TTo fans of the JK Rowling books, the story may sound somewhat familiar: A child living in difficult circumstances is enrolled in a mysterious school far from home, where his life is forever changed by the transformative power of magic.
However, Anele Dyasi’s story is not a fairy tale, and the school in question is not Hogwarts, but rather the College of Magic in Cape Town, a unique institution that has been training some of the most skilled illusionists on the continent. since the 1980s.
Dyasi, who grew up in the extensive Khayelitsha TownshipWhere violent crime abounds and opportunities are few and far between, he was 10 years old when the university began training him in the ways of magic and sleight of hand. Within four years he was representing South Africa in magic contests as far away as Las Vegas and Beijing and had become a role model for a new generation of budding magicians.
“I think of it more as a university of life,” says Dyasi, now 23, and a teacher at the university. “It helped me stay away from crime and gangsterism.”
Dyasi says the most important things he learned in his six years as a college student had less to do with magic and more to do with self-confidence and effective communication – skills that he feels have put him in good stead. to face the problems of life. challenges.
On this particular Saturday, dressed in a flamboyant polka dot jacket over a plain white T-shirt, he’s teaching close-up card magic to a class of fifth-graders who scrutinize his every move as they try to figure out the trick. . Outside the window, the younger students juggle sticks and loop around the parking lot on unicycles.
Less research has been done on the educational benefits of learning magic than other performing arts such as music, dance, or the circus. But studies that exist have related it to physical and psychological benefits such as better concentration, a greater ability to solve problems and think laterally, better interpersonal skills, greater self-esteem and a greater aptitude for teamwork.
“When we started out, we never thought about all the benefits,” says David Gore, founder and director of the university. “We didn’t realize how powerful magic was as a tool.”
College students frequently give public performances in local venues, and Gore says he has observed how, in a matter of months, freshmen who came to college routinely shy and recalcitrant end up being confident enough to perform on the spot. stage in front of him. hundreds of strangers.
Gore was just 19 years old when he and a colleague walked into the offices of a local newspaper in top hats and tails and announced that they were starting wizarding school. The newspaper ran a story and in no time 34 children had signed up. In the 40 years since then, several thousand more students have come and gone through the corridors of the ramshackle Victorian mansion that houses the university.
Built in the late 19th century, the building has a distinctive Hogwarts style, replete with crooked staircases, secret doors hidden behind bookshelves, and a special enclosure for the rabbits and pigeons that are occasionally used in performances.
“It’s a lot more fun than my other school,” says Duma Mgqoki, a fourth-year student and aspiring magician, who says he enjoys wowing the other kids in his neighborhood with the tricks he learns in college.
While many of the university’s students have careers in magic and its associated arts, perform at children’s parties or corporate functions, or become television entertainers, others say the university helped prepare them for a variety of non-magical careers. .
“Growing up, I went through a lot of trauma and depression. But here I felt free, ”says Anela Gazi, a recent college graduate from Mfuleni municipality, who is starting her own shoe-shine business.
“This place prepared me for everything. It made me grow. It made me strong. I didn’t even know that I could become the person I am now, ”he says.
In college, students from some of the city’s most disadvantaged municipalities are learning alongside others from the wealthiest suburbs.
Twenty seven years old After the end of apartheid, Cape Town remains one of the most divided cities in the world, and many schools, indeed entire neighborhoods, offer little ethnic diversity.
“We believed that what we were offering should be available to everyone, and we did it from day one,” says Gore, who disobeyed the laws of the apartheid regime in the 1980s by insisting on teaching multiracial classes.
The university operates as a non-profit organization and helps find sponsors to cover the fees for those who might not otherwise be able to pay for the courses. It also organizes transportation to allow the assistance of people from more distant areas.
“This is the rainbow nation,” Dyasi says after his class, pointing to the building behind him. “We do not judge each other here. We are all here to achieve the same thing: to be better magicians. Bring out the best in everyone. “