Shabnam Palesa Mohamed is your average activist, former journalist, media commentator and attorney.

She does not know how to give up on a good cause. So, when the Durban-based centre for Fine Art Animation Design was faced with a struggle, after five robberies resulting in losing its college’s registration, Mohamed stepped in to campaign for the registration to be reinstated.

“The campaign continues because our youth should not be punished for crime and corruption. And public servants must serve the public,” she said.

From an online petition (https://awethu.amandl.mobi/p/DefendCFAD), sharing student art on social media, video interviews with students, to sharing letters of support with the Department of Education, Mohamed, now the manager of the CFAD, is passionate about youth and their right to education.
She said, “Being involved with the struggles of children and youth for years, I believe that authorities entrusted with public service, need to listen to what our youth have to say.”

The founder of CFAD, artist and cartoonist Dr Nanda Soobben, is one of her greatest inspirations. Mohamed said, “I met him eight years ago when he let me launch my human rights activism NPO Stand Up at his previous premises. The catalyst to the NPO is childhood abuse I overcame. So that is a kindness from him that I can never forget.”

After working as a volunteer, she is now the manager and spokesperson of the 24-year-old arts centre, and although it is going through a challenging time, Mohamed said she will never give up on its legacy of incredibly talented alumni and students.

“Our days are filled with both talent and laughter. Everyday, I am moved to tears because a student created another fine art, design or animation piece that amazes me, or they say something to me about their lives and their college that motivates me and our staff to keep standing up with them to have a future in our country. Some of our students are physically challenged, some have autism or Aspergers syndrome, and they remind us of the beautiful power of the human spirit,” she said.

Mohamed, a poet, song writer, and soon to be published author is also exploring her visual art talent. “One of my earliest memories of art is drawing all over our neighbour’s washing on the clothes line with a bright turquoise felt pen. Thank God the aunty did not make me wash my mini Picasso art off her sheets.

“Being amidst all the creative genius at CFAD inspired me to create a fine art piece about Palestinian teenage activist Ahed Tamimi, a cartoon about politics and business, and a greater confidence with design skills.

“My role keeps me very busy, but I cannot wait to start my integrated multimedia diploma so I can use my skills to make the world a better place. I am also very keen on expanding my documentary filmmaking abilities,” she said.

On her thoughts about education in South Africa, she said, “Despite the power of the arts to heal, transform society, create entrepreneurship and employment, and nourish democracy, there still is not enough support for art institutions and talented students, and yet, creativity enhances critical thinking and problem solving abilities.

“When we take the arts seriously, every primary and high school with enjoy art as part of the curriculum.

“We need to evolve rapidly from STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) to STEAM ETC (science, technology, engineering, arts, maths ETC) for a healthy present, and successful future. Einstein said that we cannot ask a fish to climb a tree and then call it stupid when it cannot.

“So why are we forcing children to study and become what they do not want to? Art changes people and people change the world. Its why CFAD has launched Art In The City, which is hosting Saturday art classes, and art classes in Durban schools.”

Mohamed is calling on the public to support the CFAD’s underprivileged and differently abled students with bursary contributions.

“This is one of my three dreams for my birthday month, this August. I am honoured to share mine with one of my icons, Mama Fatima Meer, and I cannot think of a better gift than for our gifted youth to know the public supports their vision and talents. It is as Madiba said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon one can use to change the world’.

“Let us make both him and ourselves proud,” said Mohamed.