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Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Musho production depicts power struggle between two men who have everything to lose if the other gets his way. (Review by Shika Budhoo)

“…Do not define me to the past…” words spoken by Mongezi Ncwadi, as the character Themba, in It’s not me. It is the second two-hander I’ve seen so far at this year’s Musho! Theatre Festival 2009, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Written by the cast, Xolani Ngesi and Mongezi Ncwadi, with mentoring from Winston Ntshona and Maurice Podbrey and directed by Zwai Mgijima, It’s not me, an out of town production from Port Elizabeth, is a drama about the feud that developed a generation ago between two families whose children have fallen in love and are intending on marrying.

Kwezi is the brother of Thandeka, who arrives in PE to confront Themba and instruct him to leave his sister and the Mbali family alone. Words are exchanged, with emotions intense from the start. Secrets are revealed about a murderous act that occurred between Kwezi and Themba’s fathers during the time of the struggle. Necklacing is the cause of death to Kwezi’s father; and Themba’s father, the perpetrator. Themba is presented as the modern black man (he eats pasta instead of pap, at the opening of the show) and Kwezi is the traditional family man, forced into responsibility from a young age. The plot builds as we are given the information about the struggle of the Mbali family, we are told of the love Themba has for Thandeka and his undying commitment to her, and we are witness to Kwezi’s determination in removing Themba from the chance of being a part of his family.

The words spoken were frequently poetic (despite many pregnant pauses) and loaded with layers of emotion; anger, hatred, love, power, strength, weakness, pain and loss; intermingled with an unavoidable sadness. It’s not me is the story of a family being torn apart by a sin acted out in the past and the prolonged pain that can constantly be displaced from generation to generation.

The optimistic Themba’s words “If you hold my hand, we can find strength together”. It is the character of Themba that shows us an example of the many people who are suffering from acts performed in the past, acts he knew nothing about, until now; and that despite knowing it is attempting to rectify it and look to the future. Kwezi however does not feel the same way, and to Themba’s appeal to unite, his constant reply is “Never!” This is easy to understand when considering it was Themba’s father who killed his.

I particularly enjoyed the strong element of ‘the personal is political’… the personal lives of the characters presented resulted from a political act, and they are left to deal with what is left after the sins are executed.

It is also a love story, tainted by circumstances out of their control and yet fully affecting their potential to find peace. It’s not me is a power struggle between two men who have everything to lose if the other gets his way. In his defence to Kwezi, when confronted about his father’s murderous act, Themba’s repeated replies: “It’s not me! It’s not me! It’s not me!” effectively portrays the unavoidable truth of a responsibility being passed from acts of a disastrous past.

Kwezi, always full of admirable intensity in emotion and stance, repeatedly says: “…and now I must forgive? ” which is an element throughout the play unresolved.. That, I must add, is something I felt absent… the end was unresolved. However, a part of me wonders if perhaps that may be the true portrayal of situations such as these … who wins when the stakes are so high? The end was abrupt and unexpected, I didn’t feel there needed to be a ‘solution’ to the problem of the characters, but I did hope rather that a ‘resolution’ would have occurred.

I walked out of the play, mind still running over the consequences of our collective and individual pasts. Pasts we know very little about, and I was wondering how many secrets about my own lineage am I aware of… and if I’m not aware… is it better that way? Or do these things have to come out to be resolved? Or if, like in It’s not me, situations cannot be solved, do I have the strength to accept what the past already has in store for my future?

Well done, Port Elizabeth… I was surprisingly enlightened by this South African story. - Shika Budhoo