[Written by Glenn Fubler]
This past weekend offered learning opportunities regarding two countries which share parallels. This involved the spectacular musical ‘Sarafina,’ which drew three encore showings to Ruth Seaton James – all sellouts – and a Walk for Peace which attracted scores of diverse residents, in spite of rain. There was amazing synergy between these two seemingly unrelated events.
Both of these referenced countries experienced ominous milestones in 1948; ironically the same year of the publishing of the United Nations Human Rights Declaration. That document was promulgated following World War II during gross inhumanity was displayed, which resulted in a global momentum towards basic rights for all.
However, under the cover of the machinations by global power elites, exceptions were made for the human rights in the two jurisdictions. In South Africa in ’48, the Apartheid Regime was established based on race, and in the former Palestine, Israel was established based on religion. In both jurisdictions, millions of people were forcibly removed from lands they had occupied for generations, with collateral damage to innumerable men women and children.
The full houses that TROIKA attracted to their marvelous presentation of the Broadway musical ‘Sarafina’ were enthralled by the stage production, especially the outstanding performances of the local cast and musicians. The decades-old story captures the prototypical lives of South African high schoolers from the township of Soweto in the 1970s, a pivotal period in the long-fought movement to end apartheid. The script writer and director did a great job in providing an intimate snapshot of the real-life roles of many South African teens, doing their part in the seemingly impossible effort to change their country for the better.
The sonorous South African music of a six-piece live local band provided a foundation for the poignant story, which cleverly combines humour and pathos to great effect. The melodious harmonies of the ensemble’s voices provide the cord holding the story together, as the joyful and well-choreographed dancing offered infectious energy.
The local actors project beaucoup personality into their characters, all mastering Xosa-tinged accents. Colgate sets the stage, introducing the other major players. These include Crocodile, whose first impulse is to use his muscle. Stimela, who moves to a different drum. Teaspoon is a girl who has all the news. Silence is a deep guy. Sarafina is the irrepressible pivot of the story.
The stark, static scene on stage is multipurposed. It is mainly a high school in Soweto, a Black township – read ghetto, prison camp – of Johannesburg where non-whites require a pass. It offers a classroom as well as a neighbourhood space, where there is a police/military presence, more often than not [close parallels with Gaza or the West Bank].
That Somerset girl – Chinyere Nwasike – took the RSJ stage by storm, grabbing the pivotal role of Sarafina with both hands, exemplifying strength, humour, and resilience in the life-challenging conditions of the story line.
Hopefully other reviewers will provide you much more detail of this fantastic production. I just wish to touch on some of the musical, including a scene when Sarafina recounts privately to her teacher her experience of being incarcerated by the secret police for a week or so. It ends in a poignant scene of the 30 or so classmates piled on top of each other, with teacher and Sarafina crying their eyes out, singing the deeply-moving song ‘Mamma.’
Then there is a scene involving the students involved in protesting apartheid conditions when police shoot at them with their rifles. The following scene is of a mass funeral. There are the engaging discussions amongst the students when Sarafina and others take turns to offer lessons from history and personal experience, leading to the song ‘Freedom is Coming’ – even if it looks impossible now.
The finale involves a student skit in which Sarafina takes the role of Nelson Mandela, emerging after decades of imprisonment. The young woman from country in Bermuda, dressed in a suit and tie, captures the cadence of the icon’s speech and the obvious stiffness as he enjoys dancing with the crowd and singing ‘Freedom is Coming.’
The resonance of this musical with Saturday’s Walk for Peace is palpable. The call for a ceasefire to the constant rain of bombs in Gaza, killing some 420 children per day, is far worse than that which was experienced in apartheid South Africa. The scores of peaceful diverse crowd walking through the rain in Hamilton would have joined millions demonstrating around the globe on that same day.
Hope remains eternal that freedom is coming tomorrow for the Palestinians.
Join the Gathering for Gaza at City Hall on Monday, November 13 from 4.00pm to 5.30pm.