Enter Signature Gallery — a space for young…

“The works of art produced by young people are pure and incorruptible because they are always true to…their dreams. They follow their heart and their imagination. Their message carries honest intentions that can help contribute to the greatness of the universe.

These are the words of Musa Mbele-Radebe, the founder of the Ubuntu Sandis Foundation. The foundation operates in Jabulani, Soweto, providing multifaceted support to young people in the community. Since 2020, it has offered an art program to local elementary and high school learners interested in visual expression.

‘Ngiphiliswa Yithemba’ (I live with hope), created by artist Nokubonga Khumalo (12). (Image: Supplied / Musa Mbele-Radebe)
Theo Khuvutlu
“It’s still a crime scene,” created by Theo Khuvutlu, the 29-year-old fine art facilitator at Sandis’ Ubuntu Foundation, in honor of Youth Day 2022. (Image: Supplied/Musa Mbele- Radeb)

“We have created an initiative that enhances the creative skills of young people, exposing them to the art industry in hopes of creating access to economic opportunities [and] providing them with the necessary training,” said Mbele-Radebe.

The art program operates from Kholwani Primary School. Participating students meet on Saturdays for lessons and there are currently 27 children involved in the program.

Siphesihle Nkomonde
‘We pleed to be innocent’, created by artist Siphesihle Nkomonde (11). (Image: Supplied / Musa Mbele-Radebe)

Ahead of Youth Day, the foundation offered Maverick Citizen featuring some of the artwork and photography produced by the young members of the program, capturing the challenges young people face and their ability to overcome adverse circumstances.

Youth Empowerment Platform

During his high school years, Mbele-Radebe first studied at a high school in the township, Pace Commercial College. He then received a scholarship to St Stithians College, a prestigious private school. The stark differences in education and opportunity he observed between these two environments motivated him to create a platform to help learners in need.

Sabelo Xulu
This artwork was created by Sabelo Xulu (11). Describing the play, Xulu said, “Weaved futures, a woven house for me, my mother builds, she teaches and provides. I have not yet learned to fly on my own, yet to weave and pave my way. (Image: Supplied / Musa Mbele-Radebe)

“When I finished matric, I thought no, I’m going to my first primary school, which is Kholwani [Primary School]. I need [give] sort of,” Mbele-Radebe said.

In 2011, he founded the Ubuntu Sandis Foundation and worked to convert a school storeroom into a library. The library was named the Signature Library in 2015. Those who donated books to the space were encouraged to leave personal messages and signatures inside each, Mbele-Radebe said.

Nomfundo Dlamini
‘Ngibuka izwe elish ngamehlo akudala’ (Old Views of the New World), by artist Nomfundo Dlamini (13). (Image: Supplied / Musa Mbele-Radebe)

“When you give away a book that has shaped you, it should also have meaning. We wanted to create a personal feeling between you and the library,” he explained.

The Signature Gallery was established in 2020, after the Ford Foundation became a benefactor of Mbele-Radebe’s organization. The artistic program began the same year, with the gallery serving as a space to exhibit works produced under the program.

Hloniphile Luvuno
‘The memory that makes me frown, the burning sensation of crying’, by artist Hloniphile Luvuno (22). (Image: Supplied / Musa Mbele-Radebe)

“What we wanted then was [to] use art to attract those children who are not academically able, so that they can use the space,” said Mbele-Radebe. “Even if they come and just… browse through the pictures… I wanted them to be an integral part of the library.”

While Mbele-Radebe mainly works with the library’s book club, he also helps the Signature Gallery by suggesting themes and organizing the works produced. The art program instructors are Theo Khuvutlu, the Fine Arts Facilitator, and Thando Makhubu, the Visual Arts Facilitator.

Ndabezitha Gama
‘Smoky Dreams of Youth’, captured by Ndabezitha Gama (13). The image shows a shelter in Jabulani, Soweto, where young people live who smoke nyaope, a form of black tar heroin. (Image: Supplied / Musa Mbele-Radebe)

“This program – all of it from the books, the library itself, the Signature Gallery, every part of it – is led by young people,” Mbele-Radebe said. “These are people who have given their time and effort to contribute to greatness, and they use their skills to help our community grow on its own.”

The foundation aims to launch an online art gallery by August.

Busisiwe Ndlovu
‘Where are the gentlemen of our communities?’, captured by Busisiwe Ndlovu (12). The photo was taken at Jabulani Mall in Jabulani, Soweto. (Image: Supplied / Musa Mbele-Radebe)

Secure spaces

Young people in the Jabulani community face a number of challenges, including socio-economic issues, gender-based violence and educational inequalities, Mbele-Radebe said. They face a lack of opportunities and ill-equipped schools, even as they face high levels of corruption in government.

“When you check government corruption… how much is wasted… as a youngster it tells you that there are definitely opportunities in South Africa to create something… but what limits us is the voice – where is the voice of us, as young people?”

Bokamoso Nthongoa
“Feed the hungry, kill the brain”, captured by Bokamoso Nthongoa (12 years old). The photo, taken at Letare Secondary School in Jabulani, Soweto, shows young people gathering for a school feeding programme. “Youth of grants and donations remain private,” Nthongoa said of the image. (Image: Supplied / Musa Mbele-Radebe)

Young people need more spaces to be heard; spaces where “every dream will matter, every dream will matter,” continued Mbele-Radebe.

The Sandis’ Ubuntu Foundation art program has served to create such a safe discussion space for young people in the community. It not only provides educational initiatives that they can expect, but also mentors that they can learn from.

Sinothando Cilo
‘Thina sivela kude’ (We come from afar), captured by Sinothando Cilo (13). The photo was taken at Orange Farm, Johannesburg. (Image: Supplied / Musa Mbele-Radebe)
Khayelihle Dlamlenze
‘Imithandazo yezalukwazi’ (We are carried by the prayers of our grandparents), captured by Khayelihle Dlamlenze (12). The photo was taken in Jabulani, Soweto. (Image: Supplied / Musa Mbele-Radebe)

“We want to help create future citizens of South Africa who are aware and aware that yes, as much as there are challenges, there are also opportunities,” Mbele-Radebe said.

“We don’t want them to take their situation from home and [have this] keep them from seeing the light. SM/MC


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Steven L. Nielsen