How to Spread it: Roll up! Roll up!

2014-11-16 15:00

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Ever wish you could run away and join the circus? Well, the Zip Zap Circus School has been based in Cape Town for more than 20 years.

Zip Zap recently released a coffee table book that chronicles the school’s roots in the Dominican Republic – where its founders met and fell in love in 1989.

Experienced and well-travelled performer Brent van Rensburg went to the Caribbean island to conduct circus workshops at a Club Med resort. There he met Parisienne Laurence Estève – and the rest, as they say, is history.

Zip Zap started in 1992 when the couple left a freezing Paris to return to Cape Town. They borrowed a trapeze rig, which they set up at the V&A Waterfront over the holiday season. Soon, children from all walks of life, including the homeless, wanted to have a go. And so the couple’s dream was born.

The two identified a tool through which to teach and educate people.

“The magic that is the circus was the place to mend the broken and nurture new hope,” says the couple.

Their book elaborates: “The circus is a place where we all meet on the same level. We laugh as one at the clowns, we gasp as one at the high-wire act … It doesn’t matter how old or young we are, what country we are born in, what language we speak, what colour our skin is, what education we have; when it comes to the circus, we are united.”

Today they have touched the lives of thousands of youngsters – mostly from disadvantaged backgrounds – teaching them the art of swinging and leaping through the sky, rigging tents and showmanship. But most importantly, they offer a place where youngsters can feel like they belong.

Zip Zap has various outreach projects, including the Cirque du Monde Ibhongolwethu Project. Instructors go to Khayelitsha twice a week to teach ground-based circus acts to HIV-positive children receiving antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. Ubuntu was launched in 2012 for children living with HIV who are awaiting ARV treatment. Zip Zap also has a house in Observatory that accommodates circus pupils who grew up on the streets.

The circus is housed in a tent next to the Artscape theatre in Cape Town, with plans to move to Salt River soon. Inside the tent’s huge twilight interior, young girls dangle from large suspended hoops while guys on high ladders tinker with lights.

A pupil, Remember Nkakro (19), tirelessly propels himself through the air. He was born under a tree on Greenmarket Square and grew up sleeping on the pavements with his mother, brother and sister. “We slept anywhere we could find, anywhere out of the rain,” he says with a wide smile. Nkakro moved into the Zip Zap house in 2010 and has toured France and Wales with fellow performers. His mother still lives on the streets. His siblings are in prison.

Keeping the school afloat is a constant battle. The couple has raised funds over the years doing stunt-double work in films and performing a series of acts.

Victoria Nel came on board in 2007. The next year she became the school’s chairperson and has since earned the title of Fairy Godmother.

“I first saw the performers at Cavendish. My kids loved it,” she says. Her children have since trained at Zip Zap for at least a year.

You are invited

The annual City Press How to Spread It dialogue takes place on Tuesday, November 18, at the Wits Business School in Parktown, Joburg.

Meet Mavis Mathabatha, Carolyn Reid and Meshack Kekana, who will discuss how Giving Begins at Home. To RSVP, email with Dialogue in the subject line

»?This series is developed in partnership with the Southern Africa Trust and the African Grantmakers Network. To support a cause, visit

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