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Tuesday, April 8, 2014


(Busisiwe Nyundu. Pic by Ruphin Coudyzer)

iLembe, from Johannesburg-based Sibikwa Arts Centre, is a powerful new visually- evocative production with beautiful music and pulsating dance, which depicts the last few months of the life of King Shaka, and opens in the Playhouse Drama to the general public on April 27.

iLembe (“the axe that surpasses all other axes in sharpness”) is the latest production created by Sibikwa Arts Centre established in 1988. It consciously intends to provoke and challenge the audience’s perceptions and encourage the audience to question concepts such as truth, honesty, perception and prejudice.

Sibikwa is perhaps best known in Durban for Kwela Bafana, its vibrant musical and dance showcase of South African life in the 50’s which thrilled and entertained audiences at the Playhouse last year.

iLembe is written and directed by the multi-award winning team of Smal Ndaba and Phyllis Klotz and designed by Sarah Roberts, who most-recently designed West Side Story for the Playhouse. It is presented in association with the Playhouse Company, an agency of the Department of Arts and Culture, as part of their New Stages programme. The music is by two-time SAMA award winner and acclaimed musician and composer, Themba Mkhize; and the choreography is by Sifiso Kweyama. The music and dance accompanying this production marries Zulu-traditional with more modern influences – including contemporary dance and electronic music.

The multi-lingual cast is a combination of Johannesburg and KZN-based performers who were selected after a rigorous audition process last October. The production is staged in isiZulu and isiXhosa, with English surtitles.

“Statesmanship and vigour marked Shaka kaSenzangakhona, better known as Shaka Zulu, as one of the most prominent Zulu kings,” says Sibikwa’s Phyllis Klotz. “Too often we are bound by our conceptions of life colouring our perceptions. These perceptions usually evolve from our background and culture. Shaka, an extraordinary iconic historical figure in South African history has been interpreted by some as a cruel harsh leader by others as a great nation-builder. Whatever view we have is biased. This production seeks to beg the question where lies the truth, and is there actually one truth?”

Because of the acceptance of the written word, historical facts based on the earliest writings by white traders and officials remained unquestioned for a long time. The oral tradition, shedding a different light on uShaka’s ruling, only gained respect more recently. These two perspectives are often contradictory and have set up contested positions around the famous warrior.

iLembe gives a twist to the traditional storytelling structure by unfolding the play through the eyes of Shaka’s interpreter Jackot Msimbithi; the young Englishman Henry Fynn; Shaka’s attendant, Mbopha, and his sister Nomcoba while three female musicians playing traditional instruments form the chorus.

A comprehensive exhibition curated by Dr Rayda Becker, which reflects the multi-interpretation of Shaka through images dating from 1824 through to the 21st century, accompanies the production.

The story of Shaka is part of the Grade ten school syllabus and is suitable for grades 7, 8 and 9 as well. To accommodate high school learners, there are performances earmarked for schools from April 15 onwards. The show runs at 90 minutes with no interval.

iLembe runs in the Playhouse Drama from April 15 until May 3. There are public performances from April 27 until May 3 with performances at 19h30 on April 27, May 2 and May 3. Other performances take place at 10h00 on April 29 and 30. Booking is open and tickets can be purchased through Computicket; phone 0861 915 8000 or book online at Seating is reserved.

For information on high-school groups or block bookings contact Dawn Haddon on 031 369 9456 or email: Teaching materials which support the production are available to educators who bring their learners to see the show.