Giving back to our families, to our communities, and to society at large is the essence of the Zulu saying, Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (a person is a person through other persons), which is core to my life and a slogan that I live by, writes Nkululeko Khumalo, an independent curator and a printmaking lecturer at Vaal University of Technology (VUT).
This is the case with Gamakhulu Diniso, a community engagement guru (practitioner), not only for VUT but for the entire Sedibeng region (the Vaal Triangle). His love for the arts and people is evident in his works.
Diniso has engaged with VUT since it was an art college, through to its days as a technikon, and continues to do so today. He is entrenched in the institution and has established relationships with staff members and students alike.
He attended the Rorke’s Drift Art and Craft Centre in KwaZulu-Natal, which was founded as the Evangelical Lutheran Church Arts and Craft Centre in 1962 by the Church of Sweden Mission. Rorke’s Drift was instrumental in developing a black, fine arts identity in South Africa during a period when access to formal training in the fine arts was largely denied to black communities by the government. One of the only other arts schools in the country at the time was the Polly Street Art School in Soweto.
Diniso’s own archival collection is proof of his accomplishment as a visual artist and as an archivist of note. His archive dates back over three decades, and the most fascinating of all is his preserved collection of newspaper clippings. The majority of these have been scanned and reprinted for exhibitions that took place at Bodutu Art Gallery in 2010 (VUT), his studio in 2014 and at The Point of Order in 2016 (Wits University). Despite not having studied at a formal institution of higher learning, he needs to be recognised as an ‘organic intellectual’, to quote Antonio Gramsci. Diniso’s involvement in the struggle against colonial apartheid deserves to be celebrated; he is an embodiment of the country’s historical memory that is worth preserving and learning from.
Diniso also founded Busang Arts School, based in Sharpeville, which offered children lessons in visual arts, drama and dance. The children participated in community cultural activities and formal school events. In 1984, the Busang Arts School was transformed into Busang Thakaneng Theatre, which presented plays that commented on the socio-political issues of the day. Sixteen of Diniso’s students were enrolled at the renowned Funda Centre for Community Education in Soweto between 1986 and 1989. In 1984, Diniso closed his art portfolio and concentrated on the performing arts, having received rave reviews for his stage plays. Among the reasons for closing his portfolio, was to stop the exploitation of black artists and the need to preserve his artworks, to ensure that his children could access his works in the future.
In 1996, he established the Sharpeville Resource Centre, which encompassed an art gallery named after Prof. Es’kia Mphahlele. Thereafter, Diniso went to Wits Technikon, where he was appointed the director of drama from 2000 to 2001. He then formed a student group called Culture Reclamation Youth. They first held a programme at Wits Technikon in September 2000 entitled Observing Steve Biko, which involved dance, performance, theatre and talks regarding the Black Consciousness Movement. This was followed by a visit to the Steve Biko home in Ginsberg, King William’s Town, on 16 June 2001 by students from Vaal Technikon and Wits Technikon. Diniso facilitated and ran a workshop for young people attending the Biko Centre to commemorate 16 June, in memory of the Soweto Uprising.
Diniso is currently working with Vaal University students, and the programme includes art talks, space for exhibitions, theatre, and an art market. This has helped the students of VUT to build their self-confidence and to understand that when they complete their qualification and have to go back home, they have to support communities too.