On Tuesdays I would go to Simon’s Town, a smaller fishing town around 30 minutes outside of Cape Town. There, I worked with a woman named Michelle Van Blommestein and an organization named eMzantsi who are preparing for their annual carnival celebration with the Ocean View Bloca. Ocean View is one of the townships in the southern peninsula of the western cape–right outside Simon’s Town. (See map below)
A bloca is a carnival band unit that marches and plays Brazilian samba-inspired rhythms during the parade. Bloca is taken from the Brazilian word for carnival band, “bloco”. The carnival here is inspired by the Brazilian carnival where everyone is dressed up in bright colors, huge puppets march around, and there are thousands of people to come see the parade.
Before we move on, you were probably wondering what a township is in South Africa. A township is an underdeveloped living area on the outskirts of town. During the Apartheid Era of South Africa (pre-Nelson Mandela), black Africans, Coloureds, and Indians were forced out of their land and pushed to the outskirts of town. They were forced to build makeshift houses out of scrap metal, rocks, or anything else they found. Even after the liberation of 1994, large populations of people still live in the townships. However, there are efforts, granted slow, that are aiding these people to build more solid housing, health clinics and after-school programs for children.
The Ocean View Bloca has traditionally been lead by men. Leo, the current leader, tends to appoint male family members to coach new members or lead the ensemble. However, Michelle recommended that two women, also living in Ocean View, should teach the kids of Simonstown High School to play with the Ocean View Bloca come carnival.
Wanisha and Anusha, under the leadership of Michelle, are teaching the group of 9th graders songs to play and how to properly march in a parade. Leo was not particularly happy having Wanisha and Anusha lead the Simonstown group of kids. He said that they didn’t show confidence and thought they were less reliable than one of his male family members.
This is eMzantsi’s seventh session teaching the kids at Simonstown High School. We start inside the library to do a stereotype exercise. The students are either black or coloured. There are 16 girls and 5 boys. They are all given a sticker with a profession on it, and are told to put the sticker on their forehead without looking at their assigned profession. The students then were supposed to guess what their profession was by the stereotypes their neighbor tells them about their profession. (Kind of like that episode of The Office where Human Resources made Michael Scott to have a seminar about race.) One boy had nurse, a girl had a banker, etc. When the boy found out he had the nurse sticker, he said “No! But that’s for girls!” That was the whole point of the exercise: to see that even though these are stereotypes, this is the first thing people think of when they see that kind of profession. If they see someone with the “banker” sticker, they would probably think: white, rich, male. The eMzantsi facilitators were trying to show the kids that, yes, privilege is an issue in South Africa, and some groups have more disadvantages than others, but people should be more aware of where people have started and where they come from.
eMzantsi practices these kind of exercises and music classes at various other schools. Having a huge majority of 16 girls in the Simonstown class is a rare entity. Girls are not only too shy to play drums because boys will usually make fun of them, but many girls are unable to join the class because they have to go back home immediately after school and take care of the domestic roles in their household. Some of these high school girls are considered the head of the house. They must watch their little siblings, cook, and clean. This is still the mentality in many townships. eMzantsi gives these kids the chance to be kids and not stress about whatever is happening back home. It gives them the chance to express themselves without any type of judgement and allow them to just have fun.
You can check out eMzantsi’s website HERE and check their ethos and current projects in the Southern peninsula of the Western Cape.