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‘Art helps human development’ | A Q&A with Tamsanqu Songabe on arts education

Earlier this year, the Imbali Visual Literacy Project headed to the Eastern Cape for a whirlwind tour of artbook workshops and creative learning.

From 18 – 22 October 2021, the Imbali team, in partnership with the MTN SA Foundation, worked with more than 100 teachers and subject advisers, providing training over four workshops which took place in Gqeberha, East London, Queenstown, and Mthatha and saw participants from towns and cities all over the province attending.

Working closely with the Imbali team was Tamsanqu Songabe, Senior Curriculum Planner for Creative Arts Subjects in the Eastern Cape department of education. We caught up with Mr Songabe for a Q&A about arts education in the Eastern Cape, the value of initiatives such as Imbali, and the need for access to art materials and resources in South African schools.

First off, can you tell us a bit about yourself and the work that you do?

I’ve been involved in the arts for a long time. I’ve worked as a subject advisor in the Eastern Cape province and now I’m a curriculum planner for the creative arts. I focus on the FET levels, grades 10, 11 and 12 and I am deeply concerned about the education of the arts in South Africa.

What are some of the challenges currently faced in South African art education?

Tamsanqu Songabe interview

Basically, South African arts education has been affected by the fact that the arts were not taught in schools during apartheid. Especially in the non-white schools. Now the arts needs to be accessible for all, but no one was capacitated, especially the formerly disadvantaged groups. That lead to a deficiency of knowledge to the extent that there are no teachers trained in the arts. The arts need specialised environments to be taught, as well as certain materials and resources that are lacking, but it is one of the subjects that is not understood by the policy makers in its importance for the general development of a human being. As a result, it is not prioritised in terms of allocations of resources. It’s seen as a hobby, not as important as maths or science. But we know that this is not true. The teaching of art helps human development, it can train young artists, people can eventually produce art, sell art. It also helps in the preservation of history and the contribution to the archives. The creative industry is so vital, but it is not known or not understood as much as it should be in South Africa.

How did you experience the Eastern Cape Imbali Artbook workshops?

Let me first of all applaud the organisers of Imbali: Ruth Sack as the person I communicated with from the onset, and the great contributions of Justine Watterson. They did an amazing thing, the whole roll out was incredible. With the sessions we had, we started in Port Elizabeth and spread across the Eastern Cape. We tried to ensure that the workshop can reach a variety of audiences across the province. Yes, the timing was limited, but we did our best.

The material though, especially the books, are still the main resources that will always be a vital reference. We also applaud the materials like the paints, the brushes, the other resources that were utilised in the workshops. These things made the workshops outstanding.

The Eastern Cape has a reputation of being talented and gifted in the arts and these workshops helped demonstrate that. The Imbali workshops was such an amazing project, and one that I would love to see being repeated and replicated in other districts and places across the country.

Tamsanqu Songabe interview

Any highlights from the workshops?

You know, I saw some videos of teachers rolling out these things at their schools – the exercises that were shared in the workshops. You can see that learners are experimenting, and teachers are actually implementing what they have learned. It is such a wonderful thing to see. 

How important do you think corporate sponsors such as the MTN Foundation are in relations to supporting arts education in South African schools?

The government cannot fund all of the areas across the country by itself. There is a major focus on maths and science, but there is a limitation of resources for the arts and corporate sponsorship can bring about a huge amount of difference in all fields, but specifically in the arts. MTN Foundation’s support of Imbali and of these workshops is vital because not only is it an investment that brings a whole lot of difference and change to society and changes perspectives of the arts, but it also shows other corporates that the arts are worth investing in. Specifically arts education. So these things can now be multiplied and replicated over years and generations. It’s important for the growth and development of arts education.

But you know, I’m always excited whenever I articulate these things about MTN because I’ve been with MTN since I got my first cellphone, it’s my boza network. So when a programme is sponsored by MTN it gets into my heart! I’d love them to continue the work they do. Big up MTN, big up sponsorship of the arts.  

Find out more about the Imbali Visual Literacy Project here.

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