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City threatens Funda Centre future

Charles Nkosi of Funda Community Arts College.
Charles Nkosi of Funda Community Arts College.

The Soweto-based Funda Arts Centre, which played a huge role to nurture performance and visual arts for black students during apartheid SA, faces a bleak future.

Founded in Diepkloof in 1984 as Funda Community College, the centre faces closure since the lease of the property where the college is housed has allegedly been put on tender by the City of Johannesburg.

Funda was founded to provide a source of arts education in Soweto, eventually attracting other black arts students from across the country.

The centre's initial funding was provided by the private sector, mainly technology firm IBM, with its land donated by the Urban Foundation. Steven Sack was the first director, before painter and sketcher Charles Nkosi replaced him in 1986.

The centre attracted the likes of iconic dancer and choreographer Nomsa Manaka, among its earlier teachers.

Other better-known artists associated with the centre include Mbongeni Buthelezi, the late Nhlanhla Xaba, Dominic Shebangu, Happy Dhlame, Ezekiel Budeli, Tumelo Mokopakgosi, Kenny Nkosi, Sinalo Ntuli, Azwifaneli Madzivhandila, Maropeng Khumalo and Thabo Molapo.

Today, the property on which the centre is situated houses several other businesses. The property's CEO Motsumi Makhene said for years they have been struggling to obtain a permanent leasing of the area, having tried in 1989 and 1993.

He said Funda Arts Centre was granted occupational rights by the department of education during the apartheid era.

He said the city, under new government, was making a mistake to think that the buildings in that land belonged to it.

He said the centre's woes began when the property was hijacked by MK Veterans in 2008, and that it had been hard to obtain a lease for the site ever since.

"At the moment the city has put the lease of the area on tender. This means that anyone who gets a tender will use the property the way he wishes and can close down the arts centre.

"The land belongs to government but the buildings like the one used by Funda Centre was donated by private companies during apartheid."

City spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane said: "A report has been drafted to council to consider that a public participation process is required to place the property on public tender as the facility is valued at about R10m, in accordance with section 116 of the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA).

"The report was submitted to the JPC Board in July 2019 and thereafter in the council approval process to be approved by September 2019."

Modingoane further explained: "The report was tabled at the mayoral meeting to consider the Public Participation Process, and thereafter if recommended, to council committee for approval. Once the public participation process has been completed, JPC will draft a report to council to consider any objections received and to approve the releasing of the property on tender for all interested parties to participate by November/December 2019 and to place on tender by mid-January 2020."

He said the facility would be utilised for community related purposes such as education, music, arts, skills development and training.

When Funda Arts Centre was established, it offered music, visual arts and theatre classes with prominent artists like Bill Ainsley and Sibongile Khumalo conducting the courses.

Nkosi, who is still the centre's director, said they were in the dark about the plans by the City of Johannesburg.

"As much as we are in the dark, we continue doing our jobs teaching students. We have been doing that for years, empowering young people."

Due to lack of funding, electricity supply to the centre was cut off more than 10 years ago, while programmes in other art forms were curtailed, save for the visual arts segment which continued to produce first-class students.

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