By JOY HINYIKIWILE
“Egazini needs saving,” is the plea from Joza artist Bongani Mabunzi Diko.
The Egazini Outreach Project was designed as a centre to showcase local art, train and uplift artists and preserve history. The walls are still up – but Diko says the project is in extreme disrepair and is dying a “slow death”.
Situated next to the Indoor Sports Centre, the 21-year-old centre has been struck by break-ins, vandalism, fires and theft. What remains looks more like an abandoned building turned into a dumping site.
Diko is the centre’s manager and is on a mission to save a project that once saw local artists and historians come together to preserve the history of Makhanda.
“Egazini Outreach Project was meant to be a reservoir of history,” he said, explaining that even the numbers paved on the ground of the front entrance denote different historical events in the city. Diko said the building has historical significance because it was previously used by the apartheid police service to interrogate political activists.
“Egazini Outreach Project combined art and history to tell the story of Makhanda, eRhini and the building of Grahamstown in 1820.”
At its prime, the centre was where local youth could be taught different art forms, develop their skills and sell and showcase their work to tourists. The centre also created jobs and provided for those in need. It regularly held shows and exhibitions for the community and was a venue during the National Arts Festival.
Diko joined the centre as a young person in 2005 and was mentored by renowned Makhanda artists such as the late Vukile Teyise, who also managed the centre, and the late Linga Diko, who is also Bongani’s older brother.
The centre’s prominent historian, Prof Julia Wells, also made a strong impression on Diko.
“Unity and humanity have been the main focus in our journey of sharing this history,” Diko wrote in a plea on social media.
Artists were able to contribute a share of their earnings to help sustain the centre. The centre also enjoyed funding from various government and non-government organisations.
However, as local artists left the city for greener pastures elsewhere in the last few years and some passed on, the centre lost some of its revenue and funding. According to Bongani, the centre suffered its most significant blow during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During the lockdown, the place was badly vandalised by thugs who stole electric wires and burned the building. In the process, we lost artworks, lino-cut sculptures, furniture and windows,” he wrote on his social media plea.
In 2018, Diko became the centre’s manager hoping to revive local art. He has extensive drama and theatre experience, which includes working for the Eastern Cape drama company Ubom!. “I believe community art needs to be done to educate and entertain people. It must also raise and heal social issues.”
Though he never received a stipend from the centre, Bongani made money by directing and showcasing his productions and being a tour guide.
“The centre is currently not making money.”
The Joza husband and father recycles plastic bottles to make a living. He also has a Code 14 driver’s licence and hopes to get into truck driving.
“My heart, however, is with Egazini,” he insisted.
“Egazini is my life. I have learnt a lot from Egazini, even spiritually. I have managed to brush shoulders with great writers and historians. I have been part of making history as well. I will never leave Egazini. Even if I get a job, I will ensure I can fund Egazini and fix the centre. There is so much history yet to be captured and so many questions yet to be answered about our past.”
Diko said he wanted to know where the 1819 skeletons were. Some of the bodies of warriors who fought in the 1819 war were never found. There are also land issues that he believes the centre can help address and research.
The pottery section
Today, only the pottery section of the centre is still running. Laura Malgas and Zwelinzima Futani are local potters who use the centre to create their crafts.
Trained in 2015 at the centre by pottery guru Meshack Masuku, the potters continue to use their skills to sustain their living. However, they have not been spared from the challenges affecting the centre. Lack of electricity due to cable theft and vandalism means they experience difficulties processing their clay. Poor security means their crafts and resources are not safe in the building.
“The poor state of the building means we also don’t have a platform to showcase our work,” the potters told Grocott’s Mail.
“We cannot let Egazini die – it is a treasure for the Makhanda community,” Diko said. He appealed to funders and community members interested in saving the centre.
“We need help. We don’t necessarily need money. We also need materials like windows, doors, woods, etc.,” he pleaded.
Diko can be reached on 083 870 5740.