/ 18 June 2024

Kgomotso Matsunyane’s latest play will ruffle feathers

Standardbank Day2 Momo Mainroom 3242 2 (1)
Challenging: Kgomotso ‘Momo’ Matsunyane’s play Ka Lebitso La Moya, on at the National Arts Festival, which starts on 20 June, explores themes of religion, love, betrayal, sexual abuse and politics.

Kgomotso “Momo” Matsunyane will be directing a hold-onto-your-seat play titled Ka Lebitso La Moya at this year’s National Arts Festival (NAF) in Makhanda. She also wrote the play.

With Ka Lebitso La Moya, which translates to In the Name of the Spirit, the 35-year-old director, writer and filmmaker stays true to the themes she often explores in her work. 

She admits working on this piece has been particularly tough. 

“Process-wise, it has been very challenging in the sense that, at the core of it, there is almost a war of worlds between African spirituality and Western Christianity,” Matsunyane tells the Mail & Guardian

“On top of that, we are telling the story of this young girl called Lentswe. Everyone is mesmerised by her talent and her gift for singing. She is so beautiful, yet so naive.”

The play is set in the fictional township of Ha Satane, a community stricken with poverty, joblessness and crime. Unhappy with the government’s lack of service delivery, the people of Ha Satane grow restless.

However, the arrival of a charming new priest quells their anger and offers them hope for a better life. But he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Lentswe is exploited by this pastor who is soon running for elections. He reckons using her will bring him closer to the youth, but he gets too close, revealing his darker motives. 

Matsunyane explains that the play is inspired by current events. 

“We have been reading articles and watching documentaries about pastors being on the other side of the law. Others are going through the court system, while some have fled the country. 

“We realised that, every time anyone is put in a position of power, everyone is at risk of some kind of abuse,” she says. 

Matsunyane says the themes of this play are universal: religion, love, betrayal, sexual abuse, social injustice and politics. 

It was a deliberate decision to set the play against the background of the elections.

“Some of these people are those we put into power, but because of their positions of power, they never get prosecuted for their crimes,” Matsunyane remarks about the parallels between her play and South Africa in 2024. 

“It is going to be a roller coaster of a ride, but more than anything, I want people to leave [the theatre] wanting to have critical conversations about these issues and that will, hopefully, open up some kind of dialogue,” she says. 

As last year’s Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for theatre, bringing this play to the NAF, which opens on 20 June, is one of the highlights of Matsunyane’s career.

The festival is one of the standout events on the arts calendar, offering event-goers a chance to see some of the major artists in South Africa showcase their work. 

It also provides a platform for upcoming creatives to present their work alongside established names, making it the perfect place for artists to network, become familiar with each other’s work and to develop. 

Matsunyane says the NAF has played a crucial role in shaping her as an artist. 

“I remember coming to NAF either to watch what other artists were offering or to perform myself.” 

She has performed for previous Standard Bank Young Artist Award winners on the same stages where she is now preparing to put on her own work. 

Matsunyane’s journey in theatre began at a young age, rooted in her passion for storytelling and performance. Growing up in a culturally rich environment, she was exposed to various forms of artistic expression that shaped her creative vision. 

“I have been in action from the age of six, professionally from the age of 14,” she says.

The multi-talented artist has been in the industry for 20 years.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she says. 

She obtained an honours degree in dramatic arts from the University of the Witwatersrand in 2012, majoring in performance, film and television.

Her formal education in theatre arts provided her with the technical skills and theoretical foundation to refine her craft, allowing her to blend traditional and contemporary elements in her work.

Matsunyane has performed in numerous plays, films and television shows, and has won several awards.

Her approach to theatre, both as playwright and actor, is characterised by a fearless exploration of complex themes, ranging from social justice and identity to the human condition. 

She has a unique ability to connect with audiences on an emotional level, making her productions both thought-provoking and deeply moving.  

Matsunyane says the Standard Bank Young Artist win validated her journey in the industry. 

“It is such an honour in my discipline to be able to be a part of the SBYA alumni community. I am truly privileged as many big artists who I have looked up to have won this award. It is a great piece of validation for the hard work I have put out there in my career. So it means a lot.”

The award not only recognised her past achievements but anticipates her future contributions to the arts — such as using Ka Lebitso La Moya to ruffle feathers. One of her dreams is to perform it in churches. 

“We will then have real conversations and properly facilitate Q&As with congregants,” she says.