Khayelitsha, a Xhosa word meaning ‘new home’, is a Cape Town township that was established in the 1980s to the north of beaches such as Monwabisi, Mnandi and Blue Waters, and the Wolfgat Nature Reserve. It is where some of the most creative people in the city live, including the bead artists of Monkeybiz, who created this totem.
Unemployment rates may be high but the entrepreneurial kasi (township) spirit is strong here, with people involved in socio-development initiatives such as Monkeybiz having a can-do attitude that makes this place buzz.
The arts sector here is one of the most dynamic in the country, and visitors can experience everything from performing arts at Kasi RC - Shack Art School & Theatre, and mini festivals held by Makukhanye Art Room, to traditional cooking classes and djembe drumming lessons at eKhaya eKasi. Book a guided walk by renowned local culture guides Juma Mkwela (https://www.jumaarttours.co.za ) or Loyiso Mfuku (http://khayelitshatravel.com), and visit the Makhaza Community Garden, and The Milk Restaurant opposite popular party venue Rands.
Khayelitsha is about 20km away from Cape Town’s airport. A trip from the city centre, along the N2, bypassing the airport and turn-offs to other townships such as Langa, Gugulethu, Nyanga and Mfuleni, is approximately half an hour by car. A minibus taxi, depending on which section of the sprawling township you are going to, will cost about R30 (one way) to get to your final destination, stopping at the main Khayelitsha taxi rank first.
WHEN TO VISIT
Summer, when the Mother City experiences 13-14 hours of daylight, is the best time to visit. The Khayelitsha Wine Festival, Siyazama Community Garden with its organic food markets and Khayelitsha Arts Festival are ways in which the area has showcased its unique spirit over the years, and are opportune times to experience the diversity of this area. Book your accommodation at Vicky’s B&B (or KwaVicky as locals call the guesthouse established in 1999) or at Lungi’s B&B for a full kasi experience.
A MASTERY OF MATERIALS
The frames are made from wire by skilled wire craftsman Tapiwa Zvanyanya, then stuffed with recycled cotton filler (off-cuts from clothing manufacturers) before being covered in hand-sewn glass beads. Each new artist at Monkeybiz is taught by a more experienced one, in a similar tradition to how beading across Africa is passed down through generations – from the elders to the youth.
THE STORY OF UMOYA WASEKASI
Umoya Wasekasi, which is Xhosa for ‘spirit of the township’, is the story of Monkeybiz in Khayelitsha.
Noloyiso, who beaded the sun and moon that sits at the apex, says the sun symbolises happiness in her Xhosa culture. In many African cultures the moon can, depending on its phase, predict luck or misfortune. Having the moon and sun at the top of the totem represents the cycle of life, which is made up of day and night; light and darkness – much like the lived experiences of many people in marginalised townships.
The beaded dolls represent women’s empowerment – one of the core missions of Monkeybiz. Below them are 21 beaded portrait mats. The four largest represent family, with a father, mother, sister and brother. The 17 smaller portraits depict the faces of the Monkeybiz community. The bead artists selected prints that most closely reflect their own styles and personality, then beaded these portraits to match.
Life in Khayelitsha is represented on the lower tiers, with dolls, houses, trees, and a goat and rooster roaming freely in the streets. The houses, belonging to Monkeybiz artists, vary in size and style, and represent the township’s unique architecture, while the dolls represent eight characters: boys playing soccer with a worn-out football on the streets, an elderly woman with her grandchild, a young girl dancing, a musician beating his drum and an old man sitting on his chair watching it all unfold – scenes from daily life that make up the true umoya wasekasi.