Message of hope for change

2009-02-26 00:00

“I CAN really identify with the characters in our play because this is my life,” 17-year-old Bongeka Dlamini said of Roots of My Hope, which will be staged at the Mpophomeni Theatre this weekend.

Dlamini, who plays feisty Ntando in the play, is one of the many young people in Mpophomeni and Langewag in Howick South, who have been attending creative workshops in the township for the past two years.

Former UKZN Pietermaritzburg lecturer, Professor Hazel Barnes, worked with the National Research Fund to secure funding for the project run by Kiara Worth, a Hillcrest-based actor, masters student and specialist in sustainable development for Golder Associates.

Barnes also helped design some of the workshops and has commented on the development of the play, penned by Worth and Arifani Moyo, a Pietermaritzburg playwright, actor and musician.

The creative workshops lead to discussions about HIV and Aids, the challenges of child-headed households, drug abuse, violence and joblessness.

Worth, who has appeared in plays at the Hexagon Theatre and the Grahamstown Arts Festival, said the group brainstormed ideas for Roots of My Hope before deciding to focus on gangs, the gang lifestyle and the effect it can have on people in the community.

The play tells the story of Mandla (Mduduzi Dlamini) and Nolwazi (Mbalenhle Zume), who are orphaned following the deaths of their parents from a “mystery illness”. Their young brother, Sizwe, has been sent to live with an aunt so that he can attend a better school and Mandla, who dropped out of school to support the family, is hiding from his sister the fact that he works for a drug dealer (Siyabonga Ngubane). When a client asks Mandla to keep a package instead of delivering it as the drug dealer wants, things go wrong.

Dlamini, who lost her own mother two years ago and has no contact with her father, found clear parallels with her own life: “I don’t have any parents, I’m the same age as Nolwazi, I have a big brother who is Mandla’s age and a little brother. It is very difficult living a life with no parents, so having caring friends [like Ntando is to Nolwazi] can make a difference.”

For Daniel Francis, who plays the police commissioner and Ntando’s father, one of the biggest challenges in the community is that no one will speak out. “Doing this play has made me realise how important it is to put the bad guys away. It has made me understand that when you have a child you want to break the cycle of fear and poverty. I believe each individual can make a difference,” he added.

The play is not, however, depressing. Instead, says Worth, it offers a message of hope and redemption. “I didn’t want the play to be unrealistic, but I also wanted to explore the possibility of hope, the possibility of change,” she added.

“I have tried to get across to the group that no choices are easy, there is no magic wand that will just make everything better and that bad things do happen to good people, so we need to take control of our decisions, understand the consequences of them, and do our best to be good people and to contribute to society.”

This message is made clear through the performance of Lynnesse Harry, who plays the gangster’s girlfriend Anele. She changes from someone who thinks only of herself to one who risks her life to help Mandla. “It’s nice getting the message across that there is always hope,” Harry said.

On a more personal level the play has helped boost the self-confidence of the youngsters, something Eric Sibanyoni, who plays both the client who gets Mandla into trouble with his boss and a woman in a shop, put down to their mentor: “Kiara has been our spiritual sister. Because of her patience we are here and something good has happened. We owe her a lot.”

Also appearing in Roots of My Hope are Nhlakanipho Dladla, Siyabonga Sithole, Lindo Ngcobo and Spha Nxumalo, who play gangsters. All the actors — with the exception of Francis and Sibanyoni — attend Howick Secondary, Injoloba Secondary, Mpophomeni High School and Asibemunye Secondary. None has appeared in a play before.

Worth, who is currently doing a MSc in Agriculture, specialising in climate-change communication through theatre, said getting a committed group of people in community theatre was very difficult.

“I’m lucky, those who are playing the roles [in the play] have been very committed and have showed up every Sunday and some Saturdays for rehearsals. It certainly has been an interesting thing to watch blossom, and to see the youth take ownership of the play and their situations has been even better,” she said. “I think Roots of My Hope is terrific, so come and see it.”

• Roots of My Hope can be seen at the Mpophomeni Theatre, Mpophomeni, on February 28 and March 1 at 1.30 pm. Admission is free. The play will also be performed at the Bahá'í National Youth Conference in Johannesburg from March 27 to March 29.

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