Freedom The Musical: SanMari Marais

The year 2015 saw the beginnings of possibly the largest form of student activism in the country since the 1970s. 

University fees were being increased again and the real threat of education becoming commodified to the extent that students from poor communities would be locked out of the system was more real than ever. 

Also, with the success of the #RhodesMustFall movement in the Western Cape, with UCT managing to get the statue of colonial South Africa leader Cecil John Rhodes removed from the university’s premises because of what they felt was the crass celebration of Rhodes, and by extension colonialism, the soil seemed more fertile than ever for the beginnings of a revolution.

Thus the “fallist” movements were born, calling for a reduction in fees, the outsourcing of workers and that universities start ensuring that spaces are open for all by providing a decolonised, Afrocentric curriculum and ensuring that the rights of the poor and marginalised are protected.

Freedom The Musical: Sanmari Marais

This is also the inspiration behind Freedom the Musical that’s currently showing at the State Theatre in Pretoria. 

While the production is largely centered around the themes of the fallist movements, it also touches on issues of xenophobia or, rather, the Afrophobic spurts of violence that have plagued the country since 2008, increasing incidences of femicide and violence against women and children, as well as the impact of transactional relationships. 

The production is about three hours long and features a score of original music, written by Aubrey Sekhabi and Kabelo “Bonafide” Togoe, under the musical direction of the latter. The production is directed by Sekhabi.

Freedom The Musical: Sanmari Marais

Freedom tells the story of Phindile (Simphiwe Ndlovu) a Tshwane University of Technology student leader of the #FeesMustFall Movement. 

Her life changes dramatically after the student protest at the Union Buildings. The story is testament to her determination to triumph, regardless of the odds stacked against her by the system and society.

I was blown away by the music - what’s a musical without some really good tunes? 

Here, Bonafide and Sekhabi outdo themselves with music that is trendy, poignant and relevant.

I was moved by some of the numbers that were actual protest songs with a little twist, plus a new and original score. Chad Da Don also performs his new single Korobela, which is brilliant.

Freedom The Musical: Sanmari Marais

Mdu Nhlapo’s choreography is exhilarating - it’s energetic, youthful and exciting. 

The set and lighting design by Wilhelm Disbergen deserves a mention because it’s intricate and functional. It makes Freedom seem all the more real. 

It features, at one point, a bus that moves and is set on fire.

The young actors are naturals. 

The student leader trio of Bonafide, Ndlovu and Thokozile Ndimande is a gem to watch. Sphelele “PdotO” Mnyande is believable as Flex, Phindile’s abusive boyfriend.

Freedom The Musical: Sanmari Marais 

The performance of Otto Maidi as the then minister of higher education Blade Nzimande is amazing. 

The opera singer’s vocals are impressive and he had just the right amount of humour and sarcasm in that piece.

Overall, the production is wonderful to watch and its treatment of the issues is sensitive. 

I was impressed at the nuanced approach given to campaigns such as Naked Protest and One in Three that aimed to highlight rape in tertiary institutions.

My only qualm with the musical is its running time, which is long at three hours (with a 15-minute interval). 

Some of the scenes tend to drag and while there’s an almost seamless movement from social issue to social issue, it does get overwhelming. 

But perhaps its beauty is that it manages to showcase the complexities of everyday life. 

The characters are beautifully multi-layered. The story resolves its issues quite well and a bit of activism happens there too.

Freedom The Musical proved that youth do love theatre - and this production is trendy, vibrant, youthful and an important story told in spectacular fashion.

* Freedom The Musical runs until April 1 at the Opera Theatre in the South African State Theatre, Pretoria.