CF: Lockdown has emphasised many of South Africa’s societal problems, from gender-based violence to poverty and inequality, from your direct dealing with communities, how do you think people are coping and are you noticing positive changes through Community Art Counselling?
RM: Yes, the lockdown has indeed emphasised and increased the societal problems we are facing. And to be absolutely honest, a lot of people are not coping at the moment: financially, physically and emotionally. To give one example, in April, when we started assisting our families with food vouchers, our phone number spread around like wildfire. At some point, we had over 100 messages a day of people pleading for food. And the messages did not only come from the inner-city, they came from across the country. It is heart-breaking to witness and I felt particularly powerless because we could not assist everyone. But it’s been very helpful to have partnerships in this regard and we’ve been relying heavily on the work that Gauteng Together through their Community Action Networks are doing. We were able to refer those people that we couldn’t help, to them. The trauma of losing a job, financial and food security or a loved-one from COVID-19 is immense. But we have a history of assisting in situations such as these. Since 1994, Lefika has responded to the impact of trauma and loss associated with apartheid, HIV and AIDS, violence, socio-economic disparities and xenophobic violence. We have a mini-documentary on our Youtube channel Safe Spaces – Witness to Violence which shows our intervention of the xenophobic violence in 2008. Our work has always centred around trauma and the impact of trauma. And we believe in the power of the arts to address the complexity of the problems facing our communities.
I do not view this work as something that will be finished soon. I think a lot of the work of addressing the impact of this pandemic lies ahead of us.