[Theatre]: "Sizwe Banzi Is Dead" at the Baxter Flipside

On Wednesday night, I went to see Atandwa Kani and Mncedisi Shabangu in Sizwe Banzi Is Dead. Athol Fugard, Winston Ntshona and John Kani debuted the play they had collaborated on in 1972. It deals with the themes of politics, race and identity in the time of Pass Laws in South Africa.

Syracuse Guru
I did a quiet squealing-gasp when I noticed Kani Senior (who directed this version of the play) walking into the room. A living legend was among us! I was jealous that I wasn't sitting in row D: I could have had the chance to shake his hand.

I had a smile on my face from the minute the lights went down, until the applause from the standing ovation died down. The show was just that good.
I loved the way that Atandwa played Styles, the factory worker turned photographer who narrates the story. The word "charisma" comes to mind. He engaged with the audience, and there was never any doubt about his dedication to honouring Styles' character. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that he is a great comic actor. Wherever I have seen him in the past, he has been doing drama.

Sizwe is definitely a serious play, but it is a tribute to the creators and the actors that this text deals with difficult issues while also giving consideration to the sentimental aspects of the characters' lives. One such moment comes when Styles is describing to his captive audience the experience of taking a family portrait for a particularly large group. Atandwa seemed to take immense pleasure in embodying each of the different characters of the sketch. The work  that goes into "playing" multiple personalities when you are just one man is no small feat, and he took it in his stride.

When it was revealed that the family portrait was the last picture the family would have of their elderly patriarch, a tear rolled down my cheek. In that moment, all the weight of the constant need for black people (both then and now) to find a way to archive their own histories in a world that tells them they are not worth remembering came down on me.

But the real fun begins when Robert Zwelinzima (formerly known as Sizwe Banzi) walks into Styles' studio.
Mncedisi Shabangu was able to bring the comedy out in his portrayal of the struggles the black man goes through when trying to make a living, provide for his family, and still be proud of himself while living at the mercy of an oppressive system. His performance was at once entertaing and sobering.
Watching this story in 2015 highlights how much what looks like "change" is really just more of the same.

That is why I love going to the theatre: if you pick a good show, it's like dropping into a conversation and getting a snapshot of life from a different perspective.

Go and see this play. Shabangu and Kani are talented actors who do justice to this iconic text, and you will leave feeling uplifted, and ready for action.

Baxter Flipside, Cape Town
Closing 12 September 2015


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