Battle over struggle hero

2009-03-11 14:00

Bethal - The life of late South African liberation struggle hero Gert Sibande has become the centre of a bitter battle involving the Mpumalanga government and his two sons, Leroy and Bethual Sibande.

On Tuesday last week Mpumalanga premier Thabang Makwetla and culture, sport and recreation MEC Dina Pule were slapped with a court interdict to stop the premiere of a play based on Sibande's life titled Lion of the East: Gert Sibande and the Potato Boycott that is scheduled to take place in Bethal on Friday night.

The musical, produced by controversial South African playwright Mbongeni Ngema, chronicles the potato boycott, which was led by their father, Gert Sibande, in 1958 in protest over the conditions experienced by labourers on South African potato farms at the time.

According to Leroy, the Mpumalanga government had not consulted his family about the musical or its contents.

"They intentionally excluded my father's family when writing the play. They should have consulted me or a one of my late father's relatives," said Leroy, who is chief executive of the Gauteng-based Cross Border Roads Transport Agency.


"Producing the play without consulting his family is a sign of disrespect to his family and his legacy," said Leroy.

On Tuesday, Leroy's younger brother Bethual, said the interdict, which was granted by the high court on Monday, had been served on the relevant departments.

Manager of cultural affairs in the Department of Culture, Sport and Recreation, Dr Mafika Lubisi, lashed out at the two sons' behaviour.

"Those two boys are crazy. They decide to speak up now when we are about to open the show. The show will continue and they have been invited to attend," he said.

Mafika said the play was not about Sibande's family, but about the potato boycott, which he said was a South African phenomenon that was part of the fight against apartheid.

"They are lying when they say we didn't consult the family. The MEC took a draft of the play to their home where they all viewed it. I think someone must have told them that there is a lot of money to be gained by doing this," he said.

"The show will go on as planned. No one will stop us. We have worked a lot on this play," he said.

Won't leave a lasting legacy

The R22m spent on the musical has been questioned by both the ANC and opposition politicians, who say the play won't leave a lasting legacy.

Critics suggested that the money should rather have been used to build libraries or museums.

Makwetla's spokesperson Ntime Skhosana said he would only comment once he had seen the interdict.