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.