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South African woman challenges belief that the violin is only for the wealthy

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

It’s an unlikely instrument in the fight against poverty and violence: the violin. But for some children in three Cape Town townships, it offers an escape from their tough, daily lives and the prospect of a career in music.

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For the past two years, music teacher Maria Botha has been teaching the instrument to schoolchildren in three townships – Guguletu, Nyanga, and Langa. Backed by the city council and the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, Ms. Botha has had to fight resistance from parents and social stereotypes that classical instruments are generally for wealthier white children.

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“It was hard initially to get parents to support what we were doing and encourage their children,” Botha says. “A lot of parents want their kids to earn money from small jobs or begging, and they couldn’t see the benefits of learning the violin” at first.

The Masidlale Music Project teaches about 120 pupils ages 5 to 12. Botha trained in Lyon, France, where she followed the Suzuki method of learning. She employs the same method in the township schools.

“It doesn’t really matter what instrument they learn. What is important is to learn the self-discipline and love for an instrument... Because of historical reasons, there aren’t enough black [classical] musicians, so we hope this will start to change that.”