We want to create a public space. A dumping site is available, so we all clean it together. There is a wish for a stage because people like to perform, so I get bricks and concrete so we can start building it together. Kids use the park to play soccer, so who’s going to cut the grass? Who’s going to maintain the space they use?
Even though I come into the situation from the outside, and even though I come up with ideas and give myself with all the energy I have, but “the community knows best”. I don’t channel the process actively – or maybe we channel right away simply because we come from a different place and willing to work – but within the process of working, I just take part. I learn by doing things differently than I would do in my normal context; I follow the agenda.
The process of getting the necessary permits for the festival was one example of following the agenda. It became a “waiting for Godot” process. A waiting for something, the mysterious JOC (Joint Operations Committee) – we didn’t even know what it was or if it was necessary. It was like a ridiculous fight against overwhelming forces. If even one of the important government bodies had said “No,” the festival would not have happened. If we had not put our energy into chasing after papers and forms, we could have done a much better job organizing the festival. But we were collaborating in real life, not creating in a studio, and we trusted the people who had put their trust in us. In the end, we were unable to get the final permit, but a woman from the JMPD (the Johannesburg Municipal Police Department) whom we had met a couple of times at the police station, made the parade happen, even though it was raining cats and dogs. And it was Malungelo and Verrelli (from Arts and Cultural Department), who found Mososu Ketlele, who will organize future events in Ubuntu Park.
In my view, the Soweto Project was about horizontal collaboration, or at least my role was not “artist as mediator”. The social structure in South Africa was different to that of Western Europe, and it took time to crack the surface and become part of it. I couldn’t come up with a plan without feeling invasive; I couldn’t follow a concept without feeling short-sighted. But I was willing to collaborate – to collaborate like everyone else who just stopped by the street we were working in, who maybe worked for an hour or a day or from the very start. Everyone was taken equally. Maybe this is why Ubuntu Park was so well accepted by the community, and why we were accepted by the community.