SCENE IT: 11th Zabalaza Festival a celebration of life

Barbara Loots

There is no denying that the theatre industry has been hardest hit by the impact of the Covid-19 devastation in South Africa. Just when the hour seemed darkest, the Zabalaza Theatre Festival at the Baxter Theatre announced its festival line-up in celebration of the talent of youthful creatives. Saving me from utter despair and depression I found hope in the gift of new stories being told by vibrant youngsters on a theatre stage once again.

On opening night we were treated to short snippets from the plays on offer. The talent and truth on stage left me inspired. At the centre of it all one finds a celebration of the youth development passion of Zoleka Helesi, in whose memory the 11th Zabalaza Festival is hosted at the Baxter. In celebrating Helesi’s spirit and vision as one of the co-founders of Zabalaza, the festival reveals itself as an exhibition of life, commitment and passion. In opening the festival, Mdu Kweyama (Artistic Director and Curator), shared that bringing everything and everyone together this year (at great personal expense to the families of the participants) has been a challenge, but also proof of the fact that the arts are alive in the hearts of the youth.


The festival offers audiences a smorgasbord of new productions to experience. The plays created and performed by talented newcomers address a range of social issues to which they bear witness in life. Presented in various languages, the productions reveal how the emotion and sentiment that run through a production transcends any language barriers when it comes to appreciating a play’s impact. The themes explored include identity, freedom, and women’s rights; all issues very relevant to the times we live in.


Two Sides interrogates the impact of false rape accusations within that context, while Deadly Escape considers a scenario were women are captured and held hostage to produce boy-children in a time of war. In furtherance of the themes, Is dit jou Ma se huis die? also looks at the fate of four women in an intimate Pollsmoor prison cell where personal baggage is explored and the boundaries of friendship, consent and love tested.


Other productions showcased include Blood on the Road, Who To Blame, McGregor Must Die, Ganga Nyoko! Inzima Nyoko, and Umzi Unzima.


Although all the productions are of a great standard, the standout on opening night was Thank you for your service. This physical theatre two-hander reminds one of the energy and style found in Woza Albert! It deals with two soldiers who were childhood friends. Written and performed by Aphiwe Livi and Buhle Qinga, the audience is taken on a journey as they compare their childhood and current lives through the introduction of multiple characters. In truly captivating fashion, Livi and Qinga reveal the trauma of fallen soldiers who built their dreams on empty promises.


The 11th Zabalaza Theatre Festival is on at the Baxter Theatre until 27 March 2021. Tickets are available online through Webtickets and all Covid-19 protocols are observed.