Themba Interactive founder welcomed back with open arms
But I needn’t have worried. I was welcomed with open arms, with hugs from many I already knew and others I had not previously met and was immediately made to feel at home.
The main purpose of my visit was to hand over a cheque for £6 000 (about R75 000) which had been raised by supporters in the UK and was to be used to provide financial help for part-time students on the Drama for Life course at the University of the Witwatersrand – happily just across the road from Themba in Braamfontein.
In addition to the cheque presentation, I had been asked to give a lecture at Wits University, and also a master-class at Themba. I was told people wanted to know the history of Themba and how it had come into being.
This was lovely for me because it gave me the opportunity to look back and remind myself of all the good times, and challenges, Theresa Lynne and I encountered along the way. Mostly these challenges were to do with lack of money, the never-ending fundraising, the complexities of registering Themba as a Section 21 company, and the constant search for better accommodation.
When it came to the most valuable resource in Themba – the people – there was more joy and happiness than challenges – though there were some notable exceptions.
As well as giving the lecture and the master-class I met up again with some friends from when I lived in Johannesburg. It was wonderful to see them again and to talk about South Africa now and discuss some of the changes I’d noticed.
One of the things I felt was different from 10 years ago was the more relaxed atmosphere. One day, as I walked along Jorrissen Street to buy myself a sandwich for lunch – people appeared to be more at ease with themselves and each other. And the traffic in Joburg was better: the new taxis brought in for the World Cup were smarter and their drivers were better behaved than a few years ago – it seemed to me that this had affected other road users with more considerate driving generally.
But more importantly it felt as if the young people joining Themba Interactive were less handicapped by the past than their predecessors.
Ten years ago when we recruited the first group of young people to be trained as actor-educators, they had all been children of the apartheid years and many of them had developed an understandable antipathy towards white people. They had not had the advantage of a decent education, so Theresa and I developed a programme of training which encompassed literacy, numeracy and South African history, as well as the interactive theatre process, information about HIV/Aids and theatre skills.
I could be wrong, but I got the feeling that there is a difference in the young people who come to Themba these days – they seem to have had a better education, and seem to have a more open approach to life. Maybe this is due rather to the exciting developments in Themba since Warren Nebe became director, or maybe there is some improvement in education in South Africa generally – or possibly a bit of both.
Whatever the cause, I was delighted to see that in the capable hands of Warren, with Sweetness as his deputy, Themba feels as if it’s on a solid foundation.
Of course there is never enough money for this sort of work, but it is incredibly gratifying for me to know that while so many South African NGOs have closed down recently, Themba Interactive is alive and kicking and doing excellent work in the field of HIV prevention. It is also particularly exciting for me to know that because of Themba no less than four young people have had the opportunity to go to Wits University to study.
I hope this link continues and more Themba young people have the opportunity – it would be especially good if some of the young women could take advantage of this connection with Wits University.
On the day I left, many of the Themba staff and actor-educators gathered for the traditional chocolate cake and cooldrinks – and they gave me a card. This was a tradition that was introduced when Theresa and I were at Themba: when anyone had a birthday, a major event in their lives (happy or sad), when someone joined us, or when someone left, the young people would create a suitable greeting card with messages from them and with pictures cut out of magazines.
I cherish all the cards I was given at Themba, and this latest one was accompanied by a speech from Nelson Mandela – or at any rate from Majesty who has Madiba’s voice down to perfection. It was a wonderful moment and one that I will cherish for a long time.