CAPTION: Siyabonga Swelindawo’s life changed when he joined the Zip Zap Circus School at the age of 11 in 1999. Now the 27-year-old professional juggler, and SA’s Got Talent semi-finalist, is helping transform other youngsters’ lives through an after school arts initiative of the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport. [Photo credit: Zip Zap Circus School]


Swelindawo describes his childhood, growing up in Khayelitsha, as a rough juggling act. Over weekends he was sent to stay with his aunt when adults at home would drink too much. He ended up living with her permanently while attending Eluxolweni Primary School. It was at this stage that the young boy joined the Non-Profit Organisation, Zip Zap Circus School. As he learnt to excel in the art of juggling, his dreams of becoming a professional soccer player turned to that of circus star.


Juggling opened up his world and for the next eleven years, Swelindawo was part of the Zip Zap family. As a professional performer and Zip Zap instructor, he went on tours to Spain, Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium and Australia, not to mention performances all over South Africa. “If I wasn’t involved in the circus I don’t think I would’ve travelled to those places,” he says, adding that a highlight was meeting and performing on stage with Miriam Makeba in Holland. After finishing school he moved into Zip Zap’s House in Observatory – a safe, subsidised accommodation option for Zip Zap’s professional performers and trainers who have no alternative place to stay.


While busy with circus life, Swelindawo studied Electrical Engineering at the College of Cape Town and graduated with a Diploma in 2013. Despite an attractive job offer in this sector, he chose instead to sow back into Cape Town’s poorest communities using the juggling skills learnt at Zip Zap.


Now Swelindawo is working full time for the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport, heading up the juggling code for the Mass participation; Opportunity and access, Development and growth (MOD) programme. This initiative provides sporting and arts activities to more than 40 000 children from over 300 disadvantaged and underserved schools in the province. “We work with the children from after school until 18:00, the idea is to keep them busy and out of trouble. The programme also gives rising stars the opportunity to hone their skills and possibly turn professional in a particular sporting or arts code.” Swelindawo is proud of the young protégés in the juggling section he manages: “These children, who I started teaching in 2014, are now juggling like crazy! Give them two more years and they’ll be right on top,” he says.


Laurence Estève, co-founder and Director of Zip Zap Circus School is just as proud of Swelindawo as he is of his own charges. “It is an honour to keep in touch with the Zip Zap alumni who were some of our first circus stars. They are now thriving as adults, leading fulfilling and successful lives and excelling on and off stage. The impact Siyabonga has through his job working for the province is just one part of Zip Zap’s success story.”


To make tax-deductible donations to Zip Zap, visit the website or contact 021 421 8622 or donate via Thundafund here. Find Zip Zap on Facebook and check out the Zip Zap YouTube channel here to find out more.