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Sunday, December 8, 2013


(Mbongeni Ngema. Pic by Val Adamson)

Mbongeni Ngema’s heroic story-telling narrative, The Zulu, continues its South African tour with a season at The Playhouse from December 3 to 29.

Following the acclaimed show’s world premiere run as the opening production of this year’s National Arts Festival in Grahamstown - where it drew ongoing standing ovations - the production has played to wildly enthusiastic audiences in Zululand and Swaziland, with follow-up seasons in Pretoria and, most recently, at Johannesburg’s Market Theatre.

Funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF) and scripted by Mbongeni Ngema himself, The Zulu is directed by Christopher John and designed by Sarah Roberts. The show is produced by Africa Ngema and presented by Committed Artists Foundation in partnership with SABC1.

Inspired by the spellbinding tales he first heard from the lips of his blind great-grandmother, Mkhulutshana Manqele, when he was a little boy growing up in the heart of rural Zululand, The Zulu celebrates Ngema’s return to the stage as a star actor for the first time in close on three decades.

The touring production’s opening night in Zululand in July was attended by a deeply appreciative King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, who led the applause as the curtain came down. “A performance fit for a king,” heralded Dave Savides in his review in Eyethu Bay Watch. “Ngema held the sizeable crowd spellbound with his dramatic narrative, weaving his story with impeccable skill. The show should be made compulsory viewing for all, especially the young.”

A comparable response greeted performances of The Zulu in Swaziland, where Ngema commands a loyal following after touring two of his previous shows – Woza Albert and Asinamali – there in the past. After the opening performance at the Royal Swazi Convention Centre, the Deputy Prime Minister of Swaziland commended Ngema’s dedication to fostering awareness of his people’s historic culture.

At the outset of his show, Ngema recalls the indelible impact his great-grandmother’s wonderful stories of old Zululand made on him. This was the start of his life-long love affair with story-telling, which later burgeoned into an illustrious international theatre career.

Offstage, Ngema recounts how as a young man at the outset of his profession, one of his early mentors, the renowned Polish theatre authority, Jerzy Grotowski, marvelled at the way an African storyteller becomes the characters he or she is talking about. This inspired Ngema to follow his dream of keeping alive his family’s oral history, closely enmeshed with the historic saga of the Zulu Nation – from King Shaka to the Battle of Isandlwana.

Now indeed, in bringing his production of The Zulu to the stage, Ngema brings history powerfully back to life for his audiences, delivering an evening of African story-telling on a grand scale that stands as a passionate celebration of the theatre of his forebears. The production sees Ngema performing to the accompaniment of maskandi star, Matshitshi Ngema.

The Zulu runs in The Playhouse Drama from December 3 to 29.Tickets R150 Tuesdays to Thursdays and R200 Fridays to Sundays. Performances are at 20h00 from Tuesdays to Saturdays (Sundays at 15h00). Concession R80 for children/students/pensioners and block booking discounts are available. Booking is through Computicket on 0861 915 8000 or online at

Following its Durban performances, The Zulu is set to tour abroad, with seasons in Zimbabwe and Nigeria on the cards. The production is expected to tour to the United States for a season at New York University’s Aaron Davis Hall in May, 2014.

For more information visit the production’s Facebook page, Mbongeni Ngema’s The Zulu, or log on to, or follow the show on twitter @NgemasTheZulu.