Thobekile Sibanyoni has spent the greater part of the last decade marching through the streets and sports stadiums of Gauteng, hidden underneath the massive clothes and heavy frame of a range of giant puppets.
Thobekile Sibanyoni has spent the greater part of the last decade marching through the streets and sports stadiums of Gauteng, hidden underneath the massive clothes and heavy frame of a range of giant puppets.

10MillionMasks: Randfontein puppeteer makes a difference in her community with masks

Time of article published Apr 20, 2020

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Johannesburg - Thobekile Sibanyoni has spent the greater part of the last decade marching through the streets and sports stadiums of Gauteng, hidden underneath the massive clothes and heavy frame of a range of giant puppets. 

A legacy project, introduced since the 2010 World Cup, the Giant Puppet Company has more than 30 giant puppets that have become key features in local marches, processions, sporting events and celebrations ever since. The puppets are as high as four metres and were created with the assistance of a French giant puppeteer group and the French government. 

Drawing from a tradition that dates back to the 16th Century, the puppets’ heads are moulded from papier maché and are mounted on massive body-fitting braces that hold the puppets over the heads of the puppeteer. The puppeteer is hidden underneath the clothes of the puppet and manipulates the arms with long rods, and moves and dances, shakes hands and poses for selfies. The Giant Puppet Company also regularly features in educational theatre and holiday programmes at venues like the Apartheid Museum.

But as lockdown loomed, the 2020 schedule for the Giant Puppet Company was quickly shut down. Sibanyoni headed back to her hometown, Randfontein, determined to make lockdown a meaningful experience for her and her community. 

Although Sibanyoni qualified as an accountant, she quickly immersed herself in the arts. She not only cultivated sculpture, performance and movement skills with the Company but she also exercised her lifelong passion for both fashion and costume design. 

As Sibanyoni weighed up ideas around educational theatre focusing on the coronavirus, it didn’t take long for her to realise that social distancing is not exactly conducive to theatre performances – unless via Zoom. And as she assessed the needs of the community, one need stood out: Masks!

With a pile of off-cut material, Sibanyoni made 70 masks. This was completed in the first couple of days and she has since started drumming up volunteers who can make and distribute masks in the community. The community is her biggest supporter.

Sibanyoni is determined to build the mask-making initiative beyond an emergency intervention and into a more sustainable industry beyond coronavirus, into the future.

10MillionMasks is an NGO that calls on South Africans to help get 10 million fabric masks to the people who need them. 

10MillionMasks has partnered with Independent Media to drive the "Heroes don't wear capes, they wear masks" campaign. 

Download and print our easy-to-use cut-out pattern for a face mask below, follow the step-by-step instructions on how to make it. Then be a hero too, make your mask and wear it.

Then take a picture of you and your family wearing your masks, post it on IOL's Facebook page and you could stand a chance to win a R500 Loot voucher.

IOL

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