Bheki Mkhwane and Hamilton Dlhamini: Picture: Supplied
Bheki Mkhwane and Hamilton Dlhamini: Picture: Supplied
Hamilton Dhlamini and Mncedisi Shabangu. Picture: Supplied
Hamilton Dhlamini and Mncedisi Shabangu. Picture: Supplied

‘Woza Albert!’ to enthral audiences once again.

What do you get when you put together a passion for history and storytelling, and political will? Woza Albert! running at the Soweto Theatre once again.

Originally penned in 1981 by Percy Mtwa, Mbongeni Ngema and Barney Simon, the production has seen many stages across the world, and continues to retain its relevance as the country navigates a difficult post-1994 terrain.

Woza Albert! remains one of the most vibrant examples of satirical anti-apartheid South African Theatre. It demonstrates innovation and creativity during a critical period of theatre in this country.

The play imagines the second coming of Christ in apartheid-era South Africa. It looks at a wide range of characters at the beginning of the 1980s and attacks the pass laws that prevented black people from moving freely at the time. The production uses the metaphor of Morena (Jesus) to show what would happen if he came back to South Africa during apartheid. Would he like what he saw? And if he saw the atrocities of the time, why would he not do anything about them?

In the production, Hamilton Dhlamini and Segomotso Modise play the roles of various black South Africans – a vendor, barber, domestic worker, manual labourer and soldier – receiving the news that Christ (Morena) has arrived in South Africa, where a Calvinist white elite imposes apartheid.

Speaking to Tonight, Dhlamini said in the eight years that he has performed and produced the show, the part that he enjoyed most was the working with different artists to bring the work to life.

But what keeps him fighting for the work to live? The need to keep an alternative narrative in the minds of the people. What attracted him to the production? It’s treatment of apartheid. 

“Many  people (especially young people) have only ever heard of apartheid but not experienced it. I also want to do films that inform audiences about the damage it caused to the lives of black people and how brutal the system was,” he said.

He said the only way to deal with apartheid fatigue – that some South Africans complain of, is to help them understand why it’s important to always tell this history.

“This forgetting of history points to why black people are poor. Because they always forget about where they come from. Jewish people, for instance, never forget about the Holocaust. It points to a social problem among Africans in general – they want to forget what happened,” he said.

He points to what he believes to be a form of neo-colonialism,  where he says the transitioning from a colonised, captured state to a democratic one, never really happened.

“It’s as if white people called Mandela and a deal was stuck to  continue as things were… there are people who died for its liberation but it seems people are not ready for this kind of liberation,” he said. 

The production has been seen by many audiences over the years, with private schools making an effort for their pupils to see it. But the trouble lies with government schools.

“This is sad. I think Panyaza Lesufi must take a stance and request that  Woza Albert! is also showed in government schools. I was disappointed last year. We went to Morris Issacson, one of the key areas of the 1976 student uprising. And there the kids didn’t come to watch the show. Even after we went and had an activation with the school,” Dhlamini said.  

When quizzed on what he believes is standing in the way of the creation of works such as Woza Albert! in the theatre space, Dhlamini said: “The first thing you have to contend with is a minister of arts and culture who knows nothing about arts and culture. Then when you ask for funding to produce work like this, which is going to expose them (the government), it will be a problem. Which is why I end up producing the work from my own pocket,”, he said.

As well as this being a protest theatre peace, he says it’s also a passion project. 

“What the society says and feels we must reflect on stage. And tell the government where they failed and what’s expected of theme But the challenges won’t stop Woza Albert! I will continue to do it, to tell the story for as long as the country still needs to hear it, “ he said. 

* Woza Albert! will run at the Soweto Theatre (Red Theatre) from February 22 to March 11.  Tickets are available from 
the theatre. 

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