During a Thanksgiving celebration, I met some Capetonians who pointed me in the direction of a local tradition. In the summer, the Kristenbosch botanical gardens come alive. Every Sunday, people pour into the gardens for a picnic and a concert. This Sunday was no different, except my friend Hannah and I decided to join the crowd.
We made a day out of the event and arrived early for a picnic. Thanks to Hannah’s delicious contributions, we enjoyed a salad, fruit salad, and sandwiches containing salmon, cheese and avocadoes. To create space for our plethora of food, Hannnah and I (slightly awkwardly) sat in the middle of the meadow. After a time, people started sitting next to us. Finally, we noticed that random groups of people had created a line of picnics in front and behind of us. While surrounded, a group of concert-goers approached us as asked us which end was the beginning of the queue. Apparently, these South Africans did not know what to do with our random picnic placements and they just assumed that we had created the line for gate and crowded around us.
Our unintentional picnic placement got us prime seats for the concert, allowing us to save room for nine other friends. After enjoying delicious food, incredible wine, and lovely company, we were finally able to enjoy the sounds of the classic South African band, Mango Groove. I don’t have much frame of reference to be able to describe their music, but what others told me is that they are a fusion of township jazz with Afrikaans vocals. Apart from their sound, the vibe of the band reminded me of a South African version of Wham.
Mango Groove is only one of the many ways music pervades the South African culture. In many different communities, music is not only present, but also a central part of traditions and activities. On Tuesday, I joined Abe and Cindy, members of TSiBA’s Ignition Centre, to attend an Ekasi Academy matric (graduation) in Khayelitsha. The word “ekasi” translates from Xhosa as “township,” identifying the Academy as a place of learning for township community members. Cindy is the TSiBA lecturer for accelerated classes at the Ekasi Academy and she teaches courses like Business Essentials, Business Plan Writing, and Financial Management. December 5 marked a significant day in the lives of several students as they crossed the graduation stage.
The ceremony was far different than any graduation I have attended because the graduates, their friends, and their family all seemed to actually want to be there. Let me clarify by adding that most American students are glad to finally graduate and their loved ones almost always want to experience that moment with them; however, the ceremony itself is usually an event I would only take someone to if I wanted to punish them. Most graduations are long, drawn out occasions that mostly consist of attendees waiting for the 30 seconds of recognition the graduate receives by walking across the stage.
The Ekasi Academy graduation was an entirely different matter. The ceremony was prolonged before and after each speaker when the graduates would burst into mighty unison of Xhosa melody, singing in honor of the guests. The sporadic singing continued throughout the program for the people the crowd recognized. Before my manager, Abe’s turn to speak, he leaned to Cindy and asked, “Who is going to sing for me?” Cindy replied, “Lindsey I guess,” then they both died laughing. They know me well.
After Abe’s motivational speech, a traditional Xhosa choir sang several pieces before a local band called the Heavenly Quartet came on stage. The four men sang with such soul, humor, and passion, that the crowd remained standing and danced along to the songs (not that the crowd did not do that most of the time anyways). After Cindy gave certificates to her graduates, we left the ceremony early since it was guaranteed to last for several hours longer. While making our clandestine exit, a couple people rushed us with muffins and cans of juice to take with us.
Hospitality was also prevalent throughout the event while members from the community, Ekasi Academy, and Silulo Ulutho Technologies welcomed our Ignition Centre team. The entire event was coordinated by one of TSiBA’s key partners and facilitator of the Ekasi Academy, Silulo Ulutho Technologies. Luvuyo Rani, one of the organization’s founders, originally created the company to sell affordable computers to disadvantaged communities. After an unsuccessful trial, he realized that the venture needed to also educate the market about how to use the computers he was selling. This lead to the creation of e-cafes and computer training classes all over the Western Cape, later forming the large crowd of graduates I met on Tuesday. The graduation lasted for two days in order to properly recognize and appreciate each member of the graduation and their stakeholders.
 Xhosa is the language of the Xhosa people. During apartheid, almost all of the Xhosa people suffered horrific oppression, cruelty, and violence whether individuals passively accepted their degradation or if they fought for their rights and dignity. Townships, like Khayelitsha, are products of the inhumane, white supremacist government that displaced people in areas according to race. However, the continuation of townships post-apartheid remains a complex issue as many members choose to stay in informal settlements.