by Merran Roy
Intlantsi provides personal and community development and healing opportunities via therapeutically facilitated arts activities. It recruits and trains unemployed young adults to be facilitators for children and in their broader communities. Intlantsi works in Lover’s Twist and other surrounding rural villages in Ngqushwa, Eastern Cape.
After piloting the training for four years through another NPO’s preschool and afterschool care centres, Intlantsi became separately registered in 2015. We began delivering daily sessions in schools and could reach hundreds more children. Most facilitator training is practice-based, using an apprenticeship model, followed by reflection. Meeting and reflection space is always challenging to find. We use abandoned shacks, neglected community halls, and borrow people’s homes. The Lovers Twist community noticed the desperate need for our own space.
The community officially allocated the abandoned Nomonde creche plot for Intlantsi to build an arts centre. Many of the Intlantsi facilitators attended creche there when they were small themselves. We agreed to share the plot with a group of grandmothers who already had food gardens there. After several consultations, the Gogos said we can place our building anywhere we need to on the plot. An elderly traditional healer and builder known as Mamngwevu offered to guide the project and share her building methods. We staked out our ideal site on a seemingly unused area, but the next day the Gogos suddenly planted new vegetables there.
March – May 2017
The ward councillor, Community Works Programme (CWP) management team, and community committee met to agree on CWP assistance. Further meetings were held with the Gogos to smooth the way and we asked them to decide where they wanted the building. At last, we began. A local tractor owner assisted with transporting water and poles from the forest, and CWP men from other villages offered labour. Even Stenden University students from Port Alfred volunteered for one day. First, we had to sink larger structural poles into the ground with cement. Then we gathered thinner branches for the walls and stripped their bark while they were still fresh.
June – July 2017
The branches were wired and nailed horizontally to the structural poles: an inner and an outer wall creating a gap for the rocks to fill in. There were many challenges we learned to overcome, such as how to lay out the walls straight with builders’ lines when the natural structural poles from the forest bent in so many different directions.
With no further transport assistance, large rocks had to be collected on foot in wheelbarrows and buckets from kilometres away on the other side of the village. Fortunately, towards the end of term, more children became available for the Who Can Carry The Biggest Rock competitions – many hands make light work! The rocks then had to be smashed by hammers into smaller pieces to stack into the walls.
Fireside events begin…
True to Intlantsi form, there was no need to wait for the centre to be completed before we began our fireside arts events… The drums summoned the community – the purpose of which was to gather the histories of the village from the elders. Story-telling abounded from young-and-inaudible to old-and-crowd-whipping. Despite icy winds and early winter darkness, participants refused to leave until bedtime.
Our facilitators laboured solidly for long hours in harsh weather 4 days a week as fewer community members were able to assist in the third term. Somehow our training and business meeting days became ‘Fancy Friday’. Dressing smart gave hope, direction and kept spirits high when reviewing progress at the end of each tough week. Slowly the roof trusses went on and the floor was levelled by hand. Finally, the most eagerly awaited job arrived… the MUD! This has to be thrown vigorously at the walls to penetrate the gaps between the rocks and then worked in hard with your knuckles. Mamngwevu led the way, sharing her invaluable knowledge.
Proud moments – all CWP participants from Lovers Twist and other villages who had been helping with labour were formally thanked during an event and presented with personalised Intlantsi t-shirts with their nicknames embroidered on the back.
24 September 2017
Heritage Day was combined with Nal’iBali Story Bosso (a story-telling competition which is part of a national literacy drive) in a spectacular fireside event. It was well attended with fantastic stories boldly presented by a broad range of community members.
October – November 2017
There was slow progress with no community assistance and terrible water shortages which caused delays, but slowly all the mudding continued, the roof went on and the floor was laid. Everyone was tired, but there was still energy for humour and creative flair when it came to the ‘truth window’ – a small framed section of wall left un-plastered to reveal the internal rocks and poles.
June – July 2018
The centre stood untouched for months. Pressure to catch up with session delivery targets according to donor contracts meant we were back in school full-time and struggling to work on the centre. There were also many debates about what kind of floor to make without money because traditional cow-dung flooring needs resurfacing every few months. Eventually, we settled on mosaicking with broken tiles. We asked tile warehouses and hardware stores in nearby cities to donate their crates of broken, unsellable tiles, as well as damaged bags of tile adhesive and grout. A village resident truck driver collected one load for free, and an East London truck driver delivered another at a very discounted rate. It took ages to gather enough materials.
We decided to hold a workshop. We needed as many hands as possible, and we wanted to share skills and the opportunity for people to learn. The response was amazing: 20 adults, many from other villages who paid for their own transport, and 30 kids from Lovers Twist. Luckily we received a food donation to enable us to provide workshop lunches for 2 weeks.
2018 – 2020
After the workshop which covered half the floor, it took another 3 years to complete – snatching the odd week here and there in between contracted school and training activities. Another challenge was the windows. Many of them cracked during installation due to the twisted shapes of the window holes. Others were smashed during break-ins (once for a piece of hosepipe) or simply vandalised. We approached several glass manufacturers for donations of safety glass, unsuccessfully. And then Covid lockdown struck, bringing everything to a depressing halt. Eventually, we got lucky: the dissolution of another NPO resulted in them giving us their remaining funds, which was just enough to pay PG Glass Makhanda to install shatterproof glass (at a discounted rate) in November 2020.
2020 – 2022
In the last two years, progress has been extremely slow due to Covid, lack of funds and time together on-site. Sadly our security gates were stolen before they were hung. We also could not afford to extend the original roof to form a porch to protect the front doors, which are now rotting from weather exposure. So the centre is still too vulnerable for us to furnish or store materials there.
However, it is amazing how just a few broken old desks and rejected school benches can make it feel like home. We relish the experience of having our own dry space to meet, undisturbed by fears of the roof blowing off at any moment, to lay out art pieces on a clean floor during group reflection time and to boil a kettle at lunchtime for tea (albeit via an extension cable from the old creche shack).
We are now raising funds for the porch, for burglar bars and gates, new doors and a concrete skirt around the edge of the building to make it more weatherproof (mushrooms are growing on the walls). In the future we hope to camp there for our training residencies, use it for children’s after-school and holiday sessions and to offer regular ‘open studio’ type experiences for the community.
We dream of days to come when we will mosaic and paint murals on the exterior walls telling the elders’ tales of how Lovers Twist got its name, of litter-sculptures emerging between the Gogos’ vegetables, and of the building becoming a healing arts hub for all the surrounding villages.
We are getting there,
one step at a time.
Merran is the founding director of Intlantsi. She qualified at Goldsmiths (UK) in 1995, following which she gained 10 years’ clinical experience as an art psychotherapist in UK adult psychiatry, therapeutic community and prisons. She was also an experiential group facilitator and visiting lecturer at Goldsmiths before returning to South Africa in 2006. Her roots are in Johannesburg, in Fine Arts and as an arts activist during the late 80’s/early 90’s in Ratanda (an informal settlement near Heidelberg), providing access to the arts for township children deprived by the Bantu Education system of Apartheid. Since returning, she has spent 12 years’ designing and implementing creative development programmes and community arts facilitator training in the Eastern Cape. She is committed to making arts therapies training more accessible to the most marginalised.