Music School Helping Soweto Children At Risk

Alex Crawford, Special Correspondent

A South African music school set up by a British woman to help the poorest children in Soweto is in danger of closing down because of lack of funds.

Buskaid , a charity, has helped thousands of poor children discover classically focused music in the former township.

Some have gone on to win scholarships at some of Britain's finest music institutions, such as the Royal Academy of Music.

A British viola player named Rosemary Nalden started Buskaid in the 90s. Its aim was to give disadvantaged young people in Soweto a better life through music.

Cecilia Manyama is now one of their leading lights. She has been at the school for 12 years and is now one of their leading violin players and singers.

For Cecilia, it meant a way out of poverty and a glimpse of a life she could only dream of before. She played to international audiences and now has a solid job playing in the Buskaid Ensemble and teaching other young students.

Ms Nalden said: "I want to show them they can actually have a life through music, that they can earn a living as well as enjoy it."

Soweto has come a long way from the apartheid years when racial segregation meant the township was a by-word for poverty and crime.

But life is still tough for youngsters in a country where one in four South Africans is out of work. Pule Lekarapa was headed for a life of crime before Buskaid took him on.

He said: "I have no idea where I would be without Buskaid. I would be doing something terrible, that's for certain."

Instead though, at the relatively old age of 16 he turned up on the doorstep of Buskaid wanting to learn a musical instrument.

He now plays and teaches the double bass.

He added: "I love it, I really do and I am so grateful to Rosemary for giving me this chance to do this and have this life."

It gives the young people a purpose, a focus and a direction which they would not otherwise have.

We followed 10-year-old Solly home to his house around the corner from the Academy, which is in Deipkloof.

"He's here day in and day out," said Ms Nalden. "[He's] absolutely fanatical about his playing and determined to do something with his life."

Solly walks past groups of children skipping on the street or sitting on doorsteps, his violin case firmly in his hand.

He is going home to practise after spending most of the day at the Academy. His grandmother looks on proudly as he puts the violin through its paces.

But Solly's future and that of Buskaid is seriously under threat  because of lack of funds.

Ms Nalden said: "In a nutshell, we risk going under before the end of next year unless someone or people come forward to help us."

The charity not only pays for the children to receive lessons and the upkeep of the music school but it also funds two or three students to travel to England every year to study music.

And that involves even paying the £18,000 tuition fees if they feel the student is talented enough.

In a country with startling statistics like more than 70% of black South African children live in low-income households, Buskaid has been their hope, a chance of a future.

And that, Ms Nalden, insists, has got to be worth fighting for.

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