Theatre interview: Bongani Titana talks about Kvetch/Ndisa Zilile, premiering at The Masque, Cape Town, in the year of Covid, lockdown level 1

Dates: October 9 and 10, 2020. Starts 7pm

Tickets: R100


Info: e-mail: or call 082 694 6879.

In Kvetch/Ndisa Zilile, Bongani Titana (director) and team grapple with “sharing the story of the grievance of the families of three mine workers, who were trapped underground in the Lily Mine Tragedy in 2016.” 

Hold that thought – the landscape of this play – the horror of three mine workers, buried underground when the entrance to the shaft at LilyMine near Barberton in Mpumalanga collapsed. Consider the title. Kvetch is Yiddish for whinge/complain. It is about being a nuisance complainer as in “stop kvetching because it is so hot”; “stop kvetching because you don’t like the soup”. Titana translates Ndisa Zilile as isiXhosa for “I am still grieving”. Yeah – mull over the notion of Kvetch and Ndisa Zilile.

As a person who grew up with Yiddish speaking family members, my understanding is that kvetch is humorous and meant to rag people who are moaning. It is not a word used to address a serious situation – in this case – human beings – trapped underground. The three workers at Lily Mine died. Their bodies have not been recovered. Three people buried alive, cut off; no rescue. That is a horrific image which brings to mind, utter grief and disbelief. As to why Bongani Titana used ‘kvetch’ as part of the title of the play, here is the story. 

During the course of his research, he came across a quote by one of the mine bosses who apparently said that the mine workers were kvetching. I could not locate the source so I will leave out the name of the boss as I am unable to verify the quote. This is what Titana tells me: “The mine boss said- the mine workers are kvetching. We are hoping to ramp up production to 50 000 ounces of gold per annum in the next two years…” Titana adds: “I came with the word kvetch to use in the title, because I feel like the mine bosses think that they can take grievances of the people as just people who like to complain- about anything and everything. They don’t take them seriously. If they took them seriously they would have come up the solutions by now.”

Titana was flummoxed at the notion of a mine boss, blithely talking about increasing production of gold, meanwhile the bodies had not been exhumed and compensation had not been made to the families of the victims and to those workers who lost their jobs, in the wake of the tragedy at the mine. That is how the evocative title Kvetch/Ndisa Zilile was constructed. It conjures up the disregard for human life –fobbing people off as kvetching and juxtaposing that with grief and mourning. Titana said he was mindful of creating a title which would garner attention and spark interest in the play. It has got my attention- kvetch and grief.

Titana turned his gaze on Lily Mine, because of personal reasons: “What actually made me interested i in making this piece was that, one it’s a painful story and no one is actually telling it everyone is so focused on doing Marikana or Mendi etc. So. for me this story speaks to me because my grandfather was a mine worker and I have my uncles who are mine workers and I know a lot of people who are mine workers so it’s a story I felt it needed to be heard.”

Kvetch/Ndisa Zilileproduction credits

Company: Ubizo Theatre

Director: Bongani Titana

Performers: Simamkele Hlaleleni, Zikhona Jacobs and Sithandiwe Hona

The Masque

Address: 37 Main Road, 7945 Cape Town


Twitter: @MasqueTheatreSa

Instagram: @masquetheatresa

*Note: Covid-19 safety regulations as per Level 1 lockdown – social distancing, masks, sanitiser etc. No mask; no entry.