ARTLOOKS & ARTLINES
Ismail Mahomed explores Nelson Mandela’s legacy and how we celebrate it through the arts.
When South African theatremaker Jenine Colocut produced her play, Making Mandela, in 2015, one of South Africa’s most significant theatre reviewers, Robyn Sassen, wrote on her blog, ‘Telling Mandela’s story to young people is a massive challenge as it is a tale so rich with values, contradictions and real-life adventures. In the hands of this talented cast and creative team, it needs a little more massaging, but promises to be the play that will touch and ignite many a young person’s reflections on one of the biggest historical heroes who was a part of South Africa’s bigger narrative.’
The production, which tells the story of Nelson Mandela’s childhood, featured the talents of Jaques De Silva, Mlindeli Zondi and Barileng Malebye. It went on to win the 2015 Standard Bank Ovation Fringe Award at the National Arts Festival and the 2016 Naledi Theatre Award for Best Youth Production. The cast was also nominated for the Naledi Best Ensemble Award. The play also had a season at the 2014 ASSITEJ Congress in Denmark.
In her review, Sassen commented that it was ‘a lovely work, albeit with a few dents that affect its clarity’ but overall she summed the production as having the potential ‘to hold a whole generation’s imagination.’
Cape Town Opera’s story of Nelson Mandela, Mandela Trilogy, brings to the stage an epic and original musical tribute. It is an inspirational musical retelling that reaches far beyond any boundary, reflecting on a life of extraordinary contrasts and unflinching courage in the face of adversity.
Mandela Trilogy is a spectacular portrait of a man who touched hearts and minds around the world. Presented in three parts by a cast of over 60 performers, including three different incarnations of Mandela, the contrasting phases of his journey are recreated through strikingly divergent styles of music, ranging from tribal initiation rites on the banks of the Mbashe River and heady and rebellious jazz-fuelled days in Sophiatown, to incarceration and reflection on Robben Island, and finally freedom and liberation.
Since 1994, South Africa has not been short of theatre productions about the iconic leader. Neither has South Africa been short of controversy associated with productions about the legendary political leader whose life is celebrated across the globe.
In March 2016, The Telegraph in the UK carried huge headlines reading ‘Mandela the Opera: South African creator vanishes with production money’. The newspaper wrote that Mandela the Opera, a state-funded production that was meant to celebrate the early life of Nelson Mandela and draw big crowds, was beset with crisis when the producer (a distant relative of Mandela who is now deceased) disappeared and fled the country with the money.
Even though several international theatre managements were astounded by the story in The Telegraph, two years later they’re still attracted to productions that will celebrate the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth.
Leading up to Mandela’s 100th birthday on 18 July 2018, primary and secondary school pupils and a massed community choir, assembled to celebrate and perform African songs, dances and drum progressions at the New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth.
The performance included a specially-choreographed dance by internationally renowned South African ballet dancer Dane Hurst, which was originally created in honour of Nelson Mandela and first performed in his presence during Mandela’s visit to London.
Other featured South African artists in the production include Chris Lubbe, Mandela’s bodyguard after his release from 27 years of imprisonment, and Colin Chambers, Mandela’s spiritual guide, confidant and a trusted friend.
Their media release states they ‘are celebrating the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth by revisiting the values enacted by the revolutionary political leader during his life and time as President of South Africa, through their Mandela 100 project.’
The production is created by AWF, a non-religious and apolitical group with financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund support from the Portsmouth City Council, Victorious Festival, and the University of Portsmouth.
On Nelson Mandela’s birthday on 18 July, The Harlequin Theatre will present their production, Amandla! The Story of Nelson Mandela. The production will chart the remarkable life of Nelson Mandela from his tribal boyhood and education in Methodist missionary establishments, to his time as a freedom fighter, through the Robben Island years, to the peak of his fame as president of South Africa.
Re-imagined by the Freewheelers Theatre Company of disabled and non-disabled performers, this momentous tale of struggle, hope and inspiration will find new resonance with a cast who themselves understand ‘struggle’ every day.
During May this year at the Tourism Indaba held in Durban, the Market Theatre Foundation’s artistic director, James Ngcobo, was commissioned to produce the 100 Faces of Madiba. His powerfully poignant and vibrant production received a rousing standing ovation when the Market Theatre produced this iconic work outside of its own premises.
Known for his unique style of creating narratives interspersed with music, dance and digital media, James Ngcobo’s production was a testimony to Nelson Mandela’s incredible legacy as more than just one of South Africa’s greatest political stories. Nelson Mandela’s legacy is by far one of South Africa’s greatest tourism resources. It can attract visitors to our country and take our country to the rest of the globe. The Tourism Indaba could not have found a more significant way to tell South Africa’s story in this very significant centenary year.