Until the words ‘South Africa’, ‘Afrikaans’, and later ‘MK’ are mentioned, non-speakers of isiXhosa and isiZulu may be forgiven for thinking the five players in Bayephi have spent half the running time using their considerable talents to portray the universal struggle against oppression. Sticks become guns in the fight against an unseen enemy, and then paddles for the boats that take the freedom fighters to a different country. An enamel bowl becomes a percussion instrument that sounds a warning, while the actors harmonise in mesmerising song and hurtle across the stage to move the plot along.
‘Are you going to teach me how to fight?’ a girl asks her brother. ‘To fight, you must know whom you are fighting,’ he answers. As Siphokazi yearns to understand more about her brother’s world, we are afforded a glimpse into the daily, unglamorous realities of Umkhonto we Sizwe members and their families.
Nompumelelo Kubheka, Siyabulela Javu, Nandipha Mlati, Eretha Fillis, and Eric Mwenda Gitonga keep the audience spellbound from start to finish with their explosive, well-rehearsed movements. Their voices form an ensemble that can go from soothing to grating in moments, always to great dramatic effect. Gitonga, especially, has a remarkable voice, and his gentle manner coupled with his pleasant tenor tones make for a beautifully nuanced portrayal. The rest of the company are equally convincing and deliver riveting performances without exception.
Bayephi is certainly a standout in this year’s Cape Town Fringe Festival line-up, and represents a praiseworthy effort by the young performers from Rhodes University. ‘Bayephi’ can be seen once more, on the 25th of September, at Theatre Arts Admin.