Milestone for the new South Africa

Sibongile Khumalo, Gloria Bosman and Owen Sejake will star in one of the big events at this year’s festival.

Milestones was originally scheduled to hit the stage of the John F Kennedy Centre in Washington two years back, but has been plagued with artistic and financial setbacks.

The show started off as a collaboration between Mandla Langa (recently appointed head of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, and previously head of programming at the SABC) and musician Hugh Masekela.

Since the early days of its genesis, Langa’s script has gone through several stages, and Masekela’s score has been augmented by additional music from Motsumi Makhene, Khumalo and Mokale Koapeng, under the musical directorship of Themba Mkhize.

The musical was always expected to be a high-profile event, with strong expectations from the Kennedy Centre that it would be the first big new South African musical. Delays in the production have therefore been disappointing, but the show will finally play in the United States capital, as well as other world centres, after its Grahamstown premier.

Langa’s script takes on the massive issue of dispossession and reclamation of the land, told through the story of an ailing clan leader, Joshua, who finally leads his people back to the ”promised land” after the liberation of the country. Like Moses, Joshua will die before the final glory of restoration is possible. But he sows the seeds of success in his daughter Zodwa, who takes on his mantle in the absence of her brother Jonah, an Umkhonto weSizwe cadre assassinated by his own side in the turmoil of the liberation war.

Zodwa has to overcome every kind of obstacle in her path. Traditional values oppose the idea of a woman becoming head of an African community. Zodwa herself is a modernised woman who grew up away from the values of the clan, and is set to follow a city career in law. She also dabbles in a relationship with a white man, causing further antagonism.

And then, of course, there are the baddies, the political and economic opportunists and their cronies who would like to manipulate the clan and the repossessed lands for their own advantage.

Langa tells this story as a kind of Brechtian verse tragicomedy-cum-Greek choral play. On the page, at least, this threatens to take away from the immediacy of the intricate relationships between the various characters. Overlaid on these conventions are the stock situations of South African musical theatre – good and bad sangomas with their half-human/half-animal servants, township shebeen scenes, and moments of bald political statement.

The final message of the play is the triumph of the African spirit: ”I am Africa walking upright/I am Africa declaring to the world/We shall be slaves no more.”

The success of Milestones will rest largely on the ability of the music to support this theatrical conception, and the skill of director Jerry Mofokeng in pulling it all together on stage. He will be ably supported by leading actors Khumalo, Bosman and Sejake. Choreography is by Nomsa Manaka.

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John Matshikiza
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