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Feb 8, 2022

MANTLWANENG: The hub of vulnerability and growth

by Selloane ‘Lalu’ Mokuku

Barbie’s smile remained frozen on the school bag carried by a man driving an imaginary car. The young girl strutted along with an infectious giggle. The man made all the necessary car sounds and occasionally overtook pedestrians. At times pulling on brakes to avoid some obstacles on their way. Such I reckoned with wonder, was the power of imagination and play, something similar to what can be found in the concept of mmantlwaneng or house play. Sometimes mmantlwaneng is used to encourage children to explore anything on their

own, without the gaze of adults. Sometimes expressions such as “ha se mmantlwaneng mona” (this is not house play) are used to denote the seriousness of the matter at hand and a need to be taken seriously. Nevertheless, play theorists argue for the seriousness of play and the importance of respecting the rules of the game, lest one gets to be called a spoilsport. On the other hand, imagination has been lauded as fundamental if anyone is to creative anything; first it is imagined.

2022 marks an important year in the history of our organization in that we turn 15 years! And as an organization that works with and for children and young people, play should be integral to our conduct. Perhaps we are fortunate to be working with and for children because to interact with them and to stimulate their curiosity and imagination, we need to play and imagine more. As demonstrated by the man driving an imaginary car, children are ready to play along, but they need to be guided and protected.

In this regard, instruments such as the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) provide invaluable articles toward protection, participation and provision of services for children that we need to be aware of. The charter also emphasizes the role of family toward a child’s growth and development. However, we need to be cognizant that the notion of family is nuanced. Families could be the first people to hurt their children disguised as loving parents and/or guardians. As a result, children and young people may find family in spaces such as the social media, and yet, those spaces themselves may be detrimental to children and young people.

While ASSITEJ SA and our members do sterling work, these challenges call for more responsiveness and innovation on our part. It is heartwarming to note that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has signed an MOU with ASSITEJ SA; this is a positive stride toward opening opportunities for our organization to demonstrate the value of the arts to support families and schools to use the arts beyond entertainment. Strides such as working together with organizations such as the Sustaining Theatre and Dance (STAND) Foundation and Im4thearts movement are also visionary in that we understand that it takes a village to raise a child.

Given the unique role that we play toward children’s vulnerabilities and growth, I wonder if you would be willing to drive that imaginary car, as alluded to in the beginning, knowing that first and foremost, it is there for the children. What image would you have on your child’s school bag? I imagine the face of my daughter. I imagine seeing her going places, whenever she or anyone else carries that school bag. How can ASSITEJ SA and all our members create mmantlwaneng to stimulate children’s play and imagination, within safe spaces? As we reflect on the year that has past, let us acknowledge the present and create the future, to explore what it is we can do together. I am curious to see what that would hold. In my mind, I see …

– Lalu Mokuku is the Chairperson of ASSITEJ SA and Executive Committee Member of

ASSITEJ International