South African Development Community (SADC): Evolving Theatre In SA.
African capitals look the same. Or rather previously colonized African cities look the same. Especially when two places have been colonized by the same nation. I am referring to Harare and Pretoria. The perceived independence of the countries housing these cities could make one believe that they are better off after the so called civilizing project.
As a man from Pretoria, who has recently travelled to Gaborone and Harare, I find it difficult to say what the essence of each place is just by looking at the built environment. The cities all look the same, it is just the flavour of colonization that gives the illusion of difference. The true uniqueness of these places is captured not in the infrastructure that the west so often uses as a catalyst to pacify the conversation about the real effects of colonization in Africa, but in the people living in these places.
Specifically, the descendants of those previously colonized groups.
In as much as strides have been made towards instilling pride in the hearts of indigenous peoples after their liberation, there is a danger of falling into a trap of complacency when we mistake those strides for meaningful progress.
Twenty four years after changing a constitution to give people socio-political freedom should not fool us into thinking our work is done. It has only just begun.
This was an ongoing conversation in my mind as I watched the HIFA festival unfold in Zimbabwe. The performers in a dance piece I was able to see embodied great potential with an opportunity to grow into strong performers. But Africa does not just need potentially strong performers.
In my home country I see great technical ability but Africa doesn’t just need technically astute performers.
Yet, in both countries I have seen people stand to their feet in applause despite these glaring shortcomings. How do we then merge the potential of one neighbour and the technical ability of the other to complete the products we are selling as theatre makers? Cue the Savanna Trust’s SADC Theatre Camp.
A ten day series of workshops which brought together theatre makers from five countries in the SADC region for networking and collaboration. Workshops were led by South African Monageng Motshabi, whose main focus was theatre making. From Zimbabwe we had Leonard Matsa (Writing), Daniel Maposa (Arts Management and Cultural Policy) and Benjamin Nyandoro (New Media and Effective Marketing). To say that it was a lot to guzzle down in a short amount of time would be an understatement. Yet each day had so many gems that participants found themselves asking for more despite their fatigue.
The Savanna Trust has managed to affect the working processes of more than ten influential practitioners. These practitioners all testified to the major perspective shifts that occurred as a result of the workshops.
From Botswana, there was Katlego Mononyane, who has a passion for effective organizational governance in the arts, Augustine Lungu and Lee Kabongo Senford from Zambia who are both spellbinding poets and intelligent theatre makers, Silvana Pombal, a fiery actress from Mozambique; from South Africa there was Mandisi Sindo the artivist and founder of the only shack theatre in the country, Lebo Mazibuko, a writer and fierce poet and myself, Katlego Chale, a lecturer, writer and voice artist.
From Zimbabwe there was Tafadzwa Bob Mutumbi, a brazen physical theatre practitioner, Charmaine Mudau, a well-informed editor and powerful actress and Rumbidzayi Karize, an actress and member (Boss) of Savanna Trust. On some days we were also joined by other artists from Zimbabwe including energetic musician and physical theatre practitioner, Brezhnev Guvheya, dynamic theatre and film actress, Sitshengisiwe Olinda Siziba, and students of the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy.
Each and every one of us began interrogating ourselves, our work and each other in a manner that was non-confrontational. We posed difficult questions to ourselves as individuals and as ambassadors of our respective countries and organizations.
If I could, I would apply again next year just to be in a space where cultural exchanges happen so naturally. In these workshops we developed a new vocabulary for conducting the business of the arts. We will forever be changed for the better as a result of this camp. If anything, we have learnt how to be more honest with ourselves, our collaborators and our audiences when creating our work. We often hear the words “great show” being uttered after performances but when engaged about these shows, people unravel and reveal their true opinions which present shrewder reflections. These shrewd and true reflections are what Africa really needs; at least in my opinion.
As Africans we must stay away from praise. Lest we start to think we have arrived.
We have only just left the starting block. And from that perspective our focus should lay on how we can improve upon the little work we have started. A mammoth task awaits us. We must rise to meet it, and not be fooled by the claps. Savanna Trust has already started doing this. My suggestion is that we need to do it far more than we already are.
Meet more. Converse more. Collaborate more. And work, work and WORK. Our work is far from done.
It has only just begun. To the Savanna Trust and to my new SADC theatre making family; all I can say for now as I zoom in on the objective of this article, is thank you!