JOHN Kani’s, Athol Fugard’s and Winston Ntshona’s Sizwe Banzi Is Dead is one of SA’S classic and important plays dealing with the everyday plights of the black man during apartheid.
In it Sizwe Banzi, who is jobless with an expired work permit, faces the prospect of going home to the disappointed faces of his family who expect him to be who he’s always been: the breadwinner. In a twist of events he takes on the identity of a murdered stranger who happens to have the work permit he so needs, thus considering his own identity, as Sizwe Banzi, dead.
The effects of this timeless piece have resulted in three youngsters creating a new play in response to the original. Sizwe Banzi Is Alive, directed by Eliot Moleba, with actors Simpho Mthenjwa and Msiza Mbali, who are Wits graduates, speaks to how the issues in Sizwe Banzi Is Dead have affected today’s generation.
“For every action there is a consequence. For every missing person there is a family living with the mystery of their disappearance,” goes the tag line for the new play.
Moleba believes this is a story forming one case of the many unsolved mysteries of SA’S wounded people and past. And this is a personal story. Msiza and Mthenjwa will present a number of characters who will take the audience through a heartfelt story of a young man in search of his grandfather, his name and his past.
“The new play marks the risks and bravery invested and celebrated about the original Sizwe Banzi as one of the timeless stories of our heritage. And it is in the relentless pursuit of one’s identity that this work draws an inspiration to tell a new story about my identity within the contemporary South African socio-political landscape. So this is an entirely new search of separate voice and self in a different time frame within the South African context. My re-imagination of the narrative weaves in the issues that reflect most of the truth and challenges of our current time,” says Moleba.
The story follows a grandson’s search for a distant past. Wiseman goes to New Brighton where his grandfather was last seen. What this unravels is dramatic tension and conflict that comes with meeting the right name, but the wrong face.
Talking about the creative process, Moleba says he and his cast realised that as the new generation, they were Wiseman and they were dealing with their personal narratives – which, more than feeding into the process, were the process.
“I believe it is through our stories that we remind ourselves and each other what it means to share our life experience and embrace our common humanity. Thus, as a contemporary young theatre-director in search of a ‘new voice’, I love and want to create a theatrical space that engages with social issues that are thoughtprovoking, reflective, relevant and pressing to my audience(s).
“As such, Sizwe Banzi Is Alive is an artistic offering that engages with a tone that begins to creatively shape a personal and collective voice. How am I, born into a new democratic South African society, supposed to make sense of where I come from when my personal and family history is a mystery to me?” Moleba asks.
For him and his cast the play is a confrontation of the generation gap. It’s a dialogue about the old and new generations’ relationship(s) with the past, and audiences are welcome to bring their stories too.
These youngsters’ objective is to open up a conversation among SA artists, friends, parents, grandparents and most importantly the youth. They plan to take the production to high schools and community halls and spread it far and wide.
is on at Space.com at the Joburg Theatre from June 6-10 before moving to Cape Town in July.
The article first appeared here.