What started as an initiative to shine a light on creative talent in Soweto has now grown into a nationwide search for undiscovered talent deserving of recognition, with My Community Cooks having attracted an incredible pool of talent from diverse backgrounds and disciplines. “My Community Cooks was born from the need to bring the spark back to our creative sector, which was incredibly hard-hit by COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions,” says Lianne Williams, Head of Marketing at Vuma. “The response we’ve had from Soweto and communities across the country has been nothing short of phenomenal. It’s been a privilege to see the level of innovation of many young South Africans, who have showcased an incredible array of out-of-the-box skills and ideas.”
Just a taste: a few of the talented My Community Cooks entrants
Thuli Zikalala, a qualified South African Sign Language (SASL) interpreter, might be considered one of the more unconventional participants, but a trailblazer in her field, nonetheless, proving that creativity can come in many different packages. Thuli started a company called Yellow Owl, where she and a growing team of interpreters use their skills to promote inclusivity and accessibility to digital content (such as podcasts, videos, and webinars) for the Deaf community through Sign Language and captioning. “I’m the first person in the country to interpret a podcast into South African Sign Language,” says Thuli. “A lot of information online is not accessible, a lot of platforms know very little about professional interpreters, which is why our goal is to make online content more accessible to a wider community, including the South African Deaf community.”
Similarly, not many would consider mathematics an art form – until they come across the work of Itshupeng Sereme that is, who creates intricate geometry art pieces using pen and paper and occasionally even the string art form. While his passion was dance, DJ-ing and music production, COVID-19 impacted his ability to continue earning a living doing what he always loved. He began his foray into geometry art last year as a result of lockdown, and it wasn’t long before he sold his first piece. “My Community Cooks gave me a sort of green light to pursue geometry art and I think, without platforms like this, it’s hard for even the most talented people to make it that far. My Community Cooks engages with people and sees their potential, which gives me hope for our generation of creatives, from dancers to photography,” he says.
Kgotso Motaung is a poet and performer who started Poetic Justice, a space that was born out of a need to give poets and musicians a place to curate their creative work, showcase talent and deliver live performances. Having left a corporate job to pursue his dream full time five years ago, he has been working hard to establish his brand and the Poetic Justice platform ever since. “This is one of the industries with the least exposure, but exposure to the global market through My Community Cooks is the biggest level we can achieve,” says Kgotso. “It would be a huge achievement as an African, as well as what it would mean for my personal life. Also – better pay cheques and a better quality of life, the stuff you can’t reach on your own because you’re limited by your resources.”
Shannon Smith is a self-made chef who expresses her creativity through her business, Mini Mommy Chef, and the Cape Malay cuisine inspired dishes she creates. Working as a freelancer in the creative sector, both Shannon and her partner’s incomes came to a complete halt when the global pandemic hit. “At that time, Mini Mommy Chef hadn’t grown into what it is now,” she says. “It pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me more focused on building a community with my social media. The point of that was to support my company, but I wanted it to be special. I wanted to treat local ingredients with respect and admiration and celebrate rich Cape Malay culture through my food.”
The My Community Cooks programme is an initiative started by fibre internet provider, Vuma in partnership with local establishments as well as several respected, well-known artists and veterans of creativity in South Africa, with the goal of scouting undiscovered talent and using connectivity to showcase them on a global platform, amplifying their visibility.
These include the likes of Native Rebels, founders of the acclaimed platform for young creatives to celebrate and change the township narrative through food, music and art, joined by Senzo Nhlapo, the internationally renowned creator of colourful, larger-than-life visual masterpieces, and Pantsula pioneer, Madamo Sithembiso. These are just a few of a host of other incredible forces who will also provide ‘masterclasses’ in their respective crafts to the successful My Community Cooks participants.
“We as Vuma have made it our mission to affect change where we can. Through the fibre infrastructure we install and the connections these create, we are focused on playing an active role in the lives of people who could use our support, especially as we attempt to revive our nation’s most hard-hit industries during the pandemic,” concludes Williams.