South African State Theatre

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10min3101

My typing cannot keep-up with the pace at which this rain is coming down. For some people, this here downpour could symbolize their growth, rebirth or sum like that. While for someone squatting in a shack somewhere, it’s simply a pain in the butt.

In the same way some still believe that any talk of miscarriages or child loss is taboo or a no-go-area. So much that a term like ‘fetal demise’ is preferred over ‘death’ or ‘passing away’ when talking about this kind of bereavement. But there are rebels out there, with a cause and without a pause, fighting against this stereotype. Palesa Makua is one of them.

EYES OF THE WARRIOR: Palesa Makua. Photo by Sello Majara
EYES OF THE WARRIOR: Palesa Makua. Photo by Sello Majara

Through her movement, Her Skin Speaks, which is dedicated at celebrating women’s ever-changing bodies, Makua put together a photo exhibition titled What Do We Call Women Who Have Lost Children? as a way of healing herself and other women who’ve lost babies.

“I was miserable and almost losing my mind, I then decided to quit my job to fully focus on myself and those like me,” she says. The Mamelodi-native lost her son through stillbirth in 2017 and has experienced two other losses after that. The idea to do this project came to her in January this year.

A patron appreciates the Her Skin Speaks exhibition at Cafe What? in Lesotho. Photo by Sello Majara
A patron appreciates the Her Skin Speaks exhibition at Cafe What? in Lesotho. Photo by Sello Majara

“This project has been what therapy is for most who find it useful for them.  It has not only given me the chance to openly deal with what has happened to me but also gave an amazing sisterhood with women who are strangers yet relate to my story wholeheartedly.  This project has been a healing space for me and it continues to serve that to those I have not yet met.”

Since this was also a therapeutic experience for her, Makua found herself reliving what she had gone through. “I also struggled with holding back my tears when we were documenting real conversations with the women who have lived these stories (which is totally understandable because we don’t necessarily get over the loss but with time we learn to coexist with the pain).

The Her Skin Speaks exhibition. Photo by Sello Majara
The Her Skin Speaks exhibition. Photo by Sello Majara

The exhibition was launched in August. “Showcasing at Vavasati International Women’s Festival hosted at The State Theatre was absolutely a dream come true, having to step on that much of a big entity’s stage and bare my soul was absolutely amazing.  The platform has added enormous weight to Her Skin Speaks ExHERbition as a brand.”

The exhibition has also made its way to the Kingdom. “Lesotho has become my second home and show casing there was absolutely needed as I have featured two ladies based in Barea and Morija (Lesotho) It was an honour seeing the subjects there with their loved ones to witness their contribution to such a movement and even heavier topic,” she says.

A photographer herself, Makua took photos of the four women who were part of this project. “The initial women whom the exhibition was about did not feel comfortable with being shot nude so I had to make a call out for women who are able and would like to embody their stories and it wasn’t really hard for them to agree to this idea as some of them knew why I needed to do this shoot because they are familiar with my story.”

Cafe What? – Her Skin Speaks exhibition in Lesotho. Photo by Sello Majara

The vulnerability that comes with nudity is no child’s play, especially in a society that sexualises the female body. It makes sense why some women would pull out of such a project- we live in a world where people even shun being naked by themselves. But not Palesa Makua, she has a liking for the bod. She embraces the beauty of her body without shame.  “The reason I am fascinated by telling stories through human nudity is because for a very long time women’s bodies have been a battlefield and unfortunately they continue to be.

I honestly couldn’t think of any other way to portray this “Battlefield” in its truest, most beautiful and sincere form as we know it and call it what exactly it is.”

“All these unfortunate events are taking place emizimbeni yethu or it is the foundation of the amount of damage that happens emuntwini, I couldn’t have chosen any other way to document our stories.”

– Her Skin Speaks exhibition at Cafe What? in Lesotho. Photo by Sello Majara

“What I hope that people take from this is that no one has to suffer in silence and in the words of Zewande ‘The soul of a miscarried child never leaves the womb’ also hope that more women finds comfort that we are here holding space for them and that they should never go through this loss alone.  I hope this inspires more women to open up to other women about such events (I know I wish oh I had someone walking me through this).”

Makua will today showcase her work at Black Labone in Pretoria (381 Helen Joseph Street African Beer Emporium)


Thato Mahlangu06/03/2019
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5min1560

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).

Students fighting for theirs.Photo by Sanmari Marais

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.


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8min1680

FELA ANIKULAPO KUTI is a legit icon. An abrasive visionary, very much deliberate with his truth. His music is sonically enchanting, with the political astuteness to match his swagger. Rightfully celebrated in Africa, and throughout the world, his legacy will stand for a very long time.

But the Kalakuta Queens, or the 27 women that Fela married as they are shabbily known, are not acknowledged for the role they played in the life of Fela Kuti.

In today’s language you could say Fela was woke, but it was a woman that woke him up. Before meeting his American girlfriend Sandra Izsadore, Fela usually laughed at proud black Americans’ insistence on drawing inspiration from the African continent. “She was telling me about Africa, she says ‘don’t I know that Africans taught the Europeans everything they know today’ I say you talking shit. She said ‘there are books’ I say show me a book, she gave me Malcom X to read,” said Fela in an interview talking about how Izsadore put him on knowledge that would give his music meaning.

OLaitan “Heavywind” Adeniji who plays Fela. Photo by Sanmari Marais

That is only just one aspect of the impact women have had on Fela. Critically acclaimed Nigerian musical play, Fela and The Kalakuta Queens goes deeper into the life-long bonds Fela had with these women who are unknown to the world, who left their homes to build a life with the off-kilter artist.

“History has not been fair to the Kalakuta Queens because they were his pillar and backbone during his struggle. They stood for him against all odds and they were never remembered. It becomes important to tell their story because a story about Fela is incomplete with his women. History will never forget the Queens with the musical we have which shows the role they play in the struggles with Fela,” says the play’s director, Bolanle Austen-Peters.

The Queens in action. Photo by Sanmari Marais

Fela and The Kalakuta Queens has been at the South African State Theatre just over a week now, until this coming Sunday. It premiered in Lagos two years ago and has been a global hit since. It is choreographed by Paolo Sisiano and Justin Ezirim, with renowned composer, Kehinde Oretimehin on the production. The character of Fela is projected by both OLaitan “Heavywind” Adeniji and Patrick Diabuah who lead the thirty-six members cast, backed by a fifteen-piece band in the ensemble.

A scene from Fela and the Kalakuta Queens. Photo by Sanmari Marais

Auten-Peters is an award winning writer and entrepreneur who has established different businesses, including Terra Kulture, a combination of museum, an art gallery and a restaurant all rolled into one in Nigeria, and the Bolanle Austen-Peters Productions (BAP).

Stories of phenomenal black women who found themselves sharing life with great men, are limited to their roles as wives, with society shunning their individuality and unique contribution.

“Well, overtime I have seen different plays written and stories told about Fela. However, there has been little or no emphasis about his women. I have come to realize that it is time for us to tell our own stories so I decided to tell Fela’s story from a different angle. I took a critical look at the life of Fela and I saw that there is a gap that needs to be filled, an uncharted territory that needs to be covered and an amazing story to tell.”

The musical hasn’t only been appreciated by fans of Fela, but also the real life Kalakuta Queens. “Most of the Queens are alive, in fact some of them came on stage to give testimonials when we first staged the musical. They have been very helpful in the course of this production and I must say without them we would not have been able to put this together accurately,” says Austen-Peters.  “They gave us real accounts of what transpired in the house and details of how they lived together with Fela.”

OLaitan “Heavywind” Adeniji playing Fela in the musical. Photo by Sanmari Marais

“People leave the arena crying because many never understood the things the Queens went through with Fela. The Musical is not only educative but also very informative as the audience gets to be informed about the ordeal between Fela, the Police and his women.”



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