KZN govt invests R2,9 mln of taxpayers’ money in Ngema show

2009-12-09 00:00

A WHOPPING R2,9 million of taxpayers’ money has been invested by the Department for Economic Development and Tourism in KwaZulu-Natal to bring Mbongeni Ngema’s latest musical, Lion of the East, to the Playhouse in Durban.

The production tells the story of struggle hero Gert Sibande, who stood against the exploitation of farm workers in Bethal in the then Eastern Transvaal (Mpumalanga). In 1947, he helped journalists, including Michael Scott, who worked for the Rand Daily Mail, to expose conditions of slavery among African people in the area. The potato farm exposé also featured in Drum magazine in 1952, thanks to the efforts of Ruth First and Henry Nxumalo.

The Mpumalanga government commissioned Ngema to write and stage Lion of the East, spending some R20 million in the process. Ngema said the money had covered the costs of creating the show, eight months of rehearsal, accommodation for those involved and taking the production on a tour of the province.

Speaking at the launch of the Durban run yesterday, Michael Mabuyakhulu, MEC for Economic Development and Tourism, said the department’s decision to invest in the staging of the production is motivated partly by the fact that it is the work of Ngema, a “son of the province”, and by the desire to increase KwaZulu-Natal’s share of the domestic tourism market. Last year, 32% of domestic tourists visited the pro­vince.

“We want people to think of coming to KwaZulu-Natal and nowhere else,” Mabuyakhulu said.

“I believe we will attract many people who would not have thought of coming to KwaZuluNatal because of this production.”

The MEC also believes it is important especially for the youth to see the production and to learn about their history.

“In telling the story of [Gert Sibande and] the potato boycott, the production underlines the vital role that live theatre plays in our society, of educating people, as well as providing entertainment,” Mabuyakhulu said.

“… we need to know our past in order to act with integrity in the future.”

Both Ngema — whose credits include Sarafina, Asinamali and The Zulu — and the MEC stressed that they will be doing everything possible to market the show as they want people to come and see it “in their droves”.

SABC1 will be flighting adverts for the show.

The Lion of the East will be staged in the Playhouse Drama Theatre from December 17 to January 3.

Ngema will then be taking the show to the State Theatre for the duration of the Fifa Football World Cup, ahead of a planned run on Broadway.

Tickets for the Durban show are R145 from Computicket.

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