Guga S’thebe Theatre – a place to meet and share

Guga S'thebe Theatre

Built out of old shipping containers, recycled wooden fruit crates and locally available building materials such as straw and clay, this building is a prime example of innovation and sustainability.

The new Guga S’thebe Theatre was officially handed over to the City of Cape Town’s Arts and Culture Department on 23 September 2015 in time to commemorate Heritage Day and as avenue for Cape Town Fringe.

The Guga S’thebe Theatre will serve as a cultural hub in Langa for residents and visitors to the area.

At the outset, the objective was to create an innovative building through collaborative partnerships, community participation, social integration and the use of recycled and local products. The double-storey theatre was built out of 11 reused shipping containers. These were stacked in a square to form a large open area in the centre with smaller rooms around it.

Taking sustainability to a whole new level, there are no high-tech heating and cooling systems to be found at the Guga S’thebe Theatre.

Instead, to keep the facility cool in summer and warm in winter, the cladding on the inside walls of the containers is made from local clay and straw, while the outer façade is made from recycled timber from old fruit crates. The 200-seater theatre will enable the centre to host programmes year-round.

The name Guga S’thebe is appropriate and has a rich cultural meaning. It is derived from the name of the traditional Xhosa platter known as isithebe that is used to serve guests and family members. The word signifies a meeting place and ubuntu because during meal times people sit around the isithebe to share a meal. Fittingly, the precinct is a shared public space where communities can come together and share a meal or their stories.

The theatre is a part of the wider Langa Cultural Precinct that has preserved the township’s rich cultural history and serves to support creative talent. Langa is one of the oldest townships in Cape Town. It has proven to be a popular tourist destination and cultural node which attracts approximately 1 000 tourists each month. The theatre project was developed in order to grow local audiences even further. The 200-seater auditorium was planned to cater for theatre, dance, music and film, while the centre as a whole services visual arts, design, crafts and performance.

The upgrades commenced after the City’s Arts and Culture Department undertook a study of the area in 2013. It was proposed that vital changes were needed for the centre to become sustainable in the long-term and to make it attractive to the community.

The department undertook an extensive six-month stakeholder engagement process to encourage communities to have their say about the future of the Langa Cultural Precinct. Communities (especially Langa residents) were invited to put forth suggestions on how best to improve the precinct so that it could work for all stakeholders. This is part of the department’s strategy to promote partnerships with communities.

It helped to create an environment where stakeholders in the arts and culture sector could share their knowledge and complement each other in establishing Cape Town as a global arts and culture hub.

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