Meza (17) has just completed Grade 11. She and her younger sister and brother have been a part of the Zolani Youth Choir for almost 2 years now. “My family really loves music,” says this lithe young woman with swinging braids and an infectious smile.

The siblings live with their (single) mother in the small township of Zolani near Ashton, a small Western Cape village at the foot of the Langeberg Mountains, in a region known for its great wines and stone fruit. The area is a popular tourist destination famous for its quaint guest houses, magnificent scenery and bountiful produce.

But life in Zolani is not that bountiful. Employment is limited to seasonal work on the farms which means that Meza’s mother is only employed a few weeks out of every year. A drive through the dusty streets is uninspiring, no … depressing actually, as barefoot children scrabble in the streets and locals lean on fence posts with nothing to do.

But turn into Majola Street and the atmosphere is totally different. Serried ranks of jubilant young singers belt out African songs in perfect harmony, their bodies dancing to the rhythm in perfect timing and with infectious energy. No wonder a crowd of onlookers is their constant companion.

“Our choir is now too big to fit into a shack so we have to practice outside my grandmother’s house,” explains Odwa Mvunge, Zolani choir director and champion, “but it works well because it encourages young people to join us when they see what fun we are having.”

Well, no doubt these youngsters are having fun, but their mission is very serious. Having won gold at the World Choir Games held in Tshwane, South Africa in 2018, this group is determined to attend the Choir Games in Belgium next year. Ever since their success last year, the choir has been hard at work trying to raise money. “We need R750 000 to get the choir to Belgium,” explains Mvunge, “and so far we have R400 000. At least half of the choir members have already got their passports, but in reality their parents and the community have absolutely no means to fund them.”

“I was part of the university choir while I was studying, and we got the opportunity to travel overseas and perform,” says Mvunge. “These experiences opened my mind and changed my world view completely, and so I am determined to do the same for every choir member.”

For Meza, short for Ongezwa Mangcala, the road trip to Tshwane and performing at the World Choir Games last year was a highlight of her life. “We were all very nervous and so surprised when we did so well,” she says, “The whole experience gave me a lot of confidence.”

The choir practices Monday to Friday from 17.00 to 19.30, but sometimes Mvunge runs workshops which run for longer, getting his friends in the music industry to come and give masterclasses.

“I don’t mind practicing every day,” says Meza, “it keeps me and my siblings off the streets. There is a lot of peer pressure around here to do bad things, so I am grateful I have something to keep me motivated. There is also a lot of love and friendship in this choir. And I just love performing, so that keeps me practising.”

Meza’s dream is to become an architect one day. “I like drawing and I want to own my own business.” She has no idea how that is going to happen, but with her experience in the choir she feels confident to present herself to the world out there, and grab the opportunities that come her way with both hands.

The Zolani Choir is willing to perform anywhere to raise money for their World Choir Games trip, and would appreciate any donation, no matter how small, to get them to Antwerp. 


For more information contact Choir Director Odwa Mvunge on +27-81  555-3789 or deposit donations at Standard Bank; Account name Zolani Youth Choir; Account number 10110636609; Branch code 050413

- Julia Moore