national Arts Festival Banner

Sunday, May 5, 2013


 (Mthandeni Mbambo; Sbusiso Shozi; Sello Zikalala; Sandile Dlamini; Tsallo Chokwe; Peter Mashigo and Sabelo Makhubo. Photo by Enos Mhlongo. Missing from pic: Freedom Mswane)

Forceful and gripping script directed and performed with excellence. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Many South African youngsters today know very little about UmkhontoWe Sizwe (MK). Depending on which side you were on at the time – freedom fighters or guerrilla force - it was the armed wing of the ANC which fought against the South African government from 1961. It suspended operations in 1990 and was integrated into the South African National Defence Force by 1994.

Nkosiyabona Zungu has written a forceful and gripping script which looks at the history of MK and the physical and psychological impact it had on those who served in it.

The play is set in a small clothing factory in KZN which is run by four military veterans, assisted by four colleagues. They make school uniforms. As they sew away, the veterans reminisce about their days with MK, explaining to the younger men what it was like and how – in the new democracy - they have now fallen from heroes to the ranks of the semi-unemployed.

As the lead character, Jobe, caustically remarks: he was considered responsible and intelligent enough to fly a jet plane for MK but now he can’t get a job because he doesn’t have matric.

Jobe’s unhappiness and psychological disturbance – borne of the past and the present - is of much concern to his friends. His children have persuaded him to see a counsellor, the idea being that Jobe should visit the area where MK had a military camp in Angola as part of a healing process. Jobe will have none of this but opens up his memories and so the play progresses in a series of flashbacks.

The clever set design by Wilhelm Disbergen features a backdrop of slatted panels (copied onto the floorcloth) which lighting designer Kenny Bolokee uses to excellent effect. The props include a number of slatted wooden boxes which are skilfully manoeuvred to become sewing machine tables or houses. I loved the wooden sewing machines as well as the vocal sound effects that accompanied their workings!

In between the serious scenes, there are many amusing vignettes and songs. Musical director Mthandeni Mvelase has eight fine voices to work with and Brian Mazibuko‘s choreography is carried out with impeccable precision.

Zwelibanzi Sibiya has directed his eight-member cast - well-known television and stage actors – to perfection. While this is a highly disciplined ensemble piece in which every single member is excellent, stand-out performances come from Peter Mashigo as Jobe, Sello Zikalala as his close friend Mabutho and Sandile Dlamini as the counsellor Simo. The rest of the cast includes Sabelo Makhubo; Tsallo Chokwe; Sbusiso Shozi; Mthandeni Mbambo and Freedom Mswane who take on a number of roles accurately and convincingly - in fact, this is a tour de force for them all!

My only unfavourable comment would be that the play requires some careful pruning. It runs for close on three hours with an interval. While the dramatic fighting scenes – which are extremely impressive from a lighting and sound point of view – tend to lose their impact with repeated use. I would also have liked to have seen a final response from Jobe, coming full circle to the original basis of the play, ie: did re-visiting the memories of MK and the Angola camp alleviate his state of mind?

I have no doubt that Long Way to Go will take its rightful place in the impressive line-up of powerful theatre works that have dealt with the struggle to democracy. It will be of major benefit to learners and anyone else needing to know more about this vital element of South Africa’s history. The play ends with a thought-provoking question to its audiences. Looking at the South Africa of today with its challenges in government, social and environment areas – was the much fought-for solution achieved? Did so many brave heroes die for this?

Funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund and African Renaissance and produced by Hamashe Productions, Long Way to Go runs in the Playhouse Loft until May 12 before moving to Johannesburg where it will run at the State Theatre from May 22 to June 2. Booking at Computicket or at the door at each theatre. – Caroline Smart