“You ask where I get my strength from? My kids and the people in my community who are hopeless but believe that there is life beyond this one.” Sisa Makaula (34), Delft, Cape Town, husband, father and arts activist extraordinaire.

I write this on the 2nd lockdown weekend in Cape Town. It is Sunday night, April 5, 2020. According to the statistics on the Covid-19 Government Portal, 9pm Sunday night, 1655 positive cases have been identified in South Africa. There have been 11 deaths and 45 recoveries. The link to the portal: https://sacoronavirus.co.za/ The link is on the masthead of TheCapeRobyn magazine website. It has been tabled in the government gazette that all South African websites must include this link on its site.

Tribute: Sisa Makaula

A few days before the lockdown, I was contacted by Sisa Makaula. He asked me to assist in publicising a community arts project that he is working on, along with a prominent non-profit arts organisation. That project is on hold 

I would like to pay tribute to this extraordinary individual who has chosen to rise above the innumerable stumbling blocks that has he has encountered.

Rainbow Arts

I met Sisa Makaula and his colleague and friend, Luvuyo Gaji in 2009. Their organisation Rainbow Arts was involved with puppetry workshops run by UNIMA – the South African chapter of the international puppetry association UNIMA (Union International de la Marionette). UNIMA invited me to see what Rainbow Arts  had made during the workshop. Later that year, UNIMA invited Gaji and Makaula, to work with renowned puppeteer Janni Younge on puppets and masks for Janice Honeyman’s production of The Tempest which was on at the Baxter and which starred John Kani and Antony Sher. 

That year, Rainbow developed a show for UNIMA’s festival, Out the Box and also staged a play at the Baxter’s Ikhwezi Festival that year (now called The Zabalaza Theatre Festival).

The Black Box Theatre, Delft

Fast forward to 2012. I interviewed and Luvuyo Gaji for an article for The Weekend Argus. They were excited that they had finally got their dream project up and riding. They had established a theatre, The Black Box Theatre in Delft, a “township” in Cape Town. It was the first theatre in Delft. As far as I can ascertain, April 2020 and it is still the only theatre in Delft.

At the time of the 2012 interview, the future was looking bright. Here were two young men in their twenties who were passionate about using the arts for positive social change and cohesion.

Have a look at the photo, accompanying this article and you will get a sense of the sheer positivity of these two individuals. They laughed a lot and laughed at themselves. They quipped that people ragged them for the name – Rainbow Arts. The Rainbow Nation was rupturing, they were heckled. What did they think that they were doing by using the moniker, Rainbow Arts? They didn’t care. They saw themselves as facilitators – not teachers. They wanted to carry the torch of Madiba’s Rainbow Nation in their community, Delft.  Both men had received some training in visual and performance arts at school but not much. There were no funds for tertiary education. They were learning on the boards with assistance of organisations like UNIMA.

Pause, before you read on…

Up to now, if you are reading this, you are thinking: It is great story. It is story of hope. It is story of transcending poverty through the arts. Sorry, pause. Take a breath and proceed to the next paragraph.

Luvuyo Gaji was killed in a car accident in his way to a funeral. In March 2017, Sisa Makaula was shot. He was caught in crossfire between gangs, outside the Black Box Theatre in Delft. He is paralysed from the waist down.

A month before the shooting, he was driving the car he had saved up to buy (a Volvo) and he was hijacked. That left the family without its own transport.

Despite what has happened– losing his dear friend and colleague, Luvuyo Gaji and being shot in the community that he has worked in as an arts activist, Sisa Makaula continues to adhere to the notion of “rainbow arts” and to work on projects in Delft and elsewhere.

Getting on with living – forever seeking the rainbow of hope

Signature cognitive therapy proclaims that although we may not have control what happens around us and to us, we have control how we respond. With so much death, despair, poverty around him, Makaula chooses life- and hope. As you can see from the interview below, it was a matter of getting busy living, rather than dying. He has done that and continues to do that – during the national lockdown as he sits in his wheelchair in a tiny house in Delft, Cape Town.

Sisa Makaula (34) talks about lockdown, Delft, Cape Town

TheCapeRobyn: Reflections on the interview in 2012, please- you were in a great place and had no idea what lay ahead?

Sisa Makaula: When we did the interview with you in 2012, Luvuyo was about 28 and I was about 26. It was a great year- a great time for us. We had just received major funding from National Lotteries to do one of the greatest projects in the township [in Delft, 2012]. So it was a great time for us. I mean me and Luvuyo were like brothers. We feed from each other. He gives me energy. He receives energy from my side.

At that time we felt like nothing could stop us. When we occupied the Rent Office, we were determined that we want to turn that place into a theatre; we want to build a theatre in the heart of Delft; we want to build a place; a legacy; a place where we can do professional theatre work – like the same standard of Artscape. So the energy that we had at that time was fire. I think things went down when Luvuyo died in 2014.

In 2014, I could have just decided to leave everything: Move to another province and start a new life… But things didn’t happen that way. I thought – “okay – I am not going to stop.” He told me that if he dies, the legacy of Rainbow Arts must not die. The show must continue. So all those words were ringing in my mind at that time so I thought – ‘okay , I am going to pick up where we left off, wipe my tears and make sure that whatever hard work we put into the organisation continues. So from 2014, 2015, I continued to run he organisation and ensured that it had enough funding to sustain itself – up until I got shot in 2017. This I think was the climax of our story. I thought that this was the end: The Cutting Call.

The building that Rainbow Arts is in, isa building that was doing nothing. There was a lot of pressure for the city to give the building to us. Before the end of 2012, they [the City] officially gave the building for us to manage.

TheCapeRobyn: What is the situation with the theatre at Rainbow Arts – obviously not during the lockdown when everything is on hold – but before and going forward?

Sisa Makaula: Currently now [2020], Rainbow Arts manages the building. The venue is called The Black Box Theatre and is managed by the Rainbow Arts Organisation.  The City takes care of electricity, water and payment of everything. So in a nutshell…the place has been space for arts and culture, since 2012, with the help of people… At the moment, the venue is closed because of the lockdown. [Makaula says he is currently – as of April 2020- not employed by Rainbow Arts but does run projects there on an ad hoc basis]

TheCapeRobyn: Please tell us about when you were shot – and paralysed?

Sisa Makaula: The shooting happened just outside the Rent Office – this was before the renovation – the new fencing there is there now. So what was happening on that day- I was outside on my tea-break. I was speaking with some boys outside who I wanted to recruit; to be part of the programmes that we do at Rainbow Arts. The guys who are part of gangs in the area: I know them. They know me. Every time I spoke to them- I always told them: “You know you can change. You can do something better with your life.” They were always sitting outside the Rent Office They told me that they are always protecting the area [Rent Office]. No one will rob anyone who goes there [to the Rent Office] or whatever.

I was actually shot in a cross-fire shooting. That is what happened. The other gang came to shoot them and I was in the middle of them. So that was how I got shot. It was during the day, around 1pm or 2pm. It was during the day. It was on March 7, 2017. I don’t know if there was an investigation by the police. A case was opened. I was given a case number by a detective but I don’t know what happened to the case.

TheCapeRobyn: Did you get compensation when you were shot?

Sisa Makaula: No.

TheCapeRobyn: Do you get a disability grant and did you receive the April pay-out?

Sisa Makaula: Yes I do receive a disability grant of R1600 which I receive via SASSA card and yes I have received payment for April

The grant is not enough for our living that’s why I had to go back to do contract jobs in arts which in more in fundraising and project management. But since the lockdown, jobs have all been cancelled.

TheCapeRobyn: Since the lockdown began, have you received a call from local social services, offering you assistance as a person living with a disability?

TheCapeRobyn: No… There is a NGO which has employed several women who are called “care givers” so I’m part of their database who they visit to make sure life is not that difficult. But they are on lockdown now.

TheCapeRobyn: You have said that your family is everything. It has kept you going?

Sisa Makaula: Today before I can call myself an artist I’m a husband, father of two boys. My family is everything to me, they are the reason I was given a second chance. That supports me very much.

I’m 34 years with two naughty boys and a lovely wife. We have been married since 2015. My son, Chuma Xabakashe Makaula is 10 and my younger son- Khanyisile J Makaula, is four years.

The lockdown has put so much strain in the family as my wife is not a full time worker and myself I do ad hoc jobs so it is  pretty tough. Moving for a wheelchair bound person in the location is even harder, no transport. It is just hard. All my year plans are on hold at the moment. It is about putting food on the table.

My wife, Asthandile Makaula, works at a call centre, but works at home now because of the lockdown. Before my accident she was studying marketing but she couldn’t cope and she had to drop out. She still hopes to go back to school maybe do teaching or social worker but she’s scared what will happen to the family…

TheCapeRobyn: Please describe the house that you live in – do you have an indoor bathroom. Is it wheelchair friendly?

Sisa Makaula: We live in Delft in an RDP house which by its design is more of a flat for a couple, you wouldn’t call this home. It is so small we had to move the inside toilet to outside and this was back in 2016 before my accident. The toilet has no shower. Now I was on my bed with a small bucket. So yes, I do have access to a bathroom even though it is not adjusted for wheelchair. Yes, we have running water.

TheCapeRobyn: We are being urged to be “safe” during the lockdown but you live in an area which is overcrowded, under-resourced and under-policed?

Sisa Makaula: Safety in the location is not guaranteed. When you leave the house you never know what is going to happen to you. You just hope and pray that you go by safely. The only ‘cure’ that you could use – that I have been using all the years I have been living in Delft – is that you become friends with everyone- friends with people who are doing petty crimes in the community. You become friends with the drug dealers; with everyone. You don’t isolate yourself from others or make them feel that you are better than them. You make them feel that they are also part of the community. That recipe has worked for me. Everyone knows me in Delft.

My house is very close to my neighbour’s house. We share numbers. Whenever we hear of a banging – on his door of his house or mine- he will call me – and I will call him- whatever time in the night- just to make sure we are safe. So the first people I will call are my neighbours and friends who I know are close by. You know, police are the last people that you call. Even if you call them, they never come in time; unless you tell them that there is a drug house or there are drugs being moved from one house to another – then they will come immediately. But if you are saying that you are under threat; someone is breaking in; they will never come. So, yuh, in here, you must have your own security plan.

Staying in lockdown is not easy for this community I live in. Townships are congested; no trees area full of litter and other families live in a full asbestos house so when it’s hot the house is on fire. Walking in grass  here is a dream. If we were back in the Eastern Cape we would have more land; more life. The air is much cleaner there for us. Our people would all move to Eastern Cape if the province was full of opportunities.

TheCapeRobyn: And there is no car as you were hijacked before the shooting?

Sisa Makaula: In October 2016, I bought a Volvo V50 family car but was hijacked the following year in February, I think after my birthday. Then the following month I was shot. Talk about events in a life time. We use public transport now. Moving for a wheelchair bound person in the location is even harder, no transport. It just hard.

TheCapeRobyn: How are you coping as a family to buy essentials?

Sisa Makaula: Whenever we need groceries – bread or whatever. My wife will go and do all the essential stuff is from close by. We have a close by mall so she can go and buy whatever we need for the week or the day. I don’t go out much. I spend most of my time inside the house, doing small things, having a good time with the family, maybe reading a book, watching a movie, playing with the boys. Lockdown is a blow on us because we are stuck in this small space together. We are stuck as a family so it’s not a problem. The fear and the concern – if the lockdown is extended- it is going to be a problem because there won’t be enough money to carry us through. No work, no pay. We are just hoping that there will be a relief in terms of the lockdown so that you can go back into normal times. We are hoping and praying, so yuh.

TheCapeRobyn: People are sharing tips for getting through lockdown – much of that through access to high speed internet and luxuries which you don’t have. Some reflections from you: How your family is coping?

Sisa Makaula: Things are different for us in the township. To start off, its expensive to make sure that all households have enough sanitizer, enough gloves, enough masks, and so on. So the simple things I will advise the other households that we do in our own home. We have our own way of making sure that we are safe. If we don’t have sanitizer, we make sure we clean our hands with soap. If we had contact with the outside world, maybe we went for groceries, we wash our hands, change our clothes. We have our own home made masks when we go outside. We try as much as possible to stay inside. When we need to go outside, it is only for essential things that we need in the household.

I have space for yoga in the house. My wife and I usually do some physio time on the bed but I really need professional physiotherapists.

We try and make sure that the kids have enough so they don’t have to go outside. They hear other kids playing outside so we have to explain to them why they need to be inside and we need to give them enough things to do to keep them occupied.

As a family we play poker, cards and watch movies on TV.

TheCapeRobyn: Please tell us about the foundation you run?

Sisa Makaula: I have my own foundation – The Makaula Foundation – which is doing amazing work, we produced a production which is called The Curse of the Womb. It was the first play that I wrote, after my accident and it was performed twice at the end of 2019, to test it.  I received good reviews and I’m hoping to raise funds with the help of people like you so to have a full season this year.
The foundation is an NPO project founded under people’s values and our core mission is to advocate for education programs, programs that will change peoples’ lives. The organisation operates in Delft- a township in Cape Town- in case people don’t know. Our programmes are in arts education and sport and recreation.

Some of the objectives of the foundation include: Enhancing social cohesion within disadvantage communities, up-lifting youth, woman, people living with disability; fast tracking heritage, arts and culture, creating programmes to create awareness around substance abuse.

One of our projects is: The One Book One Child campaign project. The campaign is designed to encourage the culture of reading and make it a norm to have a book. The main aim of this program is to support the culture of reading across and to be a support organisation that supports the vision of reading. In 2019 we donated about 120 books to a boy’s mentorship program led by Thembinkosi Matika in Mfuleni Township, Cape Town.

In 2020 we have identified Delft South Primary. It has a library but has no books. Many of these children who are at school here will be lawyers and doctors one day. We need to invest in their education today.

There is a mural project which is very exciting: Legacy Project which seeks to paint the community with fallen artists or heroes. It will be part of making kids smile.

TheCapeRobyn: Despite what has happened to you, you remain positive and hopeful – helping others?

Sisa Makaula: Yes, I was shot in the community I served for more than 10 years and in those seconds I was laying down bleeding and them watching and confused not knowing if they should save me I decided to save myself.

When I was lying in bed at the rehab after being so angry at everyone I than realised I was not shot in the head or killed for a reason so I’ll go back and inspire them again and show them life does not stop here. This is when Makaula foundation was born.

I’m a slave to my community and I’ll die working for them.

You ask where I get my strength from? My kids and the people in my community who are hopeless but believe that there is life beyond this one.

I want to be that hope for them; hope for my kids. For me my spirit will never be taken by a bullet. My people are shot dead every day.

POSTCRIPT: In addition to the foundation that Sisa Makaula heads up, the director of UNIMA SA, Janni Younge would like to share the following with readers, as testimony to the tremendous spirit of this creative. She says: “Sisa has developed great capacity in fundraising and program design. He is volunteering his support for UNIMA SA, working on programmes, project design and fundraising. It’s really a full circle that demonstrates Sisa’s dedication to communities and the arts and his generosity of spirit.” www.unimasouthafrica.org

To donate to The Makaula Foundation: For information, e-mail Makaula.foundation@gmail.com or see the Facebook page: https://free.facebook.com/Makaula-Foundation-109199267337222/

Image credit: TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen. In the photo: Luvuyo Gaji (who was killed in a car accident in 2014) and Sisa Makaula. The photo was taken on stairs, outside the Baxter Theatre. Makaula is now in a wheelchair. He was paralysed after a shooting in Delft in 2017.