga Performing Arts Laboratory administator Margareth Nontokozo Phiri whose organisation recently staged a funky poetry festival.
The festival was staged at the Civic Theatre which is enclosed within the Mbombela Local Municipality's Civic Centre office precinct on the same two days that SABC's highly criticized for lacking depth Lentswe was in town as well. Some of the poets who participated in the festival, like Agatha Naledi Dlamini moved on to take part in Lentswe later that night. Word from those who graced the SABC event was that old stereotypes about folks outside of Jozi seem to be the psyche of the little-known unintelligent judges the public broadcaster sent for what was supposed tobe a glorious event for the bards of Mpumalanga. Not only are they saying one of the judges was rude they also claim she seemed to expect people in the province to own elephants as part of their domesticated livestock. Shame on empty-heads who don't travel the country but only between Soweto and Jo'burg city centre. The SABC should send people with a hollistic view than its empty-heads who have built a reputation for the broadcaster as a dinosaur haunt with a twist of niggerisation.
Phiri's organisation is eight-years-old this year and its area of focus is largely performing arts, drama, dance, poetry and community theatre groups, both their management and advocacy. "The event on the weekend came about after we decided to have an event with the poets we have been working with and invite others to come aboard. We realised that there are lots of poets out there and we wanted to have something dedicated to them", she told Kasiekulture. On the day there were more than 50 poets from places as far as Mashishing, Bushbuckridge and other parts of the province. This regarless of MPAL being more active in Nkomazi, Mbombela and Mjindi and slightly in other areas only through delegation. She says their intention is to have a provincial reach, resources allowing.
Phiri says they are currently funded by the National Arts Council of South Africa and that helps their mandate to extend beyond advocacy to capacity building in starting and managing arts groups. What they have observed in the past is that organisations start, exist for a few years and cease to exist without much fanfare. "We'll like to have a bigger institution in the future where we can be able to stage drama, dance and poetry festivals as part of an annual calendar. We want to strengthen clubs and not see them die", Phiri says, adding that local artists shouldn't aspire to go to Jozi to grow but should stick around to help uproot societal stereotype that artists are people who can't secure employment in the mainstream economy.
They have a broader vision of making the arts a form of employment.
"We seem not to believe in what we do. I want to thank all the people who participated at the event and people should know that we do organise workshops and disseminate information on funding and artist support", she says. Mpumalanga Performing Arts Laboratory can be contacted at mpal@mweb.co.za

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