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  • Thuthukani Ndlovu

Reflections on Sweden & Malawi

//Feedback on my travel to Sweden to attend the Atelier Gothenburg, and then to Malawi for Tumaini festival in Lilongwe - Dzaleka Refugee camp//

Greetings fam. I hope that you are managing to make the best of the remaining 2 months of 2018. I’ve decided to share with you some of my experiences from 2 countries that I’ve been privileged to travel to so far this year: Sweden and Malawi.


Not so long ago, I attended the 14th of edition of the Atelier for Young Festival Managers which was held in Gothenburg, Sweden from the 23rd to the 30th of August. The Atelier for young festival managers is a training program especially designed for young festival managers initiated by The Festival Academy (an initiative of the European Festivals Associations). I was actually first selected among 20 other participants to attend the Atelier -as a participant- which was held in March this year in Johannesburg, before being invited to present a sustainable festival toolkit at the Atelier in Gothenburg, which hosted 30 participants with a representation of 22 countries. The intense 7 day program of the Atelier consists of high level reflection in working groups and lectures by renowned festival managers from all over the world, interactive exchanges, informal talks and contacts with artists and leading cultural institutions/art houses from the region. On this note, I’m sure that this gives you a good idea that this program presents a pool of endless opportunities and learning experiences.


Thuthukani Ndlovu presenting Sustainable Arts Festival Toolkit at #AtelierGothenburg

I was very delighted to be given the opportunity to present the sustainable toolkit in Sweden (which I developed together with the Atelier Johannesburg group as a collective). Not only did I get new ideas and wisdom on how to further develop the toolkit, I also received an overwhelming amount of resourceful information, knowledge and wisdom in terms of the Arts and Arts Festival industry which I can apply in Bloemfontein and share with my colleagues in the same industry. My 3 major highlights were: the debates and discussions on festival related topics; the inspiration from the creativity witnessed at the theatre productions and creative spaces visited; and last but not least, the stimulating conversations shared among the mentors, speakers, participants and The Festival Academy staff. On the other hand, the weather was beautiful, the people were kind, the politics seemed to be getting quite tricky, the food was very healthy, and the cost of living seemed relatively very high compared to other countries I’ve been to.



It was quite evident that I was the youngest at this Atelier (again), and this only fuelled my hunger to implement what I’ve learnt while understanding the advantage that I have. Most Ateliers have hosted participants aged 30/35 years and up, which makes sense because majority of them are festival managers/directors; and there I was, a 24 year old young man in the midst of other festival organisers who had vast amounts of experience. I was representing the festival I work for (Vrystaat Literature Festival – which is part of the Vrystaat Kunstefees), and I’m quite delighted at how the festival is slowly but surely beginning to benefit from the knowledge that I’m implementing with the festival, when we coordinate our programs. I know that there’s a lot of pressure on me now that I’ve obtained all the information from the Atelier program and the networks at such an early age, but it’s enough to inspire me to work harder and smarter in the industry that I’m in. The knowledge I’ve gained is powerful, but useless if I don’t use it and share it with my peers. Attending the Atelier is quite costly, so it’s really up to the participants to make the best of it, and the opportunities it provides. It’s possible for you to be selected, attend the program, and go back to your festival and stay the same, but this would be a conscious choice that you would have made. Alternatively, like any other program that brings together experts and learners from different walks of life to share the same space, one can look at it as an investment of time and money, and have an opportunistic and proactive mindset in order to ensure that they receive the maximum benefits that they can get (And the beauty of this, is that sometimes the benefits turn into a ripple/ domino effect, therefore opening doors that you may have never been able to open or even considered trying). None the less, Sweden was great, and I met a lot of great and inspiring people. It’s imperative for one to consistently surround themselves with people in the same industry and with the similar hunger and drive, especially in the Arts industry; because I’m sure we all know how stressful it can become.



Atelier for Young Festival Managers - Gothenburg, Sweden 2018 [Click picture for more info]

Alright then, before I talk about my trip to Malawi, I must state that if I didn’t go to Sweden, I wouldn’t have gone to Malawi. This is because I met Menes la Plume (Tresor) in Sweden during the Atelier in Gothenburg – he was one of the mentors. He’s the director of Tumaini Festival, which takes place once year at Dzaleka Refugee Camp (which is about a 30 to 40 minute from the capital city’s CBD - Lilongwe). I was really fascinated by his festival when he shared information about it during the Atelier, and told him I would definitely try my best to visit his festival in Malawi (especially because it was the easiest to travel to compared to the other festivals hosted by the other participants – this doesn’t mean that I’m not going to visit them, because I already plan on visiting some of them next year).


So, Tresor (more popularly known as Menes la Plume) invited me to Tumaini Festival, which is mostly centred on music and dance performances, poetry events, and a food and craft market where the locals would sell. I had never been to a refugee camp, so this only increased my desire to go to the festival, even if I had to use my own finances. I was staying at a lodge in Lilongwe – Mabuya Camp, which is basically an ideal place for tourists who like the camping vibe as opposed to staying in a hotel.


The bus ride (yes, I took a bus from Bloemfontein to Lilongwe) was pretty long, but I had interesting company that made me reflect on immigration life as whole. I won’t talk about the trip that much, because I think the poems I’m working on will do more justice on that, so I’ll focus on my short stay in Malawi, but before I proceed, let me share a bit of info about the festival and the refugee camp.


“Dzaleka is the only permanent refugee camp in Malawi, located in Dowa district 45 kilometers from Lilongwe. It has a population of approximately 32,000 refugees and asylum seekers, mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Burundi with smaller numbers of people from Somalia, Ethiopia and other countries. Tumaini Festival was founded in 2014. It is an extraordinary example of a large-scale cultural event within a refugee camp, created and run by refugees in collaboration with the host community, for the benefit of both communities. Across the four previous editions, over 24,000 people have attended the event, and 153 performing acts from across Malawi, Africa and the world shared the same stages with performers from Dzaleka. Tumaini Festival has united 14 nationalities of performers: DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi, Zambia, Norway, Japan, Brazil, Mozambique, Belgium, UK, Italy, Somalia and South Korea.


The festival gained national and international media coverage. It has so far achieved a media reach estimated at 50,000,000 people worldwide, presenting a genuinely different and positive story about refugees.”


This was the 5th year of the Tumaini festival, and it was the first time it was held over 2 days (it was previously a 1 day festival). I must say, that during my stay I saw a lot of similarities between Lilongwe and Lusaka (Zambia), primarily due to the friendliness of the people and the common language shared which is Chichewa. My mother is from Zambia, so I’ve visited Lusaka quite frequently (almost at least once a year ever since I’ve been a kid). On this same note, the currency they also use is called Kwacha – Malawian kwacha (Zambia’s currency is Kwacha). These 3 main similarities convinced me that someone from Lusaka could definitely live comfortably in Lilongwe, and the opposite would be true (This is just my own assumptions based on my short experience).On the first day of the festival, there were a lot of people watching the outdoor music performances, but most of the audience were the locals. It looked well attended, until the director of the festival told me that the next day they would be expecting way more people, especially international people and residents from the capital city as well as well neighbouring cities. This was also because it was a Friday, so most people would only be able to enjoy the festival the following day, as opposed to on a working day.


Photo cred: @austinmadinga

To be honest, I was a little bit worried about my health, because I was still recovering from a throat infection, so my voice was still not totally audible and I still had an irritating cough, so the fact the festival was situated on outdoor field of dust kept me a bit concerned. None the less, this concern eventually sat quietly at the back of my mind, and allowed me to enjoy the first day of the festival. I got to meet and spend some time with one of the refugees - Joel Sewa Leprince - who were volunteering for the festival, so this was also a great experience for me. We had actually started speaking on Facebook before I arrived in Malawi, because he saw me on the line up for the festival. Despite the short chats I had with him, I learnt quite a lot, and he introduced me to his fam as well. It was amazing to see how the festival received support from different stakeholders, and how they also had a big volunteer team of over 300 people who were eager to make the festival a success. It was also quite evident that the primary beneficiaries of the festival were the residents of the refugee camp, so this informs how the festival is organised and curated. The atmosphere was vibrant, as MC’s (especially the outspoken Cynthia Zonde) and performers entertained the audience at the 2 outdoor stage which ran simultaneously throughout the day.

Photo cred: @PlanMalawi

On the second day of the festival, I found myself with other artists – specifically musicians – waiting for a bus to take us from a Lilongwe shopping centre to the refugee camp. Although the bus delayed, it gave me time to get to know some of the musicians, as well as for some of the bands to play a bit music, therefore entertaining the public that were coming to the shopping centre. When we finally arrived at the refugee camp, you could tell that there were more people at the festival compared to the previous day, and this was just before the afternoon sun arrived. I got to see some of the musicians perform, and really enjoyed their music, as well as the electric dance performances that lit the stages with their creativity (I also recognised some of the jams they were dancing to, as some of the songs were by Cassper Nyovest and AKA).As they day progressed, it was time for the poetry show to start. Unfortunately they failed to get the generator to start, but this did not stop the poetry event from happening, so I was happy that we continued to have the event (eventually they got the generator to work, and we had sound). The MC (Phindu Banda) was very vibrant, and got the audience’s attention not only when she introduced the different poets, but also when she performed some of her poems as well. The poetry happened indoors, while the performances still took place at the 2 outdoor stages that were a walking distance from each other, but the noise was not too distractive for the audience to listen to the poets. I really enjoyed the poetry that was shared from the locals (the poets who lived in the refugee camp as well as those that travelled from the capital city). In spite of the 3 platforms/ stages being active simultaneously, the poetry event was packed, so some people even had to watch from the entrance to the room or through the opened windows. We snapped our fingers, we performed, and we networked, so it was definitely a successful event. I also received one of the poet’s albums, which I will be including in one of my upcoming articles, so be on the lookout for that.



I also managed to try out some of the food that was being sold at the different stalls, and although I just wanted nshima (pap), I had to settle for chapaties with chips/ meat or chicken. The chapaties were really great. Throughout the day, I eventually managed to catch up with Tresor, so that was great too, because it gave me a better insight on his perspective of the festival, and how far they have come. This year, they had a new initiative - the Tumaini Home stay program ,which allowed people to register and have first-hand experience of living in the refugee camp, and experience the reality that the refugees face (to connect and break down the negative prejudices towards refugees). As the festival almost came to an end, we admired how the final performance of the night by local Raggae artists was the perfect way to end the festival, because the audience were not just on their feet, but dancing to the tunes in the presence of the stars that looked over us from above – I don’t know where the moon was though, but he definitely missed out. lol. The festival eventually came to an end, and we all had to head back to our homes – time flies while you’re having fun, and I can assure that we all had a lot of fun. I wished I had planned to stay a day longer, so that I could also get to see more of Lilongwe, but had to come back to SA as early as I could because I still got a lot of work that needs to be done before the end of the month. This gives me a good excuse to travel to the festival again next year, so I’m definitely booking the first 3 days of November 2019 already.


Well, this brings me to the end of my reflections on travelling to Sweden and Malawi. These countries both add to my main highlights for this year, and I already can’t wait to see which countries I travel to next year. As for this month, the next country I’m going to is Lesotho, so expect my feedback on my experience there (although it’s not my first time going to Lesotho, as opposed to Sweden and Malawi). I’ll be going to host a series of workshops with a group of poets over the period of a week, which will lead up to a poetry showcase by the participants who have been involved in the workshop, so if you are able to be in Lesotho on the 23rd of November, please do come through to the final event. More details will be shared on the blog and the social media pages, and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog so that you are always kept in the loop. Let’s chat on Twitter @2tukani (or Instagram), and #StayBlessed fam #Peace .

#AtelierGothenburg #Sweden #TumainiFestival2018 #Malawi


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