Gregory Maqoma is honoured to take his ancestral dance piece ‘Exit/Exist’ to Makhanda in celebration of his lineage

Gregory Maqoma. Picture: John Hogg

Gregory Maqoma. Picture: John Hogg

Published Jun 20, 2023


Gregory Maqoma's dance masterpiece, “Exit/Exist,” pays homage to his ancestor, Chief Jongumsobomvu Maqoma, a prominent Xhosa leader, 150 years after his passing.

Chief Maqoma’s life and legacy are explored and reflected upon in this deeply personal performance, set to dazzle the audiences at the 2023 National Arts Festival later this month.

Arguably, one of the biggest arts events in the continent, the National Arts Festival kicks off on Thursday, June 22, and runs until Sunday, July 2, in Makhanda, Eastern Cape.

Chief Jongumsobomvu Maqoma, born in 1798, was arrested when he ordered the English colonisers to liberate Xhosa land and died on Robben Island in 1873.

Directed by James Ngcobo, “Exit/Exist” explores the historical and cultural significance of Chief Maqoma’s life, while also delving into themes of memory, identity and land restitution.

In a conversation with IOL Entertainment, Maqoma promises a powerful and moving experience that combines history, culture and personal storytelling through song, dance and harmonious vocals.

“‘Exit/Exist’ is the most performed work out of all my repertory pieces. It’s been to over 100 cities in the world,” said Maqoma.

“It touched over 50 000 audiences, globally. Apart from that, it’s a personal solo that speaks to my ancestral lineage in zooms into the character of iNkosi Jongumsobomvu Maqoma, who was the hero of the Xhosa nation and the Maqoma clan.

“So, he’s been a pillar in that regard, and I was just wondering what he died for. Was it even worth it? If you look at our democracy today, the issue of land and cattle which were the currency of his time, are the things that we still are battling to gain control of.

“We’re almost three decades in our democracy, but we speak of land as if it's not a matter of agency.

“The core of this piece is memory, rephrasing the notion of existence and the notion of simply existing in order to exist.

“Chief Maqoma to us is not only an iconic figure of Xhosa land, but a figure of historical transformation, the custodian of the movement of a people that cleared the path to emancipation that he spent his whole life advocating, fighting and yearning for.

“And I wanted this work to be a conscious reminder that we have so much to live for. We have so much to fight for. Yes, we have so much to be angry about, because there are so many people who have given their lives for the liberation of our people, our culture, and our traditions to be high.

“This is a reminder that we need to walk away from this piece with a sense of pride that we are a nation that knows itself, and we know where we coming from, and how we can write a better narrative about ourselves.

“We’ve got to go back and rewind the tape to the time when people like Chief Maqoma have come out on the other side as heroes, even though the battle is not won in terms of ownership of land but we've got the freedom.”

Gregory Maqoma. Picture: John Hogg

Showcasing the production in the Eastern Cape, Maqoma says, is not only honouring his forefather’s memory, but also returning to the geographical and cultural origins of the story.

“I’m excited that this show is going to the Eastern Cape because it's also where the family’s at. And the history is embedded in that part of the world. It stems from there and I did most of my research in the Eastern Cape.

“And this is the story that my paternal side told me as a young boy. And now I had to go back and say, ‘I want to know how many people know of this story’, and I'll tell you, almost everyone who lives in the Eastern Cape knows of Maqoma. They know who he is.

“Hence it is not surprising that Fort Beaufort, which is the area in which he lived and fought so many battles, is going to be renamed after him. It will be called KwaMaqoma.

“And there is no better work that I could have chosen to honour this man than with ‘Exit/Exist’.”

Gregory Maqoma. Picture: John Hogg

Maqoma also highlighted the importance of documenting and preserving the history of black people.

“In the piece, I wanted to replay my own identity and culture and tradition, but also to dig deeper into my own family lineage, because our histories are never recorded.

“We think usually of history from the time the coloniser set foot in our country, that is the documented history.

“We don’t have a lot of documented history that is even taught at schools about our clans, about our heritage, about people who’ve been here before, who’ve walked this path before and who had fought this struggle before even the formation of the ANC.

“And I think we must acknowledge and understand that heritage is not only deemed by those who are present in the history books, but heritage is also deemed those who have been here, centuries before.”

Maqoma choreographed “Exit/Exist” accompanied on stage by four South African singers and a guitarist Giuliano Modarelli, who all help facilitate the telling of the story through their harmonious vocals.

The show also features musical collaboration from Simphiwe Dana and Giuliano Modarelli, and David Tlale as the costumer designer.

“Exit/Exist” forms part of Maqoma’s last perfomances as the dance icon prepares to retire from stage, when he turns 50 in October.

“I’m currently finishing off my obligations with other theatres, locally and internationally, and this is a programme that will take me to the end of 2024.

“So the end of 2024 is when the curtain really comes down for my life on stage, which will allow me to focus on the things that I’m more passionate about, like mentoring and ensuring that the legacy that I have lived for 33 years is passed on to the generation.”

“Exit/Exist” will first be staged at the Market Theatre from June 22 – 25, before heading to National Arts Festival from June 27 – 28.

The Adventures of Robin Hood. Picture: Christiaan Botes


“The Adventures of Robin Hood”

Where: Theatre on the Square.

When: Until June 25.

This captivating production, perfect for children and young at heart adults, promises an exhilarating theatrical experience that will leave audiences spellbound.

Step into the timeless tale of Robin Hood, the legendary archer renowned for his noble deeds of robbing the rich to give to the poor. But be prepared for a twist you won’t see coming.

This extraordinary rendition of the classic story will captivate audiences of all ages, bringing to life the daring escapades of the iconic hero in a way that re-imagines the legend.

Big Amma’s House. Picture: Supplied


“Big Amma’s House”

Where: Suncoast Globe Theatre.

When: June 24.

“Big Amma’s House” begins as an adventure of a wacky but fun-loving family who – no matter what the circumstances – are always there for each other.

Until greed for money gets the better of them. But can this tear them apart? It is certainly set to cause chaos, suspense, betrayal, anger, and a whole lot of laughter!

What do a mother, a father, two totally opposite daughters, a son with his wife, a troubled uncle and a nosey aunty have in common?

Ever heard the saying, “You can choose your friends, but not your family.” Well, that’s applicable here.

Every family seems perfect until cheap gossip, greed for money and ego get the better of them, and make one wonder: Do parents really have favouritism towards their kids, or do circumstances make one believe so? Is money really the root of all evil?

Minerva. Picture: Baxter



Where: Baxter Theatre.

When: Until June 24

“Minerva” is a collective story of women from all walks of life sharing the same characteristics. They are nurturing, supportive, modest, humble, empathetic and kind.

Throughout their years, they face challenges and life rages against their dreams yet they still rise.

They find a way to light their journey, travelling from place to place in search of freedom and unafraid to choose themselves. These women are unconventional in their life choices and career path as they tell their stories of identity and resilience.

This work embodies archives of women’s silences, songs and cries but also shows their beauty, strength and wisdom.