Meshack Mavuso on portraying mineworker Mambush on Marikana: The Musical, a decade after massacre

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Marikana-The Musical theatre production will return to the stage from 2 to 8 August 2022 to mark 10 years since the massacre.
Marikana-The Musical theatre production will return to the stage from 2 to 8 August 2022 to mark 10 years since the massacre.
Tebogo Gama

It seems like it was just the other year when South Africans watched in horror as a stand-off between miners and police officers turned deadly, on live TV. 

And a decade later, the effects of that day are still rippling through the country. 16 August 2022 marks a decade since the Marikana Massacre.

That day 34 miners were killed and 78 seriously injured by the South African Police Service in Marikana, North West, during a wage increase protest that turned violent. 

The massacre was described as the biggest incident of police brutality since the advent of democracy.

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To pay tribute to the lives lost and tell the story, the critically acclaimed Marikana: The Musical theatre production, which first premiered in 2014, is back on stage till 8 August 2022 at the South African State Theatre (SAST).

After a four-year stage break, the Best Musical Naledi Theatre Award-winner reassembles performers Meshack Mavuso-Magabane, Aubrey Poo, Siyasanga Papu, Emma Mmekwa and Mpho “Mckenzie” Matome.  

These top actors lead a 40-member cast and 13-piece band and they tell the story of the events that led to the loss of 44 lives in Marikana.

Written and directed by award-winning playwright and director Aubrey Sekhabi, Marikana: The Musical is an adaptation of the book We Are Going to Kill Each Other Today: The Marikana Story written by writers Thanduxolo Jika, Felix Dlangamandla, Lucas Ledwaba, Sebabatso Mosamo, Athandwa Saba and Leon Sadiki who were present during the blood bath. 

The book tells the story of mineworkers, their families, and the events leading up to the massacre. It traces their lives from childhood and back to the villages and townships where they came from and gives the deceased faces and names.

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Actor and director Meshack Mavuso portrays the role of ‘The Man in the Green Blanket’, Mgcineni 'Mambush' Noki (30), a miner who became the face of the tragedy.

The actor describes Mambush as a naturally born leader. “Mambush didn’t go to school, that’s how he ended up at the mines,” Meshack tells Drum.

“But as a miner, he had strong leadership qualities. He led people even better than the unions and he had presence and command. That is not something you always learn at school. Ezenyi izinto azifundelwa, uzalwa nazo (Other things you are born with).”

Coming back on the stage after a decade since the massacre was important for Meshack. 

“These are the kinds of stories I want to tell,” he says. 

“To me, this is a calling, it’s not for celebrity status. When I portray characters like this, they change people’s lives.” 

Meshack says he is playing his part in documenting South African history.

“The book was well written and I wanted to be sincere and honest about it because it is a true story. I want to tell the story over and over again and contribute to the documenting of South African history.”

To portray the role, Meshack says he relied on the book and speaking to the journalists who were at Marikana and saw everything play out from the beginning until the end.

“It was hard to do research because at the time if you tried to go to the mines, no one wanted to talk about it, it was still too sensitive. We relied on what we saw on television, reading the book, and interacting with the journalists who were there from the beginning. The way Mambush speaks and commands himself and how he stood, he was a confident young man.” 

Meshack says in their telling of the Marikana story, they did not want to be too political. 

“We don’t want to politicise the story, but we are saying Lonmin and the unions failed the miners,” he says. 

“It is sad [that] South Africa is a land rich in gold, diamonds and platinum, but yet the people who go in the belly of the earth are the ones who are underpaid and poor,” he says. 

“We might be free but the people are not economically free.” 

Currently, the actor appears on the e-tv drama series, Durban Gen, and he is the director of the theatre production Shaka Zulu.

Meshack say he is grateful to be doing what he loves in these tough economic times. 

“Things are going really well. Sometimes we need to show gratitude when things are going well. I am grateful to be doing what I love; theatre that feeds my soul and tv pays the bills.”

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