A paper that ‘connects the community’

The Eoan Group School of Performing Arts's dance principal, Abeedah Medell, and director, Shafiek Rajap, are seen here in front of a collage of some of its pioneers.

The Eoan Group School of Performing Arts is proud to be an 83-year-old institution that is still unselfishly serving and rooted in the heart of the community.

So said managing director Shafiek Rajap, adding that the organisation has always strived to do the best it could to bring quality productions to life.

Mr Rajap took over the reins at the Eoan Group 15 years ago, and over the years has seen the mutually beneficial relationship between his organisation and the Athlone News.

“You have given us a lot of exposure over the years, like when our young people go overseas, and even when our children do their ballet examinations.

More children come to us because they read about others in the paper.

“The Athlone News has helped change the lives of our children. I have seen the growth of the Eoan Group and the growth of the Athlone News, and I believe it’s because of this informal partnership the two entities have.

“What I also like about the Athlone News is that you are reachable. You are not just people out there, you are people who are connected to the community. You helped us grow by getting our productions and events published. We don’t have a marketing budget, and yet we registered 500 students this year,” Mr Rajap said.

Principal of the dance school, Abeedah Medell added that the Athlone News “tells the stories that need to be told. Before any other paper arrived, it has always been the Athlone News.

“I love the variety of stories and always find myself starting out on the front page, before I go to the entertainment page, then the housing section, and then sport. I also love that it runs ‘feel-good stories’. We must tell the good also, not just the bad. Even the community notices are important. It’s an accessible newspaper, especially for the youth.

“For many young people in our community who do not have money for data costs, the Athlone News is their social link. I would like to call the Athlone News the community’s Facebook. It’s a cultured newspaper for everybody,” Ms Medell said.

The pair congratulated the Athlone News on its 30th anniversary, and said they wished for it to exist for as long as the Eoan Group has.

● The Eoan Group was founded by Helen Southern-Holt in 1933 in District Six as a cultural and welfare organisation. During its early years, their activities focussed on elocution, drama, physical education and ballet.

In 1943, Ms Southern-Holt invited Joseph Manca, an accountant of Italian descent with a passion for opera, to conduct the group’s small choir, and in the next 13 years, Mr Manca developed the choir into an amateur opera company.

In March 1956, the Eoan Group performed a full-scale opera, La Traviata in Italian. Over the next 20 years that followed this successful production, the Eoan Group’s name became synonymous with opera productions. In 1977,

Mr Manca resigned from the Eoan Group, and it signalled the end of an era for the group.

After the forced removals and destruction of District Six, the Eoan Group moved to its current premises at the Joseph Stone Auditorium in Athlone in 1969.

It was named after its benefactor who donated R100 000 towards the building of the theatre.