Tribute to Nelson Mandela

For the love of art! As a tribute to Nelson Mandela, I’ve agreed to be a part of artists who are going to workshop a 20-30 minutes piece of theatre in less than 36 hours. With no time for preparations I’ve to jump in with 2 actors and embark on a wonderful creative journey. These performances will be stage in one of the local township. Do join us on Wednesday to see what our artistic impulses have to offer. Let go and let art. The countdown starts now. Let the games begin…

The team:

I was given a pair of such talented individuals, especially Thando Mzembe. What a remarkable young performer with a critical and dynamic mind. His partner, I misplaced her name, was a formidable young actress in her 2nd year in UCT. They were a really nice pair of performers, and what a privilege it was to work with them.

The process:

With less than 48 hours left, I took a pen and paper and I went around The Green Backpackers where we were staying to interview people about what they thought of Nelson Mandela and what they would say to him if they met him in person. It was interesting to note the different views between South Africans’ attitude to the foreigners or tourists. Everyone from outside our borders loved Nelson Mandela unreservedly and yet very few South Africans share this ‘heroic’ icon he has become, especially black people. And their reasoning is simple; very little of their lives have changed. They still live in squalid deteriorating conditions, so the novelty of a ‘heroic’ Madiba does not seem to have done much for them. However, others, despite noting the same plight and poverty they have been plunged into, especially in Cape Town where the racial tensions of our bitter history still lurks, they continue to hold him as an icon of love, peace and integrity. These views, often opposing, provided the basis for my process.

As a visual person, I reduced these tensions to an image. A black man in his early 20s cramped into a tiny shack which is clustered with piles of newspapers, books, magazines, loose pages, etc. He is a local journalist who is waiting for a phone call from his boss to know whether he is the selected candidate to go around his community to record and write an article about what people think about Mandela and their plans for the Mandela Day. After 10pm at night, Dr. Mara introduced me to the the actors; and this image became the central working premise for our workshop. We placed the story within a contemporary South African socio-political landscape because this is the closest reference we all shared and did not have time to research possible other time frames. So we located the story in Gugulethu and Khayelitsha where the actors lived – I teased them on specific views their communities might have about Mandela. We pulled out different and interesting characters from the communities to comment on Mandela – a narrative of these mixed feelings re-surfaced again and we decided to focus on a strand of them all which seemed optimistically carry a message of hope. Even gangsters seemed to respect him, or so we could establish a few. Though others blamed him for the lack of radical transformative economic policies to develop local communities.

2 hours later it was 12pm and the actors had to go home. I gave them a homework to speak to people, ask them about their views and what they would like to say or do for Mandela Day. The next day we met again and re-worked our narrative with real testimonies of people. In a way, given the disparities in views, instead of making a decision about which side to sway the argument, I let the testimonies of the people we interviewed speak for itself. Using most of these statements, we crafted a journey of a small man in his young career who is excited about a journey to cover the most important article of their July calendar – something that is an honour both within his workplace and community as a whole. It is a prestigious effort because everyone in the community will read that specific article; it will be read by doctors, lawyers, builders, loansharks, sangomas, taxi-drivers, etc. If you can’t read, it will be read to you; all you have to do is politely ask anyone. Such an honour is accorded to this man who wants to reflect the views of everyone in the community. Through him, we meet his community and interact with the local folk.

However, after an exhausting weekend gathering information, now he faces the difficult part; pulling all the pieces together to produce an article. The opinions are so varied and he must make the hardest choice of who to include or not. What he should also say about Madiba in the article now that he is exposed to so many opposing views. The work does not answer this question, however, it puts it to the audience to decide – from the testimonies they have heard – what are their views? Nonetheless, the young man does offer his account, very close to the actor’s own opinion, that irrespective of our different views of the man, the world would be a better place if we had more people like him.

36 Hours later…

Mandisi Lovemore Mara Sindo (aka Dr) wrote:

The Game is Up, Dr is Taking Theatre into another level.. Who said creative artists can not make a piece in Two days?…Once again Theatre4Change presents Madiba Theatrical Magic… Thanks to Loyiso Damoyi, Abongile Kroza, Mhlanguli George, Elliot Moleba (JHB Director of Sizwe Bansi is Alive) and other artists whom they availed themselves to be creative enough and create 20-30minutes short plays in two days. These 5/6 short plays/shows are to be presented at Makukhanye Art Room on Wednesday at 3 – 6 pm. Late coming is not accepted and late comers will not be allowed to enter the venue. Audience will donate from R2 up to any Rand. Come and enjoy the 60 minutes with these extremely talented individuals. If anyone wants to present something, please let me know and it must not be longer than 15 minutes.

Unite Jozi and Cape
Town in Theatre.

And 46 Hours later…

We made magic! The actors gave a fantastic and spontaneous performance!

Cape Town, July 2012.


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