How circus school saved me from drugs and gangs
Years of watching YouTube acrobatics videos have paid off for Aviwe Mfundisi
His mom sold drugs and abused him. Some nights he slept outside. But after seeing the Zip Zap Circus School performing in Khayelitsha, something told Aviwe Mfundisi to travel the 30km to central Cape Town and apply to join.
Mfundisi’s years watching YouTube acrobatics videos and practising juggling with his friends paid off; the Zip Zap team was so impressed by his skills and his character that it signed him up on the spot.
Five years later, the 22-year-old is on course for a career in the circus, and earns enough as a performer, teacher and technician to support his mother, who no longer has to work as a drug-dealer to feed her family.Mfundisi is one of the scores of success stories to emerge from Zip Zap’s professional circus training programme, Dare to Dream, which was lauded last month in Western Cape culture MEC Anroux Marais’s budget speech.
Taking a break from rehearsals for Zip Zap’s first show of the year, Cirque My Ride, Mfundisi said he grew up surrounded by drugs and gangsters. “But you know, you have to choose a side. There’s a good and a bad side. I chose the good side, and that’s circus.”
Within a year of joining Zip Zap — founded in 1992 by Brent van Rensburg and Laurence Estève as a way to promote peaceful coexistence in a diverse city — he was named most improved student, and in 2016 he performed in Spain and on Réunion Island. Next year he hopes to travel overseas to study circus professionally.Zip Zap has grown into a major operation with 10 programmes, more than 2,000 youth participants and 120 annual shows, many of them hosted in its “dome” alongside the Artscape theatre complex on Cape Town’s Foreshore.
Marais dwelt at length on the Zip Zap story in her budget speech, saying it was developing future leaders by “creating a safe space for children and by practising and teaching equality, kindness, respect, good manners, love and compassion for one another”.
She said: “Children and youth who were previously labelled ‘failures’ in conventional school settings are now performing for world leaders and travelling the world to represent our beloved country.
“They are succeeding at growing into independent adults who contribute positively to the economy and they personify actual role models for others, empowering our communities with empathy and hope.”
Reciprocity was another theme in Marais’ speech, and she complimented Zip Zap — which receives funding from the R34.3-million provincial arts and culture budget — for giving back to impoverished and HIV-positive youth, using its own students to build sets, and sourcing all its props and materials from local businesses.
• “Cirque My Ride” is at the Zip Zap Dome from April 20-22. Tickets, R100, from Quicket.
- Hawkey and Green are on a study abroad programme with Round Earth Media