Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Dan is a professional soccer player who leads a celebrity lifestyle, hanging out with the boys and dating Laura, a model.

He is riding high until Laura is in an accident, is admitted to hospital and he discovers that she is HIV positive.

Dan’s career is all about being fit and healthy, yet he never thought about having protected sex after he fell in love with Laura. What happens to him? Coal City, a radio drama launched in April, will reveal all.

It is one of several arts and culture projects that received a project development grant from the Arts & Culture Trust (ACT), funded by the Nedbank Arts Affinity. Applications for the next round of grants close on May 10.

"ACT provides grants of R30,000 to R80,000 to assist projects in getting off the ground or contributing to their funding requirements. In 2017, the development programme disbursed R523,000 to 23 projects," says the trust’s programmes manager Jessica Glendinning.

Coal City is broadcast in the Emalahleni region in Mpumalanga on Emalahleni FM. It is produced by the Kwaguqa Arts Initiative (KAI).

An edutainment and job creation radio drama about human rights, the KAI team is creating 30 episodes of 30-minute short dramas adapted for radio, which will be broadcast until December.

"KAI has been going since 2009 and all our projects are longer-term; we don’t do short-term because this doesn’t build a sustainable creative economy or a full-time career for our region’s performing artists, many of whom have studied drama, drama production, music and cultural development," says Coal City programme manager Faith Nzuma, who studied drama and music at Wits University and the University of Johannesburg.

The six actors in Coal City alternate characters and languages, speaking Zulu, Ndebele and English.

Each episode addresses human rights and health issues based on real-life situations in the Emalahleni community.

"One of the human rights is the right to housing – and there has been ongoing tension and fighting in our community about the limited amount of RDP houses and who gets them. In one of the episodes we incorporated the housing issue and how our municipality assigns RDP houses," says Nzuma.

"In our community we have a lot of foreign nationals who have the skills required to work in the mining sector, but this leads to xenophobia. In the drama we address issues of culture, diversity and tolerance as we have always been a mixed community," she says.

A character called Lindiwe was created, a young Ndebele woman from Zimbabwe who is an engineer on the mines. Her fiancé, Piet, is also Ndebele but grew up in KwaMashu near Durban. He is a soccer player and a friend of Dan’s.

"Although they are both Ndebele their cultures are very different and they have to learn about each other’s cultures," says Nzuma. "Lindiwe’s character also explores the experience of being a so-called foreigner in SA, and the drama discusses the right to migrate."

Coal City is being marketed by KAI to other radio stations and the producers aim to develop it into a television series.

ACT is redesigning its development programme for more targeted impact, in consultation with the Nedbank Arts Affinity.

"Part of this targeted impact is to assist underresourced artists, and in 2018 we will be working with arts and culture projects that don’t have the capacity to apply for funding, whether from us or other funders," says Glendinning.

"We are also looking at providing an equal amount of funding to urban and rural areas, and looking at the support systems around the people that we fund, such as other organisations working in their part of the country … to bolster the growth and sustainability of the sector."

"Countless research has been done on the importance of arts and culture for our mental and emotional wellbeing, and for appreciating diversity and other cultures, mixed cultures, the intersection of cultures and new cultures.

"This is essential for the evolution of a socially conscious, democratic society," she says.