SOUTH AFRICAN ANTI-APARTHEID activist Stephen Bantu Biko (1946-1977) remains arguably one of the most urgent and compelling voices for South Africa’s contemporary youth. He was everything that a young intelligent man with moral fibre and passionate beliefs should be. And the horrible trajectory of his premature death at the hands of apartheid police reads like the classic understanding of a hero whose voice is blunted by a cruel and foolish regime. Of course he rose from the dead with a potency that’s still in the ether. And this is the focus of Bantu, a work featuring Albert Silindokuhle Ibokwe Khoza.
The team behind this theatre work draws from Biko’s powerful influence, from the books that he wrote and the opinions he articulated, but there’s a rich thread of irony running through the piece which holds up a mirror to the superficiality of Millennials. These are youngsters who lie around waiting for things to happen, immersed as they are in their own sense of self-importance.
But the word ‘Bantu’ is also a word in many vernacular languages in Africa, referring to the concept of people. Its etymology and translations for hundreds of different communities is another thread running, by way of projections onto the stage, through the work.
Armed with magnificent voices which harmonise with a potency that is magical, beautiful jazz on a baby grand piano and the inimitable presence of Khoza, the work is compelling, but its identity is never clear. Almost like a revue in some aspects, it tells a tale of youth and childhood, of ancestors and arrogance that is uneven and peppered with musical asides. Not quite a performance art piece in the uncomfortable array of edgy issues that the term evokes, it begs for choreographic tightness. It is, however, the presence of Khoza that lends the work an idiosyncratic wisdom that will make you reach for more.
He’s like a god, a demon, a spirit and an ancestor, adorned with a reed mat and kowrie shells, who is part of the narrative but supersedes it. The back part of the stage is his domain, the imphepho-burning context, the place where water and lightning are allowed to blend, channelling Biko, casting a glance at the youth of today. It’s an interesting, if rough-edged work, that deserves audiences and legs beyond this brief season.
- Bantu is written and directed by Makhaola Ndebele. It features design by Ayanda Nhlangothi (music), Hlomohang Mothetho (lighting), Thato Mathole (sound), Nthabiseng Malaka (set) and Nthabiseng Makone (costumes), is performed by ALPEA (aka Lifa Arosi), Albert Silindokuhle Ibokwe Khoza, Katlego Letsholonyana, Ayanda Nhlangothi and Moleboheng Ignatia Shabalala until October 5 at the Fringe Theatre, Joburg Theatre complex in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Call 0861 670 670