The Durban University of Technology’s (DUT’s) Dr Anusharani Sewchurran, the Centre for General Education, (GenEd) lecturer from the Midlands campus spoke about the GenEd’s exciting project with the community organisation, Isigqi Sobuntu Organisation (ISO), situated in Ezakheleni informal settlement in Umlazi (S Section) in Durban.
DUT’s Centre for General Education is responsible for overseeing the delivery of 30 Institutional General Education (IGE) modules across the seven campuses of DUT.
Dr Sewchurran from DUT’s Centre for General Education has been involved in developmental projects with the ISO youth organisation from the Ezakhaleni informal settlement (Umlazi, S Section) for the last five years. She explained that this year in 2021, DUT and ISO had joined the SIYAJAIVA-keep moving dance project.
Giving an overview of the dance project, Dr Sewchurran specified that the Flatfoot Dance Company which has been involved in community engagement dance work for over two decades, were, in recent times, severely constrained in their dance activities because of the COVID pandemic.
“Artistic director of the Flatfoot dance company, Dr Lliane Loots, had the idea of taking dance digital through WhatsApp videos, created by Flatfoot company dancers, Jabu Sipika and Sifiso Khumalo. During the nine-month process of digital dance, over 200 dancers joined the digital community dance project. A short 20-minute film was made which also details the outcome of the Flatfoot Dance Company’s innovative digital WhatsApp community dance project called SIYAJAIVA-keep moving. The project culminated in a film launched on 9 November 2021 on YouTube and Facebook,” she said.
When asked as to why DUT needed to embark in such community projects, Dr Sewchurran indicated that in mid-2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, ISO (the Ezakheleni youth group) served 300 meals a day, three days a week, to those in need, and it was amazing that a community traditionally pathologised as deficit, was able to empathise, mobilise and humanise.
“ISO responded to a desperate need in a humane and communal way. DUT needs to embark on community projects with this particular community not because we have something to teach, but perhaps it is because we have something to learn,” she relayed.
She also said the GenEd Department intend to focus on four areas with their community engagement research partners.
“This is the continuation of existing creative collaborations with Flatfoot Dance Company. Starting a sustainable literacy project (language and digital literacy). Investigating possibilities of broader inclusion in the Maritime sector; as well as exploring intercontinental research with a view to developing theoretical symmetry and social cohesion,” conveyed Dr Sewchurran.
With COVID-19, Dr Sewchurran explained that the COVID pandemic has forced us to embrace the digital platform, which may be a good thing as digital platforms enable inclusivity.
“Literacy projects may be very possible in a digital format. However, the immediacy with dance will always require a hybrid, which Dr Loots achieved with Siya Jaiva dance motifs which were taught digitally, and then closer to the performance a few practice sessions ensured an easy shift from digital to live performance,” she said.
She elaborated that the project responds to DUTs ENVISION2030 in that it is people-centred, and it creates mutually beneficial collaborations with a view to introducing a traditionally invisible public to the university.
“The project brought together institutions, Flatfoot dancers, musicians, members of the Ezakheleni informal settlement, funders and even health care workers who supported the project as movement is seen as one of the keys to mental health,” she said.
Going forward, Dr Sewchurran pointed out that other projects she is hoping to be involved in is the Isigqi Sobuntu Organisation (ISO) which was developed in Ezakheleni by the youth who recognised that there is tremendous need for social development.
“Since ISOs inception, I have worked closely with the Chair, Siyanda S Sikobi on a variety of projects. The idea was to generate research and then use the research funding for various projects. In this way, collaboration is sustainable and mutually beneficial,” she added.
Dr Sewchurran in conversation with ISO’s Sikobi observed that, in a modest way, this collaboration attempted to create meaningful community engagement by linking the formal with the informal, connecting old and new networks, and using the digital to transcend the physical.
“SIYAJAIVA-keep moving community dance project brought a variety of people together from all walks of life, breaking boundaries towards common creative meaning. We are so grateful to Dr Linda Linganiso for the grant allocation which made this possible,” she said.
Dr Loots, Siyanda Sikobi and Dr Sewchurran plan to continue the collaboration with other community dance projects. To view the film, go to: YouTube: https://youtu.be/JzgvWoW_8qA or Facebook: https://facebook.com/events/s/launch-video-siyajaiva-keep-mo/1032843470614178/.
Pictured: Flatfoot company dancers teaching the young children from Ezakhaleni. (Photograph by Val Adamson).