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The history of Jagersfontein is rooted in mining. One of the oldest prospecting towns in South Africa, it was the site of discovery of two of the world’s largest diamonds.
The mine closed down in 1969, resulting in poverty and unemployment that persist today. When completing community service in the town, Lerato Machetela recognised how young men were impacted by violence and substance abuse.
But she also discovered a dormant resource far more valuable than any mineral: potential. A clinical psychologist, Machetela knew that if she was going to make a difference to the community of Jagersfontein, she needed much more than her academic knowledge.
Machetela thought a hip-hop programme might work. But when she approached boys in the town with this idea, they told her they wanted to do gumboot dancing instead.
Some of them had grandparents who worked in the mines, and learnt the dance from them. During apartheid, mineworkers were prevented from communicating with one another, so they slapped their boots and stomped their feet as a way of talking.
It evolved into a form of protest and entertainment. Machetela formed the Jagersfontein Diamonds in the Rough project, using gumboot dancing as a way for the youth to express emotions men are often discouraged from sharing.
“This group is about creating safe communicative spaces where young men can freely challenge the silencing of their voices,” she says.
The group has performed across the country, and through the project many members have been offered funding to continue their education.
“Gumboot dancing has the potential to transform the lives of young men,” Machetela says.
Along with the dancing, she also runs a literacy programme and hosts photography exhibitions of their photos. With the exhibitions, the group can open a dialogue in the community about how to take action in Jagersfontein.
“Through an empowering support system, I hope to contribute towards the creation of a new generation of young men,” she says.
Machetela’s work demonstrates that powerful change can happen with a simple act: communicating.