This weekend, the minister of arts and culture, Nathi Mthethwa, took to the stage of the South Africa Film and Television Awards to honor Sibusiso Khwinana, a playwright, director and theatre maker, gone too soon. On Twitter the minister said: “We are devastated to learn of the tragic & untimely passing of celebrated actor & the pride of Soshanguve Sibusiso Khwinana whose talent was demonstrated in his performance in the box-office hit #Matwetwe. He was also a founding member of the Independent Theatres Makers Movement.”
Khwinana (25) was introduced to us through his on-screen debut as Lefa, one of the leading actors in Kagiso Lediga’s film Matwetwe. Khwinana died on Friday evening in Arcadia following a fatal stabbing that took place shortly after he was spotted attending a screening of Matwetwe at Sterland Mall, Pretoria.
The Soshanguve native called the National State Theatre home from 2016. There, he was selected to be a part to the theatre’s department of arts and culture sponsored incubator programme. Under the programme, Khwinana wrote and directed his public theatre debut, Amend. The production served as commentary on the vile nature of homophobia and the use of corrective rape in townships. He also worked on other productions at the theatre house such as Angola, Biko, and a rendition of The Crucible.
In the midst of treading his theatrical path, he was not looking to make his voice known off the stage yet. But when his friend and mentor, Bongani Masondo, approached him between rehearsals, the emerging creative took the chance.
“What happened is we were chilling at the State Theatre, it’s during the week and shows only play at night. There’s this other guy, a close friend of ours called Bongani Masango. He comes to us and says there are auditions. Some of us had never been on screen before. We get there and it’s Kagiso Lediga and there are cameras so this thing is very serious. They seat us in a circle and start asking us questions that’s how we got the roles, ” Khwinana told magazine television show, V Entertainment, with a kindred vibe and animated arms a few weeks ago.
Based largely in Pretoria’s western township Atteridgeville, Matwetwe sees Papi (played by Tebatso Mashishi), and Lefa pull off a supplying deal for a new strain of weed while outsmarting a pesky gang of criminals. The film, which made R300 000 in the first three days, has been well received by the South African audience.
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian, Lediga recalls working on set with Khwinana and his co-lead Mashishi, commenting on their zeal and work ethic. “They were the kind of people who you give them a thing and then they go and rehearse it and come back blazing. I mean there was a level of professionalism that comes from… I mean, I don’t know if the actors that I am used to working with are jaded because they have been on those long sets of Generations. So they were very fresh and eager and there was definitely like a certain zeal that they displayed. They were dope. They were dope ass motherfuckers,” said Lediga.
Those who knew Khwinana testify to his dedication to adding to the canon of authentic South African stories. “I think it’s high time we take pride in our stories. There was an article that came out that said Matwetwe proves that local content can sell. This is a clear indication that people have been thirsty for something like this,” he told eNCA.
His family at the State Theatre bid him farewell saying: “As the State Theatre, we have been privileged a front seat view of Khwinana’s career rise to greatness and his life as a performer and storyteller. We still were expecting to see and experience more from him, but crime untimely robbed us of that dream when he had just encountered the biggest break in his career…Khwinana will be greatly missed in our corridors, rehearsals and dressing rooms, and theatres as a hardworking, high-spirited storyteller who never stopped pushing.”