A juggler’s hand in life

2016-10-27 06:00
Juggler Siyabonga Swelindawo is using his skills to transform young lives.  PHOTO: Zip Zap Circus School

Juggler Siyabonga Swelindawo is using his skills to transform young lives. PHOTO: Zip Zap Circus School

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Siyabonga Swelindawo’s life changed for the better the day he decided to join the Zip Zap Circus School at the age of 11 in 1999.

Now the 27-year-old professional juggler, and SA’s Got Talent semi-finalist, is helping transform other youngsters’ lives through an after school arts initiative of the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport.

Siyabonga describes his childhood, growing up in Khayelitsha, as a rough-edged juggling act.

Over weekends he was sent to stay with his aunt, away from his alcoholic parents.

He ended up living with her permanently while attending Eluxolweni Primary School.

It was at this stage that the young lad joined the non-profit organisation, Zip Zap Circus School.

As he learnt to excel in the art of juggling, his dreams of becoming a professional soccer player turned to that of circus star.

Juggling opened up his world and for the next eleven years, Siyabonga was part of the Zip Zap family.

As a professional performer and Zip Zap instructor, he went on tours to Spain, Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium and Australia, not to mention performances all over South Africa.

“If I wasn’t involved in the circus I don’t think I would’ve travelled to those places,” he says, adding that a highlight was meeting and performing on stage with Miriam Makeba in Holland.

After finishing school, he moved into Zip Zap’s House in Observatory–a safe, subsidised accommodation option for Zip Zap’s professional performers and trainers who have no alternative place to stay.

While busy with circus life, Siyabonga studied electrical engineering at the College of Cape Town and graduated with a Diploma in 2013. Despite an attractive job offer in this sector, he chose instead to sow back into the poor communities, using his juggling skills.

Now Siyabonga is working full time for the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport, heading up the juggling code for the Mass participation, opportunity and access, Development and growth (MOD) programme.

This initiative provides sporting and arts activities to more than 40 000 children from over 300 disadvantaged and underserved schools in the province.

“We work with the children from after school until 18:00, the idea is to keep them busy and out of trouble,” Siyabonga explains.

“The programme also gives rising stars the opportunity to hone their skills and possibly turn professional in a particular sporting or arts code.”

Siyabonga is proud of the young protégés in the juggling section he manages: “These children, who I started teaching in 2014, are now juggling like crazy! Give them two more years and they’ll be right on top,” he says.

Laurence Estève, co-founder and Director of Zip Zap Circus School is just as proud of Siyabonga as he is of his own charges. “It is an honour to keep in touch with the Zip Zap alumni who were some of our first circus stars. They are now thriving as adults, leading fulfilling and successful lives and excelling on and off stage,” he says, adding: “The impact Siyabonga has through his job working for the province is just one part of Zip Zap’s success story.”

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