New campaign launched to support South African program

by Johann Zietsman

DCW subscibers may have read previous articles about the creation and progress of the South African Field Band Foundation. Here is a quick refresher.

Based on the United States drum and bugle corps concept, the South African Field Band Foundation (FBF) was founded in 1997, in response to the dire need to redress the inequalities of Apartheid in the urban and rural townships of South Africa. Music and dance was chosen as the vehicle for social development because of its popularity and long history in these areas.

The FBF offers disadvantaged youth a holistic social and skill development program and, because of its substance, it is very attractive. Consequently, the Foundation is inundated with requests from communities for the project and it has a waiting list of over 3,000 children waiting to join the project.

Our Purpose Statement is: The Field Band Foundation creates lifetime opportunities for the youth of South Africa through the discipline and creativity of music and movement. We build self-esteem, develop life skills and nurture future leaders.

The Foundation is active mainly in areas that are socially and economically highly vulnerable, and where the unemployment rate of the parents is between 24% and 74%. The entire program is very inter-active with the community and,   therefore, capable of responding to the needs of the people it serves.

Economic growth in South Africa has not been strong enough to lower the country’s high unemployment rate and daunting economic problems remain from the Apartheid era,            especially poverty and lack of economic empowerment among the disadvantaged groups.

High crime and HIV/AIDS infection rates also deter investment and further disenfranchise the already vast number of disadvantaged people. We strive to empower our participants with life skills to face these challenges creatively and constructively.

The activities of the Foundation have five basic elements:

1) Daily creative activity, teaching basic life skills — in the poor township areas in South Africa, there are few recreational or sports opportunities, and we provide a desirable activity.

2) Advanced education assistance — networking with formal institutions to expose these youngsters to the opportunities to graduate into the formal education sector. The Foundation also offers many annual international exchange programs.

3) Education and social development — the life experience of these youngsters is extremely limited and the need for general social development is great. The Foundation runs regular workshops on various relevant issues to expose the youth to civil society principles and to a wider base of general knowledge.

4) HIV/AIDS — in 2003, an estimated 5 million people in South Africa were living with this disease. Many millions more know nothing or too little to protect themselves against infection. The Field Band HIV/AIDS Peer Educators program addresses this by offering children information and choices on how to adapt their own lives to protect themselves.

5) Employment assistance — the Foundation networks with formal institutions to place members in suitable employment. This includes workshops on basic business principles to assist our youngsters to become part of South Africa’s growing economy.

The FBF started in 1997 when a large South African plate glass company, PG Group, decided to adopt this concept and sponsor the initial formation stage. This generous sponsorship enabled the founder, Johann Zietsman, to purchase enough instruments and equipment to establish bands in five regions.

In order to leverage the use of these instruments, each set is used by at least two, and in some cases three, different bands . . . each week! Instruments are transported to each area, all located in townships, and after each practice session, all the instruments are loaded up and returned, ready to go to the next area the next day.

Due to the domestic circumstances of most of our participants, they cannot take instruments home to practice, so each kid only has a mouthpiece or a pair of sticks to take home.

In 1999, we appointed the current CEO, Retha Cilliers, who has done tremendous work to grow this into one of the most awarded community non-profit organizations in South Africa. More than 3,500 kids now participate in 24 bands and many of the teachers and coaches are ex-members who “aged out”. Many of our members also are employed by professional bands and orchestras, or are studying at colleges to become teachers.

The bands compete each year at the FBF National Championships for trophies in various categories, and we use judges from various parts of the world. Some U.S. judges include       Roman Blenski, Alan Murray and Frank Dorrity. The FBF Web site ( contains great photographs and more detail on the 2005 FBF National Championships.

For most of the participants, the FBF is much more than just a band activity and many of their personal testimonies of victory over adversities appear on the FBF Web site. This is what one member, Takatso Mtswene, says:

“To me the FBF means a learning process about how to survive in life and finding my own place and finding who I am. It also means to me determination, courage and confidence. There is more I can say about what this organization means to me, I realize that it will never stop being there for me.”

In 2003, the U.S.-based FBF, Inc. was incorporated as a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit organization, with the sole purpose of developing opportunities for U.S. citizens and companies to get involved in supporting this great project in South Africa.

The board of directors is chaired by New Yorker Scott Morgan and we have developed a number of programs to help grow the FBF in South Africa in order to reach its goal of having more than 10,000 participants by the end of 2007.

We need you support — here’s how

One of the new opportunities we are offering to ALL participants in the U.S. drum corps            program is called “The $5 Campaign”. By    donating $5 to the FBF, Inc., you will directly support one of your peers in South Africa for one year. We will establish contact between each donor and the beneficiary in SA, so that you can keep in touch via e-mail, and learn about each other’s experiences.

This personal contact will be a very tangible way in which donors can see who they are          supporting. Although $5 will only buy you a cup of Starbucks in the U.S., it goes a lot further in SA, and it will make a real difference!

We appeal to drum corps and band directors in the United States to support this campaign. We understand you need to do a lot of development for your own activities, but this support will mean a lot to your SA peers. You will be making a very big difference in the lives of township kids.

Please give your donation to your director, who will collect it and deposit the total amount from your group into the FBF, Inc. account. This can be done though our online donation facility on the Field Band Web site.

You can help directly by sending a check made out to the Field Band Foundation and mail it to 17 Purdys Avenue, Rye, NY 10580.

Please mail a full list of donors’ names and e-mail addresses to this address, or e-mail it to, so that we can establish    contact between the participants.

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Publisher’s note: I hope that each of you reading this article will seriously considering making a small donation to this extremely worthy endeavor. DCW has been following the progress of the Field Band Foundation since Johann was successful in establishing it back in 1997. His first exposure to the American activity was in 1980 at the Drum Corps East Championships in Ithaca, NY.

The 21st Century Drum and Bugle Corps Foundation, Inc. has assisted the FBF over the years with sets of used uniforms and instruments, as well as providing financial assistance for several young people each year to travel from South Africa to march with a drum and bugle corps in this country for the summer.

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This article appeared in the April 2006 issue of Drum Corps World.