Musical promotes peace among all communities
The brutality and unfairness of xenophobia is a core theme in Vusi Mhlongo’s Voice from Kilimanjaro, writes Edward Tsumele
The Voice from Kilimanjaro, written and directed by Vusi Mhlongo, a South African theatre maker and filmmaker, has beautiful dance scenes set to music that are an interesting mix of South African sounds and tunes emanating from the rest of the continent.
At a recent rehearsal at the Yeoville Recreational Centre — in a suburb that is an entry point to Johannesburg for people across Africa — the tone suddenly changed from happy scenes to a scary one.
A belligerent crowd burst onto the stage, imitating marchers in the streets, shouting that they were looking for foreigners that they charged with crimes ranging from stealing jobs to stealing "their women" and business opportunities.
Singing mainly in isiZulu, the crowd is ready to go to war with foreigners, any foreigner they came across from the continent. One foreigner, who quickly picked up that the crowd was looking for his kind, thought fast and joined them, singing and dancing and saying he was also looking for foreigners.
But then one of the marchers exposed him as a foreigner. Mayhem broke out as the crowd bayed for his blood. The crowd gave him an impromptu test and asked him to name certain parts of the body such as the ears, elbow and chin in isiZulu. He failed, of course, and the abuse started.
"Xenophobia is real. It is not a myth and we have to take the issue seriously. There is a need for South Africans to fight this scourge in whatever way we can," says Mhlongo.
"Theatre is a powerful tool that can bring this reality to life in a very impactful way."
After performing to critical acclaim at Wits Theatre a few years ago, at the Joburg Theatre in 2017, and in the streets of Yeoville on May 27 to mark Africa Day, the musical is being revived to tour the country.
It is scheduled to perform at the Playhouse in Durban from June 22 to 25.
"All along, the production only performed in Gauteng, but now we want to take it on a national tour as xenophobia is a national problem and we need to reach everyone," Mhlongo says.
"After Durban, we will then sit down, plan and look for funding to tour nationally. We hope that the government, especially the Department of Arts and Culture under Nathi Mthethwa, will continue to help us with funding. It is funding the Durban tour."
KwaMashu township near Durban experienced violent xenophobic incidents recently after fake news spread through the area that foreigners were kidnapping local children.
The Voice of Kilimanjaro is a musical featuring actors, dancers and a band comprising South Africans and people from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Nigeria and Mali. It is a potpourri of music, dance, poetry and out-of-this-world acting. It takes a poignant look at how South African communities relate to citizens of the world, in particular, other Africans. It promotes tolerance, social cohesion and peace among South Africans.
It creatively raises questions and suggests solutions for the complex problem of xenophobia. It focuses on a family grappling with the intricacies of post-apartheid SA and unemployment.
A former political activist from the Congo falls in love with a beautiful local woman. Her family struggles to come to terms with the relationship, as they had expected her to share her life with a local man, as the family expected. But then the community gets involved, too, further complicating their relationship.
The Voice from Kilimanjaro mesmerises with scintillating dance routines and music.
Mhlongo, a Wits graduate under the Drama For Life programme which includes courses like applied drama, drama for social change and drama in education, is a veteran of many shows.
He has worked as an actor for theatre productions, films and television, with supporting and cameo roles in Soul City, Muvhango, The Last Hope, Son Of The Ape, Cape of Good Hope Three, Who Am I? and Sweepers.
However, his passion is cultural activism. The Voice from Kilimanjaro, is Mhlongo’s first stage production.
• The Voice from Kilimanjaro performs at The Playhouse, from Thursday at 7pm, Friday (7pm), Saturday (2pm and 7pm), and Sunday at 7pm.