Filled with so many emotions, I wonder how Aubrey Sekhabi and Kabelo “Bonafide Billi” Togoe managed to actually write the whole script of the musical. Freedom, which was inspired by the efforts of brave young people who took their issues to the streets when university vice-chancellors flatly ignored their pleas of free education.
Students fought hard (with some being arrested and others succumbing to wounds which were inflicted by the police and community members) to get what is now a free education, which others still argue there is nothing free about it as taxpayers will have to forge some cents if not more to pay for billions of fees in the next coming years.
The musical by Sekhabi which has been running at the SA State Theatre summaries the dramatic events which led to the then president of the republic, Jacob Zuma, announcing this free education.
Phindile Ndlovu, who is one of the main characters lived to tell the tale of how she was raped by her musician boyfriend, Bonafide- the music star’s life was taken by a member of the SA Police Service. His story reminds me that of Katlego Monareng from the Tshwane University of Technology whose life, like that of Bonafide’s, was cut short by a trigger-happy policeman. Bonafide’s character was portrayed by rapper PdotO.
There are many stories that will never be told on mainstream media including those of young men who sell their bodies to men and women just to be able to pay for an apartment.
But I must say, I appreciate both Sekhabi and Togoe’s hunger to tell those stories so authentically and so honestly. One has to salute the Freedom team for having chosen to tell the stories of these young people who were failed by the government and the higher education department’s minister Blade Nzimande (who features in the musical in the form of the talented opera singer Otto Maidi).
So many issues are explored in the musical including femicide, which has claimed the lives of many women. Young women like Karabo Mokoena and model Reeva Steenkamp, who like many women whose bodies lay cold in cemeteries and morgues, were killed by their partners.
I pray and hope that this musical, which has now been adapted into a book, will be bought by some TV station and turned into a film or TV series for it to be seen by many, especially our ‘leaders’ who were elected into power to protect and serve the people. We both know that some people don’t do the theatre like me and you.
Freedom is an award winning musical, with brilliant choreography done by award winning choreographer, director and actor Mduduzi Nhlapo;the story was well-researched with a stellar cast.
IT is like the excitement of a child on Christmas morning. No, it’s similar to what that Idabala track did to people over the festive season. Actually, it’s a combination of the aforementioned plus the eagerness of an avid drinker at the site of an open bar. That’s what an election year does to politicians- it brings out their silly side.
We’ve only 10 days in the year but we’ve already seen and heard some ridiculous things spewing from candidates’ mouths. This article is not about the sound decisions you should make when you get to the ballot box come vote day. No. It’s to help you see through the bullshit that will be dished out, in the lead up to the country’s sixth democratic elections. The IEC hasn’t announced the date for this year’s voting, but it’s expected to be in May.
BELOW ARE FIVE RIDICULOUS THINGS YOU’LL SEE POLITICIANS DO TO GET YOUR VOTE:
THE EMERGENCE OF NEW POLITICAL PARTIES
Hludi Motsoeneng has big dreams of becoming president of this country one day. The discredited former SABC boss launched his party, the African Content Movement party last month. “The new animal, ACM, is [an] African first. Anything that we produce in South Africa will be 90% South African because it is very important to empower people of South Africa. We need to start here at home,” said Motsoeneng at the launch of ACM.
He has an interesting affinity with 90%. This is the same percentage he insisted on a couple of years ago while at the SABC, when he pushed for a quota for state radio stations to play substantial local music. There’s a common thread between these newly found political homes, besides the fact that they die out a year or so after an election, their party names usually sound like incomplete slogans or sentences.
Gupta-associate Mzwandile Manyi hinted at launching a political party too this year. But yesterday he announced that he’ll be joining the ATM-African Transformation Movement, a party formed by displeased Jacob Zuma supporters.
THE SHOW OF SUPERFICIAL AFFECTION TO THE PEOPLE
Yes, it’s that season where the lips of presidential candidates get busier than that of teen girls pouting for selfies. The kissing of babies while on a campaign trail is a US tradition which political contenders from around the world have adopted. Here in South Africa kissing babies isn’t the only way to show warmth and kindness to hopeful voters.
Smooching senior citizens and going to the homes of the impoverished is also a card that politicians play. As a way of being ‘in touch with the people’ some politicians will actually go out of their way and butcher people’s languages while addressing them. You should hear a Mmusi Maimane promising a better life for rural people in the KwaZulu-Natal, in the most uncomfortable isiZulu you’ll hear.
STUPENDOUS HAND OUTS OF POLITICAL REGALIA
Maybe it’s that track by Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson, or that line from Kanye’s Good Life… but whatever it is, people sure do believe that the best things in life are free. Politicians take advantage of people because of that very fact. Citizens are always ready to get on a free bus ride to a stadium, where they’ll be handed free T-shirts just so the arena looks like it’s filled up by active members of that party. Caps and lanyards are also handed out at these mass gatherings.
PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES ANNOYINGLY TRYING TO BE COOL
I cringed at the site of seeing former President Zuma rocking a straight cap dabbing with fellow comrades his age at a rally, campaigning for the 2016 Municipal elections all in a bid to lure young voters. Another trick they’ll pull, is of a celebrity’s endorsement. Photos of EFF Chief Julius Malema and rapper AKA at an event circulated social over the festive season. That was no coincidence.
The likes of AKA, Kwesta and Nasty C have millions of followers who some will be voting for the first or at least second time this year and politicians are very much aware of that. Just like any brand, political parties will lure artists with big cheques so that they encourage their fans to vote for a particular organization.
THE BIG PROMISES THEY MAKE AT MANIFESTOS
You know that friend who’ll randomly call you and suggest y’all go out. You get there and after the bill arrives, that person decides to tell you that they actually don’t have the money to pay because of personal issue. That’s how these political fellas will make you feel post-election.
It’s sad, the promises they make to desperate, destitute and gullible civilians who’ve religiously given their vote to them but have received nothing significant in return for their trust. It’s the major reason for young people’s disenchantment with the elections because history has taught them to never trust politicians’ hogwash.
Characters, the plot, the director and the cast are determents to a play’s presentation. Honesty from all these elements is what grips the audience.
The rectitude manner in which all these elements approached KHWEZI…Say (my) her name, helped introduce the real Fezekile Kuzwayo to the audience.
On Tuesday night I went out to go watch Napo Masheane’s much anticipated and talked about play which she wrote and directed, at the State Theatre in Pretoria. The decision was not regrettable.
You know when you’ve built trust with an artist’s virtuosity and their brand, whenever they present work to the world, you’re often inclined to receive the work well. Masheane has built that strong bond over the years with her audience. Her current work honours that relationship. Roping in Azah as musical director was a genius move, as the protégée of Dr Philip Tabane’s band Molombo, captured the story of Kuzwayo. It was distinctively African sounds, with strong jazz elements that gave the play a solid foundation for the narration to be told in the most gripping manner.
“…So I was called in after I had been exposed to the story through Kim and so forth,” said Azah. The music director ironically lived in the same area as Kuzwayo’s best friend Kim at some point, and knew her personally.
“The first song that was composed was Baba and I called her [Masheane] I sang it for her while she was driving and I was so excited. That for me was one of the amazing processes. There was another song, The Chant of The Burning, it was at rehearsals…I went out to the toilet and just as I was stepping out, then the song came and I had to run to him [Bhekumuzi Malhlangu, the pianist] to tell him to press the keys…”
Luyanda Sidiya’s choreography was gentle to the eye but moving enough to make you ponder on the message that’s being portrayed. The actors served their purpose and their singing was particularly highly emotional and good throughout. Actress Thokozile Ndimande who played various characters, including Leila who was Kuzwayo’s bodyguard, was one of the stand outs. Including Theresa Mojela and Madge Kola. JT Medupe played Jacob Zuma and was decent, but the character would’ve been stronger had his Zulu been steeped in that thick KZN accent. His lacking in speaking the language, kinda killed off that staunch Zulu-man aura and arrogance that Zuma has and showed during his court appearance.
Tuesday saw the whole cast and Masheane sit for a Q and A session with audience members to talk about the play for the first time since the it opened on the 25th of July.
“I judged her, I don’t wana lie, when the whole trial happened. I read the book, with regular pauses just to take-in what’s going on…when she [Masheane] told me I’ll be playing Kim, then Kim for me became the sister that you always cry to,” said Ntambo Rapatla. Rapatla got to meet the real life Kim, who came from the United Kingdom to watch the play.
“Playing this role gave me a chance to be exposed to what was going on. It also gave me a glimpse into Fekezile’s turmoil during that time. Ummm…and just thinking about many things that had gone through her head, the many things she felt, the betrayals constantly by people she loved and cared for- people who just didn’t believe her,” said Nompumelelo Mayiyane, who played the leading role of Kuzwayo. She played the character with aplomb, and not once did she switch off.
It was notable and quite refreshing how the play was narrated by her, throughout. From her upbringing in exile, to that eventful night where she was taken advantage of by former President Jacob Zuma. Audience members left the Arena Theatre with full comprehension of what Kuzwayo went through, especially times away from the public eye.
Sitting there, watching the play I was perplexed that I was witnessing a depiction of what really happened. That someone who was violated, was the one in hiding and being persecuted by the whole nation. “…No one has ever heard her voice. With other conversations I’ve had with her [Kuzwayo] spiritually,I thought it will be nice for the world to hear her, not hear me or any of us. All of us are just part of her story,” said Masheane.
Rape is a very sensitive issue and I was anxious to see how that scene between Zuma and Kuzwayo was going to be depicted in the play because with an audience largely made up of females, it’s inevitable that someone had experienced this ordeal. But the actual rape was creatively, wisely and beautifully portrayed using a striking red fabric. Mayiyane’s (Kuzwayo) wail after that scene when Medupe (Zuma) left the bedroom was one of the most heart-wrenching pieces of acting I’ve witnessed. Right there and then, I felt the weep of all those who’ve been raped.
A random count of the gender ratio on the night, was about 65% to 35% with women taking up the large number. I was rather disappointed that not a lot of men were present, as I believe men need to see the effect rape has on its victims- not to suggest that men don’t get raped by females or other men.
“As a young man, this work was quite important for me to support a woman in telling her story and for once keep quiet. It was important to be part of this process and be led by a woman, a strong woman like Ma Napo, so that Fezekile’s story could be told. I don’t know if you noticed, in the beginning the women are the ones carrying her coffin and at the end, the men are carrying it and for me, that’s what I learnt. It means it’s our responsibility because we are the problem. The rapist is the problem, as soon as the rapist stops raping, the problem is gone,” said actor Cassius Davids, who played multiple characters in the play.
When the truth becomes a source of shame, something has gone terribly wrong with a society that vilifies one for their honesty. Fezekile Kuzwayo, known as Khwezi, was in that vulnerable position. Playwright Napo Masheane explores her story in KHWEZI…Say (my) her name.
Sitting adjacent the window that allows us a scenic view of the M1 highway, I have a chat with the renowned poet at the den of the old and retired, Mugg & Bean in Killarney, Johannesburg. There is synchrony between Masheane’s mannerisms, the countless vehicles driving past in the background and the lunchtime chatter around us within the eatery.
Throughout her work, Masheane has celebrated women, inspired largely by those in her family. Be it her mother, grandmothers, aunts or cousins- who never treat her like a celebrity. “They see me on TV and I’m still gonna go home and wash mogudu; but with the same breath, they tell me that I’m doing well. But ko hae, they are loud. They inspire me because I listen to their gossip and I put it on stage,” she says.
Her current work, Khwezi, doesn’t veer off the conversation around womenfolk she’s maintained in her career. But this play highlights the strain that women go through, literally at the hands of us men in the form of abuse; be it sexual, physical, emotional or economical.
South Africa has a rape culture that’s among the highest in the world. The police recorded a total of 39,828 rapes in 2016/17, down from 41,503 in 2015/16. An average of 109.1 rapes were recorded each day.
“It’s my best work of all time and the best script ever. I want whoever that walks in, to walk out feeling different after watching the play.”
KHWEZI…Say (my) her name is a play written and directed by Masheane that was inspired by the poignant book written by Redi Tlhabi, KHWEZI…The remarkable story of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo.
“At some point I thought, ‘I’ve written about beauty and image, I’ve written about the 1950s era, the passbooks and the Sophiatown era from a woman perspective (that’s what my thesis was on), New Song was the women’s march and other works’. There are things as a writer that draw your attention.”
Masheane says the stories of Karabo Mokoena and Meisie Molefe, who were both burnt to death by their boyfriends and that she had just done Fat Songs For My Girlfriends, a collection of poems about abuse, were things that inspired her to do something around the story of Ntsukela who was allegedly raped by former president Jacob Zuma. “I was like, I need to write a play about this,” she says biting her lower lip, with eyes squinting out the window.
“…I’m one of those people, I do something, and once I’ve served it or it’s served me, I move on.”
Also, Phumla Gqola’s book Rape: A South African Nightmare came out around 2015, followed by Tlhabi’s. “Also, I remember years ago Kanga and the Kangaroo Court ya Mmatshilo [Motsei] came out, and the idea of doing something[around rape] has always been in the back of my mind.”
By the tenth page of reading Tlhabi’s book, Masheane had already been visualizing scenes and hearing lines. “I could hear dialogue, see stage placements…I was highlighting and marking sections in the book,” she says. Done with the book within days, she told her then bosses at the Sate Theatre, that she wants to do the play Khwezi.
She needed to have clarity on what she wants to say through the play because Zuma was still president of the country at the time. “Because once you’re in, you can’t come out of this.”
Acquiring the rights for the book proved to be a bit of drag as she couldn’t get through to Tlhabi. “I sent her an email and she didn’t respond for about three weeks, then sent another and still, nothing. Only to find that I didn’t have the correct email address.” She ended up contacting her on Twitter.
After a while the two met. “She was like ‘there’s no way I’m gonna say no to you. I know your work’ and there was just mutual respect between us. The minute she said ‘yes’, I started structuring and organising the work because I had already started writing. I then took a leave from work and in the midst of that, the guy [Zuma] was recalled.”
The recall never affected the work itself. “Once I had made that decision, I had made it. Whether he was still president or not I was still gonna do it.”
“I think the level of being scared was better, in bringing me comfort that I’m not dealing with the president, but I’m dealing with the ex-president. Even if he attacks me now, he’s not the first citizen of the country anymore. But also, in terms of the ministers from his cabinet, the shuffle also happened. I knew I wouldn’t have to deal with certain people individually that supported him.”
“As a writer, you get to a point where you either say it or you don’t. The minute you decide you’re gonna say it, you’re not in control of the tone and you can’t cover the truth.”
She had support from State Theatre head, Dr. Sibongiseni Mkhize who told her that if the government want to get to her, they’ll first have to fire him, then fire Artistic Director Aubrey Sekhabi before getting to her.
“So when he was recalled it wasn’t an issue anymore. It was about how do I, do justice to this story. It’s a very serious story-there’s no nice way of writing about rape. It’s not one rape, it’s so multi-layered.”
Masheane views Ntsukela as a brave woman that came forward when most women wouldn’t have, because of fear of intimidation. “We all need to say her name because yes ke Khwezi, but that name was loaned, it’s not her name. So to separate the book from the play, I cancelled out the ‘her’ on the flyer, and wrote ‘my’- she embodies so many of us, so we need to say our names because Khwezi is a name we’ve all taken upon.”
She just left her job as the Deputy Artistic Director at the State Theatre, which she held for a year.“It wasn’t tedious, but there was a lot of administration, logistics-it was almost like project managing the arts daily. I’ve learnt a lot and I appreciate the fact that I did it, also, I think it’s very important for any theatre maker or artist to go on the administrative or business side. I mean, before I even became a poet or got on stage to perform, I was an intern for two years ko Market Theatre.”
Her internship meant getting her hands dirty and learning about technical things such as stage management, lighting, building sets, painting stages and even sweeping stages. “So by the time I got to perform, I had so much appreciation for the stage and for everyone working, especially behind the scene. I knew that someone who makes you tea, is as important as someone who does lighting for you on stage,” says Masheane.
“I’m happy I did it,” she says of her short time at the State Theatre which meant leaving her company Gossip Village Productions, which she’s been running for 11 years with her partners. “You learn about contracts-more than I had known. You learn the language…there’s a lot of bureaucracy, because it’s a government institution. Also, you operate with people at a different level, you no longer just a performer or writer, you’re the person who can give somebody work, so people start viewing you differently.”
“But at some point, I got to say ‘well, is this what I wana do forever?’ and I’m one of those people, I do something, and once I’ve served it or it’s served me, I move on.”
She is one of the few women who’ve now done the 360 degree in the theatre space. From the technical side, admin, directorial and even performance. In 2015 she wrote, produce and directed a play called A New Song at the Market Theatre Main’s stage (John Kani Theatre), her first solo work My Bum Is Genetic, So Deal With It! which came out in 2006 is one of her most popular work including Feela Sista and Fat Black Women Sing just to mention a few. One of her monologues, Mama The Storm Is Outside, was chosen to be performed by leading actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor (of 12 Years A Slave) at Royal Court in London.
Masheane has freelanced as a consultant to almost every theatre in South Africa for almost 20 years now. She is smart enough to embrace the system, yet simultaneously adequately eccentric to disrupt it. She says she wants to be an art scientist and is contemplating a PhD in Creative Writing and Theatre Studies. “The reality is that, it doesn’t matter how much you know until you formalize it,” she says.
Part of her contract as Artistic Director at the State Theatre, was that she would stage a show at the theatre within that year, which will now happen next month when Khwezi premiers. “Actually, I’m happy that I left three months before Khwezi comes in because I don’t think I would’ve gone deeper into it as I have.”
The common thread in Masheane’s work is her provocativeness and she believes this play carries that too, but says Khwezi is her most important work yet. “It’s my best work of all time and the best script ever. I want whoever that walks in, to walk out feeling different after watching the play.”
“If they’ve not dealt with the Fezekile story or rape in any particular manner, they should be challenged, provoked or moved enough, for that hour and a half of the play, to deal with it. I want them to realize the extent of what this does to women. So the hissing, whistles on the street, the situations at work where men use their power to sleep with women…-people should feel the need to change, and for me that’s the premise of theatre.”
She has roped in percussionist Azah, who is a protégée of Dr Philip Tabane’s famous band Molombo, to be musical director. While Luyanda Sidiya who’s known for creating SIVA commissioned by the Standard Bank Arts and the National Arts Festival, will choreograph the play. Both joined the Khwezi production after just one meeting with Masheane, because of the magnitude of the story.
· KHWEZI…Say (my) her name opens on the 25th July to 12th August 2018 at South African State Theatre – Arena Theatre. Tickets available at computicket.co.za