Reflections: Poignant day at Malibongwe Women in Theatre and Performance Festival 2022- Volume 2, March 5, 2022
Yesterday, Saturday, March 5, 2022, I was privileged to attend the Malibongwe Women in Theatre and Performance Festival Volume 2. After rousing words by Mandla Mbothwe (festival director), Qondiswa James and Lwando Scott (host), we were presented with three powerful performances, on stage at Magnet Theatre, Observatory. Lee Ann van Rooi and Indalo Stofile were up first with their pieces. They were two of the featured artists at the festival. Then the audience, was invited to walk to the nearby Observatory Square (a five minute walk from Magnet) to experience Cracking the Spine, the work of the 3rd featured artist at the festival -Qondiswa James. After Cracking the Spine, we went back into the theatre for an elegiac and haunting piece by Babalwa Zimbini Makwetu.
This year, the productions drew inspiration from the lives and journeys of Saartjie Baartman, Winnie Mandela and Miriam Makeba. The festival has become a movement – rather than simply an event. Yesterday’s festival was testament to how theatre and art intersects with life. Actually, I think that “intersects” hardly touches on the core hub of this festival – to engage and grapple with our landscape – the past and present. Qondiswa James led us out of the bubble of the theatre space into Observatory Square, where she unfurled her public intervention, Cracking the Spine, looking “at the effects of urban gentrification in Cape Town and its traumatic dislocating of poor communities, dumping them in less resourced areas” and “issues of lack of shelter and social housing” and she posed “pivotal questions about ‘so-called homelessness’.” Yeah, so there was James, a firebrand activist in the square. Dotted around the square were the ‘so-called homelessness’ in makeshift tents. The spine of Cape Town has become increasingly ruptured during the pandemic and lockdown. We were watching and listening to James. In the background, an altercation broke out in one of the tents. It appears that was a dispute between dwellers. I saw a guitar and I saw a bicycle. I heard voices and expletives. I was also listening to James. I did not want to move closer to the tent as I was aware that this was a private space; a home; albeit in a public space. We were watching a piece of performance art and what was occurring was not art. It appeared to be a dispute over property and habitat.
James wrapped up and we walked back to Magnet Theatre, to watch the piece by Babalwa Zimbini Makwetu, which starts as an ethereal dance and then ruptures as heads of cabbages are ripped apart on stage, shredded, ripped, torn. We had gone from James’ Cracking the Spine – poverty, ‘homelessness’, violation of human rights and dignity and Makwetu’s tableaux of figures stripped back and baring their private parts. Afterwards, I sat in my seat, mask on, holding my breath, mulling over the images in these two works– from public square to the privacy and intimacy of theatre. The context: Cape Town, 2022, year three of the global pandemic. As an audience, we were brought into the face of grinding poverty, with James, pulling us on and urging us to not look way. As it happens, life bled into the ruptures and deep fractures of the cracked spine that she was laying out for us.
Today, Sunday March 6 and I attended a function on a wine estate in a leafy Cape Town suburb. Everything was green and manicured- a total contrast to the dusty Observatory Square and its inhabitants. The well healed clientele – many tourists – are in a hermetic capsule which is in another world. I have no words. They say that there are parallel worlds in Cape Town. I would say that there is nothing parallel in what I saw yesterday in the square and today. I am grateful to the Malibongwe Women in Theatre and Performance Festival; the artists, Mud&FireParables (headed by Mandla Mbothwe), Theo Ndindwa of Ikapa Dance and other partners for the opportunity to be at this day of engagement and immersion. Theatre provides a safe space to talk, process, think, and reflect. I look forward to the 2023 festival and applaud all concerned for creating this platform and movement – a celebration of strengths and an essential medium for discourse and dialogue with the physical and emotional landscape that we inhabit.
❇ Image credits: © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen, March 5, 2022. Featured image: Cracking the Spine – public art intervention created and performed by Qondiswa James and directed by Thembela Madliki, Observatory Square, Cape Town, March 5, 2022. Related coverage on TheCapeRobyn: https://thecaperobyn.co.za/preview-malibongwe-women-in-theatre-and-performance-festival-vol-2/