TRIBUTE TO SIBUSISO KHWINANA, RESEARCHED BY INEKE HURTER.
A fresh young artist with a promising career ahead of him, Sibusiso Khwinana was the face of the 2019 South African coming-of-age comedy Matwetwe. He was also the face of immense optimism and hope in arguably one of the toughest professional disciplines in this country. He was just 25 years old at the time of his brutal murder on 1 March 2019.
Growing up in Soshanguve, a Pretoria township, Khwinana was the third of four children. He came from a context where university study in the arts was certainly not a given. It was a dream that he nurtured carefully, however. Born on 31 July 1993, Khwinana would save his pennies carefully so that he could afford to attend shows at the South African State Theatre each Saturday. While his parents anticipated a solid career for their bright son in mechanical engineering, for which they were convinced he would study at the local technical college, the young Khwinana had different plans.
Armed with his matric certificate, he auditioned for a place at the State Theatre’s Youth in Trust (YIT) project, and to his delight, was accepted to study drama in this context for two years. But doors didn’t magically open for him, once he’d graduated from YIT, even celebrated, as he was, as the best male performer of his year. There was such a dearth of appropriate auditions for him that he realised he would have to start creating roles not only for himself but also for his fellow actors and peers.
Khwinana was a founding member of The Independent Theatre Makers, an organisation established to help with the funding of staged productions, because he was deeply aware of the restrictions that exorbitant booking fees can impose on the dreams of an upcoming artist. The organisation was initially based at a disused fire station in Pretoria, which it renamed The Station Theatre. During the couple of years of the Station Theatre’s life, Khwinana gave space to political theatre with themed plays enabling young audiences to learn the facts of life on the street and empowering them to make informed and independent decisions around voting. In 2013, Khwinana was the founder and artistic director of another community organisation focused on theatre and based in Pretoria, called Blank Page Entertainment.
Amend was Khwinana’s first script. He completed writing this work about homophobia and the scourge of so-called corrective rape perpetrated against black lesbians in South African townships, in 2014, and staged it a year later. It was a play which bagged Best Production and Best Script at in the State Theatre Festival in 2016 and it travelled to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown of that year.
Matwetwe, a drug abuse awareness comedy was directed and co-produced by the comedian Kagiso Lediga and Nkosinathi Maphumulo aka DJ Black Coffee, and released in January 2019. Khwinana auditioned and before he knew it, he was cast as ‘Lefa’ one of the film’s leads. The film, set in a Pretoria township, tells the story of two young botanist wannabes from Attridgeville, with desires to create a strain of weed called ‘matwetwe’, which means ‘wizard’, because it is so potent. The work is scripted in pitori slang which contains a liberal smattering of Sesotho colloquialisms.
Cast alongside the considerably more experienced performer Tebatso Mashishi, Khwinana was thrown into the proverbial deep end. The auditions were not typical. Rather, than perform a prepared piece, applicants were compelled to talk about themselves in front of a panel. The makers of this film were seeking authentic personalities for their story. The story was workshopped and Khwinana learned how to be Lefa, from the inside out. Indeed, he spoke of how the difference between Sibusiso and Lefa melted away and how much he learnt about naturalistic performance, on the job.
Matwetwe inspired Khwinana to pursue a diploma in Film and Television at Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria. It gave him a sense of duty to tell South African stories and the realisation that not having a big budget does not mean you can’t achieve your goals as an artist in this industry. At the time of his tragic death, he was studying to become a director and producer and wanted his work to speak for him; he especially loved worked that is developed from scratch.
At the time of his tragic and untimely death, Khwinana had achieved significantly. He was staging his own educational theatre pieces, with an anti-drug theme, including ‘Don’t Start’. Creating this work drew from his awareness of drug abuse among teens and young adults from Soshanguve itself. He wanted to stop youngsters from experimenting and he toured his play to schools across Mamelodi with its strong anti-drug values.
In June of 2019, the South African State Theatre took an executive decision to rename the Momentum Theatre in the SAST complex, in honour of Khwinana.
Khwinana was part of a deeply loving extended family. He leaves his devastated parents, Nelson Moroakhalo and Chrestinah Tata, his elder sister Joyce Noko and brother Muzi Moses and his younger sister Malebo Francina, as well as his adored nieces and nephews, Thandeka, Thabiso, Thato and Tshiamo, not to forget all his Matwetwe fans and the myriads of youngsters whose lives he touched with his ideas.
- Ineke Hurter is a first year Fine Arts student at the University of Pretoria. She is part of the VIT 101 class, being taught the rudiments of arts writing by Robyn Sassen during 2020.