University collaboration nurtures meaningful connections between students through a pilot hybrid arts-based intervention

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Lalu Mokuku, Rhodes University drama lecturer, specialising in Applied Theatre and alumna Nine Magagula, Chairperson of MEQOQO
Lalu Mokuku, Rhodes University drama lecturer, specialising in Applied Theatre and alumna Nine Magagula, Chairperson of MEQOQO

Named Koko, Nqonqo, Knock knock! Arts for Life!, Rhodes University and Wits University held a series of arts-based interventions in March 2023 to create meaningful dialogue and connections and destigmatise student mental health issues.

The intention was to create a wholehearted experience that moves from the projected to revelation to contemplation and celebration.

A new model integrating applied arts and arts therapies was developed to reach large groups of university students through a multidisciplinary intervention with additional art therapy and drama therapy groups for support. Two performing arts companies have been involved, including MEQOQO, a playback theatre-inspired collective which is chaired by Rhodes University alumna, Nine Magagula.

"Quite a well-needed and informative experience. The space was quite comfortable and safe for people to be vulnerable," one participant said.

Another participant shared, "Today made me realise that even talking helps to release whatever pain you've been holding. The experience today was the best. I wish every Rhodent could get an opportunity to experience this."

Selloane 'Lalu' Mokuku, a Lecturer at Rhodes University's drama department who has been very involved in the intervention, believes the Sesotho concept of letsema is helpful in a mental health wellness context. "Letsema is premised on the principles of participation," she said. "Here, one is invited to bring whatever they have to help in a particular venture. In our case, we believe the arts have an invaluable role to play. In the spirit of letsema, we have taken great care in implementing this intervention."

She explained that this hybrid intervention is the first to be pioneered in the country - that applied theatre and arts process have existed separately, but not together toward one identified issue of concern.

Participation in these interventions has exceeded expectations. "The quality of engagements has been amazing through both playback theatre and art processes," said Mokuku. "Participants varied as the intervention targeted various students in leadership and non-leadership positions. The SRC has been particularly supportive, with the President and other members actively participating in the intervention. Similar reports have come up from Wits University."

This ambitious pilot project is in partnership with the National Arts Council and funded through the Department of Sports, Arts, and Culture's Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme (PESP).

The extensive partnership base demonstrates the project's success at Rhodes University and Wits University. These include The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation through the Early Careers Scholar Progress, University Capacity Development Programme (UCDP), Institutional Research, Planning and Quality Promotion Division (IRPQP), Intlantsi, Nalwana, and Family and Friends.

Rhodes University Student Wellness Unit and the Counselling Centre will help refer students to post-intervention support, both online and on-site. Short-term arts therapy groups will be facilitated by a qualified arts therapist (either drama, music, art or dance-movement) from April 2023.


The Counselling Centre can be contacted by phoning (046) 603 7070 or emailing

They are open Monday to Friday from 08h00–16h30 (including during lunchtime).

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