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Tuesday, April 24, 2018


(Welcome Msomi)

The Nelson Mandela Foundation, together with Welcome Msomi, has announce the revival of uMabatha, known as the “Zulu Macbeth”, to coincide with the Nelson Mandela Centennial celebrations on July 30, 2018. The performance will be recorded for international release later in 2018, before the production embarks on a South Africa and then international tour.

uMabatha is a theatrical production telling the story of Zulu King Shaka’s rise to power as a South African interpretation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Conceived and directed by Welcome Msomi, one of South Africa’s pre-eminent and acclaimed directors and playwrights, uMabatha was written when Msomi was a student at the then University of Natal (now UKZN). It was first performed at the University's open-air theatre in Durban in 1971 when Nelson Mandela was still imprisoned on Robben Island.

The show subsequently toured internationally, becoming a worldwide hit and thrilling audiences across Africa, Europe and America with its unique combination of powerful storytelling and spectacular music and dance sequences. uMabatha transferred to London’s West End during the World Theatre Season in 1972 and 1973 and, unlike any production seen previously, played to sell-out audiences at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Aldwych Theatre.

Upon his release and becoming President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, who personally loved the show, recognised its value as a cultural ambassador for the new rainbow nation of South Africa he was trying to build, and he remained one of uMabatha’s most vocal and enthusiastic supports. On a visit to New York in 1990, where Msomi was based, Mandela convinced Msomi to revive uMabatha, and the iconic performance was staged in Johannesburg in May, 1995. Mandela also persuaded Msomi to return to South Africa as one of its new generation of cultural leaders, a position Msomi occupies to this day as one of the country’s Living Legends, a trustee appointed by the Department of Arts and Culture.

As part of the Centennial Mandela Celebrations on July 30, 2018, uMabatha will once again be revived by Msomi at the site of the play’s first ever performance, the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s open air amphitheatre in Durban. This date coincides with Nelson Mandela’s arrest for his role in the Defiance Campaign, when he was charged under the Suppression of Communism Act on July 30, 1952.

Way Ahead Productions Africa will oversee a restoration of the theatre for the performance, with the refurbished open-air venue serving as a lasting tribute to Nelson Mandela. The performance will be distributed internationally for theatrical release later this year, co-produced by Genesius Pictures (Northern Soul, forthcoming Mrs Lowry & Son), the company behind the hugely successful release of Maxine Peake’s Hamlet, and Genesius Pictures will also manage international sales. The filming of the performance will be handled by Clive Morris Productions of Johannesburg with Way Ahead Productions Africa facilitating the film productions.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation is delighted to be a partner in this venture in helping to revive an iconic symbol of Mandela’s South Africa once again, and to support the filming of the live performance for international broadcast.

Welcome Msomi said: “I am so excited to be reviving uMabatha as part of the Nelson Mandela Centennial celebrations. My friend Madiba loved the show and was one of its greatest supporters. It’s also a huge honour to be working with the Nelson Mandela Foundation who do so much to keep his legacy alive. In today’s rapidly changing world, Mandela’s values and the example he set us are as relevant now as they ever were. There is much that the plays of Shakespeare and African culture have in common. They share universal themes and a sense of human truth. When Mandela told me that uMabatha was “a truly illuminating and uplifting experience,” it was the proudest day of my life. I hope that this revival will excite a whole new generation of audiences, both in Africa and around the world. That would make me doubly proud.”

Following the live performance on July 30, 2018, uMabatha will once again take to the road with a nationwide South Africa tour taking in performances in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria. This will be followed by an international tour including dates across Europe, United States and other parts of the world.

Additionally, two specially commissioned documentaries are being planned. The first goes behind the scenes with Welcome Msomi as he restages uMabatha for the Centennial Day performance and reflects on his life-long friendship with Nelson Mandela and what it meant to him. A second landmark documentary, to be screened later in the year, will celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, reveal how his message continues to inspire people from all walks of life all over the world, and show that the great man’s teaching has become even more relevant in today’s tumultuous world. These documentaries will be produced and directed by Kate Blewett (Bongo Films), a multi-Emmy and BAFTA award-winning documentary filmmaker, who is well known for her films on social justice, impacting change across the world.