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Owners of Khayelitsha art NGO flee province for fear of being extorted by local gangsters

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By Tauhierah Salie

The traumatic robbery of the Khayelitsha Art School and Rehabilitation Centre (KASI RC) in the Western Cape has seen the owners fleeing to safety in another province. Speaking to VOC’s Breakfast Beat on Monday, award-winning actor and company director Mandisi Sindo, explained that the disappointment of being targeted in a community he has poured so much into, has caused him to lose his “love for Khayelitsha and Cape Town”.

The vision of the theatre practitioner and his wife was ‘always to create alternative art spaces in marginalized communities’, with the KASI RC being the second such innovation. Sindo said that there about 100 local youth are regularly taught poetry, theatre, music, visual arts and other artistic disciplines, with 30 of his students having landed themselves a spot at university.

The NPO had also been feeding 350 people on a daily basis and provided food parcels to community members at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We really thought the community would have our back. We never knew that young boys would one day come and rob us like they did,” he said.

It follows an incident at around 2.30pm on the 10 October 2020, when students were preparing for a screening to showcase the work they were doing throughout the year. The production included work done at “Shakespeare Festival, where they dismantled Shakespeare’s monologues into their own languages.” A group of six young men approached two students, pretending to come and see the show.

After being told that there will be no performance as yet the suspects had then, according to Sindo, intimidated the pair at gunpoint, forced them inside and locked the doors. The youth inside were between the ages of 8 and 25. A despondent Sindo highlighted that the criminals, too, were young.

“(There were) about six men, very young- with bright futures ahead of them. They were not hooligans or dirty boys- they were very clean. You could tell that they’re young boys with so much future. I don’t know what makes them do the things that they do.”

“Imagine a kid, at the age of eight, experiencing such torture where someone is just pointing a gun (at them) with angry faces,” he explained/

The suspects then proceeded to steal “everything”, including four iPhones, a MacBook, a 700D Canon camera, and all the centre’s recording equipment. Sindo added that the group were found to have used a stolen bank card to rack up a R4 800 bill at a tavern in Site C.

He added that while there have been phone calls, no trauma counsellors have been out to the area due to safety concerns.

“It’s very traumatic, we haven’t been seen by any social workers and counsellors. We’ve tried our best to reach out to Social Development, but we are still waiting for them to bring social workers into our space.”

He said that although he cannot confirm a motive, he is aware that gangs have been “terrorizing” businesses and demanding protection fee. The fear among the community, he stated, has increased. Female-run businesses in particular have been affected by this, with Sindo pointing to distressed voice notes circulating on social media by women running church groups in the area.

“They rob you first and then they come back and tell you, ‘if you don’t want to be robbed then you must pay protection fee’,” said Sindo.

Sindo has since left the Western Cape for fear of his and family’s lives. He expressed doubt that he will be able to continue maintaining the centre.

“I cannot be in Cape Town, especially since my case is all over news and social media. They will definitely look for me and try to kill me. I have (too) bright a future to be killed.”

“We had visitors coming from all over the world who (came) to our theatre and they really loved what is happening in the townships. I don’t think I will be able to continue doing the work I was doing. I think its time I start looking out for myself- I have a family and kids I need to take care of as well.”

The director despondently added that government has not been of help to them.

“I’ve been waiting on assistance from government. I’ve done beautiful things for South Africa at large, not only Cape Town or Khayelitsha. I’ve made South Africa look like a great place. If these kinds of things are happening in the townships and the government does not do anything then that means its time for me to stop,” he added.

He noted that a Back-A-Buddy Campaign aimed at raising money for the community has garnered little in the past few months. Sindo has since appealed to those wanting to assist, to contact him telephonically via 084 038 1900 or email Khayelitshaartschool2017@gmail.com :

“If anyone is out there and wants to help, even counsellors who can help my kids… please, please do help. The help is not only monetary. We (also) need money for food and travelling,” he added.

VOC


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