Global Perspectives on Human Language:
The South African Context

      A Second Chance at Living
Through Art

Language & Education

History & Culture

Sites & Scenery

Additional Links


Kiazi Malonga
Updated 9-19-2004

During the time that we researched in Cape Town, South Africa, we traveled to many schools (both rural and urban), museums, neighborhoods, organizations, and market places.   Even though these represented a wide variety of locations, they all shared one cultural commonality: art.   Art was present in all of these places for purchase, viewing or entertainment.   The strong presence of art is ubiquitous with roots deeply entrenched in the history of South Africa.

Artistic Roots

Thousands of years ago, the San of South Africa left a legacy of beautiful rock art along what is now called the Sevilla Trail in the region of Clanwilliam, South Africa. The San were hunter-gathers whose rock art was representative of daily life and momentous occasions.   It has allowed modern society to learn a great amount about this ancient culture of nomadic people.   The San and the Khoi-Khoi are the ancestors of current native inhabitants of South Africa.   It has been since these ancient times that art has been a proud part of South African culture.

In more recent history, art has re-surfaced in the South African community after being dormant for quite sometime during the shackles of Apartheid.   Because this brutal history has left this country and her people in such a devastated condition, it continues to be a long and challenging process of transition into a more equal society for blacks and coloureds.   Black and colored people still do not have equal socio-economic opportunities, which feed into the increase in violence, crime, gangs and drug usage.   But since the South African economy was reopened to the world with the fall of apartheid, many have adopted new professions as artists, seizing the economic opportunity available with the increase in tourism.   The prospects that art has provided for the people have been, and will continue to be, a positive way to make a living.

Influx of Tourism

Since the South Africa economy and government has returned to the world market, in the past six years it has become one of the most visited places by tourists in the world.   Due to this newly developed market, many individuals saw the chance to become better acquainted with the arts, thus becoming musicians, learning how to make crafts and art, or just becoming local vendors.   This has had a huge financial impact and has created more opportunities that otherwise would have been non-existent.   Recognizing the partnership with NFTE and noticing the newly created market with such a high demand and supply, our group acknowledged the entrepreneurial potential of the vendors, craftsmen/artists, and musicians and distributed literature resources related to entrepreneurship.

Local Art Forms

In our travels around the Cape Town, we were privileged to visit the townships (Langa, Philani, Guguletu and Khyelitsha), Tsoga, the Environmental Resource Center, and many schools ranging from elementary to university levels.   The individuals at all these locations entertained us with song, dance, drums, and marimba, or simply sold hand-made crafts.   In addition, many of these schools and organizations have recognized the economic and educational opportunities available through arts and have adopted classes in craft-making or performance arts to help generate funds by attracting tourists.   The ending result is that these organizations and schools increase their ability to create various art forms, and are simultaneously able to increase the potential to attract tourists.   This creates an informal ambience of entrepreneurialism among the schools and organizations.

Most of the artistic services provided, such as music and entertainment, are South African, but the artistic products are not always of local origin.   In fact, the majority of art that has flooded the market is from other African countries, such as Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, and Zimbabwe.   Also, many of the vendors come from other African nations.   It is a very mixed community with an eclectic choice of art mirroring the diversity of its people.  

New Directions for South African Art?

This places South African artistic identity in question and also brings about the concern of what can be done to preserve artistic heritage while profiting from emerging tourist markets.   We first must acknowledge that the market driven forces of art are the tourists, thus reducing the drive to present traditional South African art.   In referring back to many interviews that I conducted with vendors in small shops and in market places, the general sentiments were that there were no opportunities for traditional art to be placed in galleries, a key venue for impacting and shifting the demand of tourists.   Without the recognition of galleries, tourists will continue to be the deciding factors in what South Africa should offer as art to the tourist public. Thus, vendors will be forced to meet these demands to make a living.          

Reflecting back on South Africa's rich ancestry and acknowledging the huge artistic contribution of the Khoi-Khoi, we can only begin to understand the difficult decision that the South African vendors must face.   The choice of respecting the artistic responsibility in sticking to tradition, versus maximizing the economic opportunity in catering to the demand of the tourist is what most vendors face.   However the identity of South Africa is for her people to decide.