Well-known actor and television actor THEMBI MTSHALI-JONES takes part in Oratorio of a Forgotten Youth: Musical Reflections on the Youth of ’76 at The Artscape Theatre on June 16. She speaks about the production:
Tell us about Oratorio of a Forgotten Youth. What is it about?
It’s a musical journey that looks back at the events that happened during the June 1976 uprising. The story is told through different monologues, songs, poetry, etc.
And what is your role in the production?
I will play an old woman who was working as a domestic worker during 1976.
She has experienced the horror of watching young white soldiers whom she has raised like her own children, shooting at the young protestors in Soweto. She tells the story in monologues and songs.
There is a multi-skilled cast, we believe – musicians, poets, actors etc?
Mandla Mbothwe, the director has put together a cast of young and old. The cast includes Bo Peterson, Celeste Mathews and also some great young spoken-word artists and singers that you should be on the look-out for. They are the new kids on the block.
Where are your personal memories/reflections concerning June 16 – does it hold an important place for you?
I still have vivid memories of that Wednesday morning on June 16, 1976.
I was living in Soweto in Orlando West when I woke up to the noise of young students singing and marching in the streets.
Most of us had no idea what was happening, but we could see from the placards that they were carrying and from the slogans they were shouting, what the issues were.
But things got messy when the police barricaded the streets and started throwing tear gas.
Everyone suddenly got involved to help the protesting students by giving them water to wash off the teargas from their eyes.
Before we knew it some children had been shot.
By midday the whole township was in smoke. I was working at night performing in Ipi Tombi. All the roads were shut down.
Soweto was like a war zone.
Burnt cars, dead bodies, burnt shops and smoke everywhere.
And how do you think the youth of today see that date – and what does it mean for them?
On the one hand a lot of them feel that they wouldn’t be in the position that they are in today, academically speaking, if not for June 16, and have a great appreciation and admiration for those who selflessly put their lives at risk for the sake of the future generation.
However, some feel that there is still repetition of June 16 today as there are still institutions that perpetuate the past, for example teaching in exclusionary languages. Segregation still continues.
On another note – what else do you have lined up this year? Any hints?
I am working on a new production OomaSisulu to premier at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown this year.
The production celebrates 60 years of the women’s march in 1956.
It follows the life of Mama Albertina Sisulu and highlights the roles she played during the struggle against apartheid.
The production will also be at Artscape during Women’s Month in August.
What was the last live show you saw, and what did you think of it?
I recently watched Mama Africa, the musical based on Miriam Makeba’s life.
It brought a lot of good and bad memories for me, more especially because I worked very closely with Miriam Makeba for many years.
It left me quite emotional – but on the other hand, it made me happy to see her life being celebrated by young people.
What do you like to do to relax?
I like to read biographies or watch movies while I am cooking.
I’ve also gained an interest in watch Tele-mundo (Spanish tele-novelas).
Tell us something about yourself that most people would not know?
I hate watching myself on television because I become my biggest critic.
I also still get very nervous before performances and interviews.
l Oratorio of a Forgotten Youth: Musical Reflections on the Youth of ’76 will be performed on June 16 at in the Cape Town CBD at Artscape. Book: Computicket 0861 915 8000.