Isivivana Centre

The History of Isivivana Centre

Our Remarkable Journey from Dream to Reality

Built in the heart of Khayelitsha’s business district, Isivivana Centre stands as a testament to resilience, collaboration, and unwavering dedication. Its creation is a six-year odyssey that began against challenging odds but culminated in the realisation of a shared dream.

The birth of Isivivana Centre stemmed from the activist organisation Equal Education’s (EE) vision for a permanent home in Khayelitsha. Starting in 2010, the search for land and resources to establish an office and community centre commenced. Michelle Adler, EE’s Operations Manager, initiated the quest for suitable land and connected with Sally Tsiliyiannis of GAPP Architects in Cape Town. This marked a pivotal relationship that would anchor the project’s success. In 2011 Platform Architecture also offered their services and began collaborating with GAPP to bring EE’s vision to life.


However, trying to find – and get approval – for suitable land was challenging. Despite hopes and initial promises, potential sites faltered, leaving the team disheartened. Yet, the team never gave up, exploring various avenues, including city-owned land and collaboration attempts with other organisations.

The dream seemed distant due to a lack of funds until a fortuitous turn of events. Atlantic Philanthropies, a private American foundation set up to promote equity and dignity in countries around the world, shared the EE’s vision of establishing a social justice-oriented building in the area. Contact between EE and Atlantic’s representatives led to formal discussions, sparking the financial and structured support needed to breathe life into the project.

Gerald Kraak, representing Atlantic in South Africa, played a pivotal role, outlining terms to kickstart the project formally. With Atlantic’s backing, the team engaged with the Khayelitsha Community Trust, navigating complexities to acquire suitable land in the business district. Although this land fell through at the last minute, it was the final steppingstone to the eventual site which was just a stone’s throw away.

By 2013 Atlantic had secured the services of the legal firm Webber Wentzel. One of their partners, Jill Singer, played a pivotal role in driving the project forward. As the legal structure solidified, a dedicated team came together, with Jill leading the governance setup. She established the Khayelitsha Youth and Community Centre (KYCC) Trust to acquire the land, receive the funds, appoint the professional team, arrange for the building to be built, and then to govern and manage it.

Collaborating professionals – including architects, project managers, and engineers – and activists rallied together, and their collective efforts and expertise sculpted the project’s path forward. This, combined with Atlantic’s unwavering support and guidance, despite numerous setbacks, propelled the project through administrative hurdles.

Finally on 28 September 2015, the deeds office registered KYCC Trust as the owner of a dusty piece of land in central Khayelitsha.

Now that the land was secured, it was time to decide who would build the centre. After meeting various criteria, Group5 was chosen and they agreed to award 20% of the entire tender value to Khayelitsha-based subcontractors, which meant a R10m injection into the local economy. In addition, all workers would be employed from the surrounding community.

The names of the hundreds of workers who spent almost a year of their lives building our beautiful centre are framed in the building entrance. <Add link to PDF> In the spirit of collaboration and inclusion – the foundation on which Isivivana was born – at a function held for the workers soon before the building’s completion, an invitation was extended to the workers to return with their families to enjoy the building’s facilities once it was opened.

The grand opening of Isivivana Centre on 14 October 2016 marked a significant milestone, a celebration of activism and community effort. The physical construction of Isivivana is a testament to collective determination – engagement with the community, NGOs, and local leadership shaped the building’s design, particularly our community-driven spaces and facilities like our Movie House, Hall, Library, Café and Classroom.

Since its opening, the Centre has proved to be more than just a building. It is a community hub and a symbol of hope – positively shaping the lives of those who walk through its doors.

Watch: Isivivana Centre Documentary

This short and engaging documentary tells the story of Isivivana Centre, sharing some of the history that has shaped Khayelitsha and interviewing key stakeholders in the creation of this community hub.

Meaning of Isivivana

“Isivivana” is an isiXhosa word meaning cairn – a mound of stones, pebbles or rocks piled up to create a landmark.


As Professor Zakes Mda explained at the official opening of Isivivana Centre, cairns can be found throughout the Eastern Cape, created by the Khoikoi to mark strategic sacred places and crossroads. Over time the size and scale of these cairns grew because as travellers passed, they would add their own stones to the cairn for good luck. The Xhosa people adopted the practice of adding a stone to the pile as they passed it by to invoke good fortune.

Pile of wishes

The first person to suggest this name for the Centre was Brenda Skelenge, a Khayelitsha resident who went on to become the first proprietor of Café Isivivana. Brenda said for her the word translated to “pile of wishes”.


The name was put forward to Atlantic Philanthropies who agreed that it perfectly encapsulated the spirit of the Centre as a place that is the product of many people adding their own stones to create a remarkable landmark. These stones signify struggles and dreams and mark a crossroads for organisations that have waged campaigns for social and economic justice for many years, creating a landmark for another generation of activists.


The Centre also sits at a figurative crossroads for Khayelitsha as it fights to emerge from an apartheid past as a dormitory township far from the city centre, into a new present where a full civic life is asserted and achieved even in the face of continued exclusion. The Centre is a place for all comers to build their own pile of wishes as they join movements, learn and collaborate, read in the library, enjoy good food, watch insightful films, receive sound legal advice, or meet with friends. Over the years Isivivana has been steadily built on the dreams of the past to create a steadfast landmark for today, and for future generations.

The KYCC Trust

Isivivana Centre is owned and managed by the Khayelitsha Youth & Community Centre (KYCC) Trust, with Trust Registration No. IT021933/2014(C). The Founder of the Trust is the Atlantic Philanthropies. The Trust is a registered Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) with PBO number 930048392, and its Trust Deed requires that Beneficiaries and tenants must also be PBOs. The Trust Deed allows for a maximum of nine Trustees.

The vast majority of funding has been provided by the Atlantic Philanthropies, a foundation that has provided funding over many years to social justice organisations, universities, medical facilities, research institutions, welfare services and other projects in countries including Australia, Bermuda, Cuba, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, South Africa, the United States and Vietnam.


Atlantic had supported social movements in Khayelitsha for a number of years including the Treatment Action Campaign, Equal Education and the Social Justice Coalition. As part of its strategic spend-down Atlantic decided to provide a building, a permanent home for these organisations. This grew into a project to provide space for a wider group of organisations and to provide more general community facilities on the ground floor.


Atlantic provided the funding with which the KYCC Trust acquired the land and constructed the building. Atlantic has provided an additional endowment which (together with rental income from long-term tenants and venue hiring) will provide for certain maintenance and long-term capital refurbishment


The Harry Crossley Foundation has provided funding for the books at the Centre’s Library, which is open to the public on a membership basis. The funding has enabled the Centre to purchase a fantastic collection of literature, in English and isiXhosa.


The Bertha Foundation, which has a strong interest in human rights and documentary film, is providing the funding for the Centre’s film programme. In recognition of this the Centre’s Movie House, the first dedicated cinema in Khayelitsha, is known as the Bertha Movie House.


The Trust’s auditor is Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC).

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