Milton Gcwensa – Director. Sukuma Arts and Culture, Cato Manor.
Mementoes of past events and photographs of favourite artists jostle for space on the walls of Milton’s small office. These, together with the various awards he has received from both the province of KwaZulu-Natal and the office of the Mayor, illustrate his absolute commitment to utilising arts and culture to better the community of Cato Manor.
From his office in the Cato Crest Community Centre – the central hub of Sukuma Arts and Culture – Milton organises a disparate group of artists, dancers and performers, runs regular competitions and events, and supports small craft businesses and arts cooperatives. “If someone needs dancers or musicians for an event they can come to me and I can source them. All the people that you see here on my walls – the dancing groups, the maskanda, the crafters – I assist them all to find work.”
Arts and culture play an important role in the life of Cato Manor. For Milton, its purpose is twofold. Firstly, it unites the community because “if you are putting on free entertainment, people are going to attend. At our events, you can see the people sitting together and laughing together.”More importantly is the role arts can play in reducing crime, “it gives people an alternative. You can say, ‘No guys, leave the crime, come do something with us’ and they can then use their talent or craft to make money to sustain themselves. We started this project in 1999. There was a lot of crime in this area at that stage, a lot of children were leaving school early, and the poverty was terrible. But when we set this challenge to the people, they responded. They wanted to do something to create more job opportunities, to reduce crime and to attract more tourists to Cato Manor.”The next progression in Milton’s vision is to build an arts centre in Cato Manor. “You know why we need an art centre here? We need to get all the people who are practicing in the street or who are working from their homes or the Jondos together in one space. We can then coordinate everything from one place and provide an interesting, well-managed site for tourists to visit.”
While receiving some funding from the Department of Arts and Culture, Milton believes in the importance of self-reliance. “At Sukuma we are helping people to form their own businesses or cooperative. It is important that people can take their talent and learn how to make money out of it.”
Milton offered to take us on a short walk through Cato Manor. Greeted by everyone we passed, Milton is obviously well-known and respected for the tireless work he puts into Sukuma.”When we get our act together and act collectively, we are capable of greatness. This is what I believe and what drives my work with Sukuma.”