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Wednesday, July 7, 2021


iStimela Sendaba (the Story Train)
takes children, parents and educators on an educational journey; an offering from ASSITEJ SA and Play Africa.

Come aboard the virtual iStimela Sendaba (The Story Train) as Africa’s rich oral storytelling traditions come alive for a new generation!

At the National Arts Festival, ASSITEJ South Africa and Play Africa bring the magic of African storytelling to children, families and schools through free, accessible digital platforms.

iStimela Sendaba - a collaboration between ASSITEJ South Africa and Play Africa — brings together 25 storytellers from every province of our country to tell 50 stories in all 11 of South Africa’s official languages.

All stories will be recorded and broadcast to the public in the coming weeks on both organisations’ Facebook pages and websites.

“Storytelling is where theatre began, and is at the heart of every theatrical experience. In a time when live theatre has been decimated by the impact of COVID, it has been wonderful to rediscover the boundless imaginative worlds that can be created through storytelling, and to bring them into children’s homes and school environments through the magic of technology”, says Yvette Hardie, Director of ASSITEJ South Africa. “It has also been exciting to see a new network of young storytellers gather around this project, and to discover together the power of their collective voice.”

Play Africa CEO Gretchen Wilson-Prangley, says: “Oral storytelling can improve children’s language fluency and help them grasp new concepts that underpin literacy and literature. “We use storytelling to develop a creative mindset through problem solving, critical thinking, abstract reasoning, and personal expression. By empowering local storytellers, Play Africa creates employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for artists practicing in the creative arts, and enables young people to produce work in the performing arts for exposure and audience development.”

iStimela Sendaba is a creative collaboration between ASSITEJ SA and Play Africa, which started amid the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s all about passing on the wonderful African tradition of storytelling and bringing it into the modern day – exploring new forms of story and new ways of telling as we go along, while urging us to use technology in creative and innovative ways. The project also seeks to create an educational resource that can be used in kindergarten and school settings. Stories provide a way of feeding our curiosity and imaginations, developing a love of learning, while connecting us to others – these factors have become so critical for children since the global pandemic hit.

Funding for this collaboration is made possible through the National Arts Council (NAC)’s PESP fund, the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture and Rand Merchant Bank.

“For me the highlight of bringing African storytelling to the digital realm has been being able to reach a much wider audience,” said professional storyteller Tsholofelo Shounyane. “Exposing children and parents from all over the world to my home language and our African art feels really special. No amount of money can buy that.”

The first digital collaboration between Play Africa and ASSITEJ SA created stories by four storytellers on Facebook Live every Tuesday from April 2020 to January 2021. The second project was iStimela Sendaba which showcased online at the National Arts Festival in 2020. A virtual train of stories, visiting various countries, brought children and their families 11 tales from Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Nigeria. Telling their stories live on Zoom and Facebook, gave the performers an opportunity to interact and engage with the audience about the content they had just seen, bringing back some of the feel of live, physical performance. Now this third iteration brings 50 new stories to the platform in all of South Africa’s official languages. Some of these stories will be shared at the virtual National Arts Festival, and all of them will be broadcast weekly on Tuesdays and archived on their websites and Facebook pages.

The story train is moving, and the organisers invite all in South Africa to come sit around their virtual fire, to hear what they have in store … digitally in the weeks to come. Every child in South Africa deserves access to stories, theatre and play. With this focus in mind, they continue with their storytelling work, in the hopes of reaching all the children of South Africa.

You can join the story train at the virtual National Arts Festival from July 8 to 17, 2021, broadcasting daily from 12h00. See for more information.