By Sechaba Nkitseng (SAWIP 2014)
Athandwa Kani and Mcedisi Shabangu received a standing ovation for their exhilarating performance at the Flipside, Baxter theatre, by an audience who had been taken back to apartheid South Africa in a thrilling fashion. Sizwe Banzi is dead, originally directed by Athandwa’s father, Dr John Kani, working alongside Winston Ntshona and Athol Fugard, took the audience through a series of emotions with the powerful message that many names (identities) were lost in the fight for our freedom as a nation.
The play which was made famous by Dr Kani, sees Athandwa (Styles), taking up the same role. The resemblance and flair are clear to see, but, it is safe to say that Athandwa is a force on his own – the apple did not just fall close to the tree but evolved into an independent fruit. Mcedisi who brings great humour and the ability to shift into a more moving character, is also key to the production.
The play brings to life various accounts of ordinary South Africans during the time of Apartheid and their struggle to keep their identity. Mcedisi Shabangu (Robert Zwelinzima) is required to take on the identity of a deceased Sizwe Banzi in order to survive and find work which illustrates the lengths to which many like him had to go during this time. The ability of Mcedisi and Athandwa to involve the audience deepened the experience and the sense of connection with the characters and their situations which left the audience hopeless at times or bursting with laughter at others. The production definitely has the ability to leave the audience having shed a tear or two.
In a post-production discussion with the two actors and those from the SAWIP group, it was evident that a production of this sort is both emotionally and physically challenging as the actors were required to revisit wounds which this country is yet to heal. In this way it was striking to see how relevant the production is in 2015 South Africa and the great walk we are yet to travel in building our nation.
The issues of self-identity, race and oppression, being recognized and valued, survival and existence of Black people are still evident in our communities and throughout the globe and dealing with these and rectifying them is the responsibility of all. It is our generational mandate to ensure that no Sizwe Banzi is left without a name.