The 34-member Umlilo Multi-Talented Youth Group is a performance arts association that was founded in 2009 at Umkomaas, south of Durban. To date, it has been commissioned to showcase its talent for big brands like Ukhozi FM and Elangeni Hotel. Whilst the group is starting to get more work outside KwaZulu Natal (KZN) and has shared the stage with industry greats like Dr. Gcina Mhlophe, it has not abandoned its vision of working hard to first cement its brand in Durban. As such, it has performed at venues like the Playhouse Theatre, the Durban International Convention Centre and the Sibaya Casino and Entertainment Kingdom, and continues to work hard throughout the city.
The group of singers, poets, actors, dancers and writers aged between 10 and 30 years of age collectively team up to create performance productions, usually with the intention of spreading a social message.
When Zandile Buthelezi (27) founded the Umlilo Multi-Talented Youth Group, she was just a 21-year-old trying to keep herself busy and away from depression as she was homebound, unemployed and unable to afford tertiary education after completing her matric studies.
“When I decided to step up, I realised that there were many young people like me: unemployed and unable to afford tertiary education. I set out to gather the young people in my community who faced similar challenges as I did. I wanted us to use our talents as therapeutic means to give us the validation of our purpose in life. My intention was to start working with young people aged 15 and upwards. Unfortunately, many of them expressed no interest in what I was proposing and as such I was forced to start working with children instead. In 2010, word spread around the community and soon a much older group was interested. The group is now diverse both in its offerings and make-up,” said Buthelezi.
The group is formally registered as a Non-Profit Organisation. It is governed by a formally elected executive board which mainly focuses on financial and other general management issues of the group. It spends most of its time conducting community-based workshops, which entail teaching local youths performance in singing, drama, poetry as well as creative writing. All members have to pay an annual membership fee of R10 per person. All finances raised in the name of the organisation are invested back into the organisation.
“Our work is very much community-based. We work a lot in promoting good values and ethics as well as appreciation for education. We want all our members to be good role models in our community.”
Zandile said there have been many instances where some members of the organisation have been independently asked to perform at corporate and government events. For external work, members have the right to negotiate their own fees.
“One of the things that bring me joy about Umlilo is seeing young people that I’ve had a hand in grooming getting recognised by people who can offer them more opportunities. It is amazing when young people are able to support their households financially through performance art. This gives them validation and does wonders for their self-esteem. What is also important to note is that many of our members get to see some places for the first time through our work. Some of them have confessed that they might have never heard or seen some places had it not been their involvement in the group,” said Zandile.
Operating in the township presents many challenges for the group. She said they often have to deal with people in the township who discourage their work. “There are many challenges we face from parents as well as from people within the group we work with. Being in the township means that we have to deal with a special type of ill discipline and bad attitudes.”
“However, we are not deterred. We have a lot to be thankful for. We have been able to travel around the country with the purpose of showcasing our talent. We have also been fortunate to get good advice and this moves us forward.”
Zandile said the group’s short term vision include mobilisation of enough funding to purchase new uniforms, getting a bigger rehearsal space and reaching more young people while strengthening the group’s brand.
“We have been able to save many youths from getting involved with the wrong crowds. We will be forever committed to using art as a means of storytelling and activism,” said Zandile.
Their long term vision includes building more branches, performing abroad and seeing more members of the organisation becoming successful artists and model citizens.