Sphelele Ngubane &Nontobeko Oreander Mpaza
Incense smoke fills the theatre as the story of Loyile takes the stage. 16 year-old Loyile is called by her ancestors to be a Sangoma, and her life starts to take a downward spiral as she tries to manoeuvre the tensions of spirituality, family and growing up. The play tries to be as realistic as possible by infusing creativity and includes real traditional healers’ materials on stage, which gave an insightful feel of the Sangoma tradition.
Director Ntshieng Makgoro said that her inspiration to write the play was from the negative portrayals of women in film and theatre. She explained the repeated perspective where the woman cries over a man who has left her and is desperate to have him back. Makgoro said it is time South African stories started being told as they are in real life.
“We have a lot of heroines in South Africa but their stories have not been told,” she says. “There is a story of Queen Makobo Modjadji, which is African and is interesting. There is a lot to be written,” she added.
Loyile experiences rejection and fear in a horrific childhood but her perseverance prevails throughout the play. She constantly fights the spirits of her aggressive ancestors who want her to accept the calling while her Christian mother denies the belief. She frequently calls her congregation to pray for her daughter, as believes her child is possessed.
Loyile is even rejected by her peers. Her sister and grandmother equally cast her aside.
Throughout the challenges, Loyile relies on the company of her guitar.
Her experiences mirror what many South African women, especially those in the townships and informal settlements, experience daily.
Schools promoting the arts have the potential to change the mind set of upcoming film and play writers, preventing them from falling into the same loop of the typical Western-style story that always has a romantic twist. Instead, we can put focus our very own real stories that can have an equally lasting impression on the audience.
There are, however, various challenges that come with trying to depict certain realities. A well-known example is of Jason and Senzo, a gay couple on popular South African show Generations. An episode where the two kissed followed a huge uproar: advertisers threatened to pull out and audiences took to social media to vent their anger, threatening to stop watching the show if the relationship was not ended. Producers found themselves between a rock and a hard place. Here we find the reality being compromised, as writers and producers have to write what will keep the audience and advertisers happy. If our writers are going to compromise the truth then we can no longer call them agents of truth and history documentarians.
African directors have made great efforts to push more South African stories on screen, but support from government and the private sector is hardly felt.
“There is no support, we really struggle,” says Sphiwe Xulu, the Founder and Director of the Newcastle Arts Development Organisation. Makgoro also added that it is hard to get sponsorships unless it is a partnering project.
Loyile will be showing at the Kingswood Theatre until July 01 before the production team heads off to Newcastle to perform their play A Conversation with a Snake at various schools and festivals in Newcastle.