By Edward Tsumele
June is Youth Month, and this month is of special significance especially to the youth of this country. June 16 has been declared a holiday in South Africa in commemoration of the role the youth played in the fight for freedom.
When the youth in 1976, made that bold decision to go into the streets to rise against the introduction of Afrikaans as a language of instruction at black schools, that decision and the action that followed it was a game changer. It is for this reason that the country by commemorating that day, is also in recognition of the potency of the youth for making the world a better place.
The Soweto uprisings of course started in Soweto before gaining momentum and organically grew into a monumental movement spreading like wild fire to other major cities of the country. The demands also grew from the grievance about Afrikaans to a general clamour for freedom for black people in the country.
That definitely was a brave step taken by the youth of 1976, and some lost their lives for it, while others were maimed for life in the process and still have scars, both physical and psychological from the bloody confrontation with the then apartheid Police The Hector Pieterson Memorial Park in Soweto is a constant reminder about the role of the youth in the liberation of this country as it is also about the sacrifices that were made to attain freedom, some of them such as in Pieterson’s case, paying the ultimate price, mowed down by the Apartheid military machinery.
But of course the country is now free and opportunities for educational advancement are available. Professions that were not available to the majority of the youth of this country, are now available for the taking for those who dream big. The youth of 1976 could only have dreamt of these opportunities for educational advancement that are now available to the youth of this country.
However even during that time of apartheid, visionary men and women were able to beat the system of apartheid to create educational opportunities for the disadvantaged.
One such institution that played that role boldly is the Market Theatre in Newtown, which was not only open to participation by black actors when it was founded in 1976, but also put up shows that exposed the absurdity of the apartheid system through a form of rebellious theatre that became known as Protest Theatre.
But the institution did more to advance the cause of the downtrodden from especially the townships and the rural areas by opening an avenue for training the black youth in particular who were excluded by formal training institutions like universities.
The Market Theatre alongside the Market Photo Workshop, founded the Market Theatre Lab, both places becoming popular-go-to places for those seeking training in theatre and in photographer.
Formed in 1989, The Market Theatre Lab played a crucial role in educating especially the black youth in theatre, and it still does 26 years after democracy, offering the youth skills in a variety of areas such as writing, directing and acting, preparing them for roles in the entertainment sector in a free and democratic country.
Today, many a television face has come through the doors of The Market Theatre Lab where their skills in the craft were sharpened and their personal development in the arts was generally moulded. Big names on stage and TV today such as Sello Maake Ncube, and Mncedisi Shabangu, to name just two for example honed their skills at The Market Theatre Lab, before they became famous, and so did prominent photographers such as Ruth Motau, Zanele Muholi, and Neo Tshoma hone their photographic skills at the Market Photo Workshop before they became big names, to also just name a few among many successful photographers.
However as far as the training of young people in skills is concerned, there is always a gap between getting training and getting into the industry, and many a young freshly trained thespian struggles with that transition.
Those unlucky even fall by the way side before the doors to theatre glory have opened, while others soldier on until they find their space and transition to a successful career in the entertainment industry.
The Lab to address this perennial problem of otherwise well trained actors from some of the country’s best theatre training institutions struggling to transition seamlessly into theatre professionals, launched a residency theatre company to plug this artistic gap in 2018.
The Market Theatre Lab’s sister business unit The Market Theatre Photo Workshop continues to transform the lives of many young hungry for skills in photography, not only from South Africa, but the southern African region as a whole. Many are photographer in newsrooms in contemporary South Africa has been trained at the Market Photo Workshop, and so are those in commercial photography practice. These two institutions in democratic South Africa continue to play important roles in the lives of the youth of the country by creating in employment opportunities by skilling the youth as well as business opportunities for those among the youth who are entrepreneurial. The two institutions are also reputed for their innovations in education provision. For example during this difficult and uncertain time of Covid-19, both the Market Theatre Lab and the Market Photo Workshop continue to train the youth online using new technologies to deliver the lectures to the students.