The evening of Tuesday 6 November saw the first ever BottomUp Public Speaking Festival! 

This journey began for twenty to thirty learners on Saturday the 9th of June when Bottomup hosted it’s first workshop for students.

The Line-up

While thirty to forty learners may have been part of one or more workshops during the five months of preparation, eleven of them made it to the final hurdle with finished speeches, practiced and ready to go.

Representing four of the local high schools from the flats, namely Grassdale, Fairmount, Lotus High and Zeekoevlei, the learners who were ready to hit the stage were: Grayshon Paulus, Lynn Matsvimbo, Jayden Matthews, Samantha Chinobva, Taahirah Hoosain, Gradi Lumbila, Emmaculate Amone, Egenia Chikengezha, Matthew Adams, Liger jeckChapanduka, and Jonathan Lumbila.

They arrived looking quite nervous but with a buzz of energy and adrenalin about them and all dressed to impress. There was definitely a deep and present atmosphere of expectation in the room.

Setting the stage

I welcomed the parents, staff, friends and family who had come to champion their learners and Ashley Visagie started off the evening by setting the scene and giving some background to the Public Speaking initiative.

I then reminded people of the theme that the learners had come up with during one of the early workshops – Forward Ever, Backward Never– and the idea that each speech would directly or indirectly reference this theme related to a pressing issue that each learner felt needed their focus.

Priming the Audience

With nerves eating at the learners as they readied to speak, I thought it would be helpful to draw on my Improv skills [as a member of Cape Town’s longest running show team, Improguise] and invite a few audience members up on stage to help break the ice.

So with two willing volunteers I introduced a game we play called ‘Word-at-a-Time Interview’ in which I played the role of interviewer interviewing two audience members who now morphed into one person and had to answer each question one word at a time, constructing sentences together.

Grayshon Paulus set the scene with an incredible take titled ‘The norm of Rest in Peace’ in which she spoke about a number of issues in the cape flats and how they have become seen as normal and expected. Quoting Billy Joel song lyrics she declared, ‘We didn’t start the fire. It was always burning since the world’s been turning. We didn’t start the fire. We didn’t light it but we’re going to fight it!’ 

Daily I experience a burning fear in the hearts of our youth. We fear our parents burying us young, instead of us burying them. When will we finally be in peace and not just Rest In Peace?’

Following Grayshon we had:

Lynn Matsvimbo spoke on ‘The drastic decision taken by ladies in order to meet their desires’.

Jayden Matthews looked at ‘School Dropout – a big concern in our community’.

Samantha Chinobva on ‘The importance of a mother and how we should treat our women’.

We then were gifted a Spoken Word piece by Thandi Gamedze, one of the facilitators, titled‘I have a dream’ – Thandi has a powerful gift of speaking eloquent and hard-hitting words and it was a break from the speeches but not the intensity of the evening.

The second half

Next up was Egenia Chikengezha with ‘Why can’t you let her be? Rape in SA’

Then Matthews Adams charged us with ‘Breaking the Cycle’

This was followed by our resident rapper Liger jeckChapanduka whose title ‘Every setback is a set up for a comeback’ deeply resonated with the evening’s theme – Ever Forward Never Backward.

We had another short break between the speeches to give audience members a chance to turn to each other and take a minute to share about a line or theme or speech that had touched or challenged or inspired them in some way. It was great to hear a healthy buzz in the room and we almost had to pull people away from each other to head to the final run of speeches.

Taahirah Hoosain got us started off with an emotional look at ‘Mental Illness’ 

Gradi Lumbila spoke to our stomachs with a talk titled ‘Having access to food and how that should be regarded as a basic human right’

Emmaculate Amone continued by asking ‘Are you broken? Pick up the pieces, they can be together again’

Then finally Jonathan Lumbila helped us land with a passionate talk looking at ‘Our Broken Education System’ which was slightly longer than the others and without any cue cards or assistance. Passionate and powerful in delivery he ended with a series of calls to “Imagine…” what might be if we worked together to make a difference.

Some final words

Gerda from BottomUp [who championed the whole Public Speaking workshop and festival journey, assisted by Ashley Visagie, Thandi Gamedze, myself and a few other willing volunteers who jumped in at different times to help] came up to give some emotional thank-yous followed by Grayshon Paulus, who had asked if she could say a few words of thank-you to the facilitators.

Trevor Delcarme volunteered and stood up and gave a rousing and positive declaration of praise to the learners. Trevor is the Chairperson of the SGB at Lotus High as well as one of the parents of a student there. He spoke as a parent saying how much the parents long to see “this side of you” and want you to talk to us about these things.

This Public Speaking Festival was hopefully just the first of many. We will meet up again early next year with those learners as well as others who want to try and make it to the next festival. But it was so exciting to see just how high the bar for this has started and hope to see our learners speaking at Youth TEDx and other events in the future.

If you would like to be a part of this, drop us a line at info@bottomup.org.za or take a look at our partnership and donation opportunities over here.

Hope to see you at the next one.

Well done, Cape Flats learners. Public Speaking Festival 2018

Forward Ever, Backward Never!