SNCAC DISPELS THEATRE GROUPS’ SABOTAGE CLAIMS
MBABANE – The Swaziland National Council of Arts and Culture has refuted claims that it sabotaged the Association of Swaziland Theatre Groups.
Albany Mdlovu who was the acting president before they stepped down claimed that the Council never supported them in any way ever since they took office in 2011 until their last day in office.
“We were never even oriented by the Council yet we even recommended Thokoza as a venue for the orientation and furthermore we never got any funding in any way yet we incurred costs on our daily office duties including meetings,” said Mdlovu.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Council of Arts and Culture Stanley Dlamini said they tried four times to engage the association but they never showed up and as a Council they never fund associations but let them propose projects they assist in if possible.
“All orientations are done in the boardroom as we try to eliminate financial implications. It was impractical for them to propose a venue which needed funding when they couldn’t afford the necessary funds,” said Dlamini.
Mdlovu also claimed that three months in office they were also forced by the CEO of Arts and Culture to vote out the then President which they did.
“The CEO told us to get rid of Maswati Dludlu who was the President of the association which we felt was for a personal reason but we did,” said Mdlovu. He further said as an association they were invited together with an artist to a festival in South Africa and the CEO told them to organise transport and he would assist them financially but he never did until they decided to officially step down.
“It is true that I recommended that Maswati Dludlu be removed as that was against the constitution of Arts and Culture since he was president of two associations. On the issue of the SA trip I told them to forward the invitations which they never did because we wanted to base the funding on those invitations,” said Dlamini.
Dlamini further said as a Council they consider formal proposals which are in writing not verbal.
Although internationally recognised for the annual MTN Bushfire festival, Swaziland’s national arts and cultural sector remains largely underdeveloped, and under attack by the local government. Despite various efforts to reinforce the sector, Swaziland does not have a legal, regulatory cultural policy framework to support the development of the arts, or support artists rights. In 2016, the national police were deployed to stop an Arterial Network Swaziland arts advocacy workshop held in Mbabane. In spite of these setbacks, Arterial Network Swaziland’s membership has continued to grow and its leadership has remained steadfast on their mission to address the multifaceted challenges in Swaziland for a conducive environment for the arts to thrive. This month, we spoke to Sivumelwano Nyembe (Chairperson of Arterial Network Swaziland) for an update on Arterial Network Swaziland’s latest projects.
Please tell us a bit more about yourself. How did you come to work in the arts and cultural sector?
I started acting in school and took this interest all the way to college level where I produced three plays. I even played at the national theatre. I founded and ran the Poetry and Drama Society at college, and was one of the founders of the Siphila Nje Drama Society, which is the oldest drama group in Swaziland. I continue to work in the arts sector as an author and actor.
As the Chairperson of Arterial Network Swaziland, what would you like to achieve during your mandate?
I would love to have drama introduced nationally at high school level. I believe that to build a theatre visiting public, we must start by conditioning the youth to visit the theatre. For that reason, I have started a project to get young people to develop a school drama production that will be shown at the Swaziland Theatre Club in Mbabane. The project entails training the students as actors and training the teachers in theatre craft.
In the past, advocacy workshops in Swaziland have been interrupted by the authorities. How would you describe the present attitude of Swaziland’s authorities towards artists rights and freedom of creative expression? Has there been any improvement?
The situation has not changed, but we have been able to continue advocating for more tolerance. One positive development that I can touch on is the legislative and policy changes within the broadcasting sector. We expect to receive authorisation to start community radio programmes. These programmes would increase access to art and cultural products, broadcast straight to people’s homes or workplaces. Currently there are only two radio stations in Swaziland: a government station and a Christian one. The government station is commonly known to limit diversity of radio content.
Over the course of 2016, Arterial Network Swaziland hosted various training workshops relating to arts advocacy, cultural management and organisational health (SHIRIKA). What common weaknesses were identified and how do you think that the training helped participants? Are there plans for future iterations?
Training is essential in any industry. In Swaziland, it is critical since those in the arts and cultural sector lack certain basic skills because art is not part of the school curriculum and there are limited post-high school arts and culture training facilities. One of the training programmes that members took part in last year helped to inform participants about arts advocacy. In Swaziland, the state has a different view regarding arts and culture, so there is a need for greater inclusion and diversity across the broad definition of arts and culture. Due to the training, a conversation on the definition of arts and culture has commenced. What I mean to say is that, currently the state views arts and culture as only relating to national traditional ceremonies, extending only to traditional songs and dance.
The cultural management training workshop gave members the capacity to manage their group projects, and the organisational health training workshop (SHIRIKA) showed them how to make the necessary adjustments within an organisational structure to improve their health and sustainability. Although we anticipated this, the training workshops confirmed that most cultural organisations are poorly managed and have various organisational health issues.
As a trainer, where should Arterial Network be investing in skills development in the cultural and creative industries sectors?
In my opinion, Swaziland lacks the craft of art and culture to be able to come out with quality products so my priority is to increase capacity and access to knowledge. We definitely need to continue with the various Arterial Network training workshops as we were not able to include all of our members in the first round.
File size is too large to upload to WordPress so link to thesis document is provided above
Theatre Club should be strictly for arts’
MBABANE – The Secretary General of the Association of Swazi Theatre Groups (ASTG) Bonsile Mamba wants the Swaziland Theatre Club to be used strictly for arts.
This comes after the only venue suitable for arts in Mbabane was closed on Wednesday which affected the Rooted Soulz poetry group session from taking place as initially planned. She said she would love the venue to be used strictly for the arts, it was initially created for.
“It is very disappointing to us as the arts industry considering that this is the only place in Mbabane adequate enough. We are however yet to meet with the relevant executives to discuss how we can work together with the club’s directors,” said Mamba.
ASTG was in the process of working out all the logistics required to host monthly events with the Rooted Soulz to improve the arts and open doors for as many local acts as possible.
Who owns the Theatre Club?- Larry
MBABANE – Pelepele’s Larry Mhlanga wants to know the owner of the Theatre Club.
Mhlanga said all they knew was that there was a committee responsible for all the decisions regarding the club but wished to know who the sole owner of the place was and what their mission or vision for the place was.
“We normally rehearse there but have not had a chance to do that for a couple of days now and that is very disappointing. We trust the Swaziland National Council of Arts and Culture will intervene in this situation as they had also helped us secure the venue for rehearsals,” said Mhlanga.
Molly’s Restaurant together with the Rooted Soulz team helped bring a crowd to the venue and has taught people above the culture of theatre and the arts industry in general. Over the years we have seen the Rooted Soulz grow and have been one of the key players in the poetry industry which has created a good relationship with South African, French and Ugandian artists among others. In a brief interview with the Chief Executive Officer of the Swaziland National Arts and Culture Stanley Dlamini he said as an association they were in the process of engaging all relevant associations.
He said they were still trying to understand the reasons behind the club’s closure. “We will meet with the Association of Swazi Theatre Groups to discuss a way forward. We feel that it was very disappointing for people to be turned back on the very last minute on Friday and are also very aware that this is the only place in Mbabane that the arts industry can use,” said Dlamini. The last time they tried to engage the Mbabane Theatre Club, they were told there is membership which then votes for the head of the committee who controls all the decisions made for the venue. He also mentioned that this situation called for immediate intervention which they were working on.
Noma Dumezweni is an English actress. In 2006, she won an Olivier Award for her role in A Raisin in the Sun. She stars as Hermione Granger in the original West End and Broadway runs of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which garnered her second Olivier Award.
Born in Swaziland, of South African parents, Dumezweni lived in Botswana, Kenya and Uganda. She arrived in England as a refugee on 17 May 1977 with her sister and mother. She first lived in Felixstowe, Suffolk, where she was educated before moving to London.
Dumezweni’s work in theatre includes: President of an Empty Room and The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other at the National Theatre, London; Breakfast with Mugabe, Antony and Cleopatra and Much Ado About Nothing for the RSC; A Raisin in the Sun for the Young Vic at the Lyric Hammersmith, London (for which she won her Laurence Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role); A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Master and Margarita, Nathan the Wise and The Coffee House at Chichester Festival Theatre, Six Characters in Search of an Author in the Chichester Festival production at the Gielgud Theatreand The Bogus Woman at the Traverse and the Bush. In spring of 2009 she appeared in the RSC’s The Winter’s Tale. In 2013-2014 she appeared in A Human Being Died That Night at the Fugard Theater in Cape Town, the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, which later transferred to the Hampstead Theatre in London.
She starred in Linda at London’s Royal Court Theatre in November 2015, stepping into the role vacated by Kim Cattrall with a few days notice before press night. Awarding the production five stars, the Daily Telegraph’s Chief Theatre Critic Dominic Cavendish wrote “If they can bottle and mass-produce whatever it is that Noma Dumezweni has got then, please, I want to order a life-time’s supply.”
In December 2015 it was announced that Dumezweni had been cast as Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. On the announcement, theatre critic Kate Maltby described her as “an actress who consistently engages and enthrals.” The casting of the black Dumezweni as Hermione sparked fervent discussion, to which J.K. Rowling responded that Hermione’s skin was never specified as white. Dumezweni is set to reprise her role on Broadway at the Lyric Theatre in 2018.
‘I Am a Refugee Child.’ Watch Harry Potter Play’s Hermione Granger Give a Powerful Speech
Noma Dumezweni who won Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of Harry Potter’s bookish best friend, Hermione Granger, delivered a powerful speech about her life as a refugee child.
“I arrived in this country as a refugee child with my sister and my mother,” she said. “I suppose what I’m trying to say — this is my little political bit, if you don’t mind — I am a refugee child.”
The actress, who the Guardian reports has South African parents and was born in Swaziland, joins the rank of performers using their platforms at awards ceremonies to touch on political issues.
Dumezweni’s casting had attracted hostility from some fans who complained that the character, played by Emma Watson in the films, was white. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling took to Twitter to announce her support of the casting choice.
In commemoration of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, Members of the public got a chance to see The-Four-Musk-Art-eers in action at the Theatre Club on December 9, where they joined the U.S. Embassy and Kwaka Indvodza, the male mentoring project, in a commemoration of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence. The four artists – Sandziso ‘Sands’ Matsebula (singer), Honest Mhlanga (fine arts), Fundzisile Dlamini Zubani fashion designer, and Phila Dlamini (public speaker) and Nontobeko Dlamini ‘Beko the story teller’ all showed their solidarity in the fight against gender violence by collaborating in using various artistic media to raise awareness and generate a dialogue about gender-based violence with unforgettable performances.
– Like many actors in impoverished countries in Southern Africa, where few people are able to buy theatre tickets to support the performing arts, jobs and theatrical experience are coming from commissions from Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and government ministries for plays with educational and social messages.
We are supported by plays with educational themes, but just as importantly this is a way to bring theatre to rural communities who have never seen a production, says Simneke Magagula, director of a Swaziland theatrical troupe Sibahle Nje.
Loosely translated as ‘We are truly beautiful,’ Sibahle Nje is a small troupe of five actors and five actresses who compensate with high energy and extraordinary mimicking abilities for a lack of sets and props, and often a lack of a stage.
Another Swazi troupe of aspiring and accomplished thespians is the People ‘s Education Theatre (PET), whose director, Andreas Mavuso, keeps his group performing through commissions from health and social welfare organisations.
A typical play by Sibahle Nje is held under the trees in open air, with the only incidents that could postpone a performance being rain or hailstorms. ‘We have performed under all sorts of conditions, even at night with a campfire for our stage lighting,’ says Cynthia Dube, an actress in her twenties who specialised in stooped and aged granny characters four decades older than her.
Currently, the group is performing at various venues around the country two productions, a story about HIV transmission and one about child abuse. Both themes are serious, and they pick up where traditional educational booklets and lectures have largely failed among audiences by providing information that will be remembered and hopefully used.
The HIV play is a rollicking comedy about an unfaithful husband and his inebriated friend, both whom are put in their place by strong-willed women. Even grade school children respond to the antics, and come away with an understanding about how a sexually transmitted disease is passed on when adults are irresponsible.
‘Mr. Snake’, a new play that debuted at the weekend before an audience of social welfare workers, was commissioned by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The script is based on a story by UNICEF s representative in Swaziland, Alan Brody.
Evolving from discussions with church groups and child welfare workers, the story was first published in booklet form to instruct children about child abuse. But a theatrical version was sought to bring the message to more people, many of whom are illiterate adults or children who because of poverty are erratic school goers and are not proficient readers. But the children are potential victims of child abuse, a problem that is growing in the country.
The Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) reports that cases of child abuse and incest its counsellors have handled this year have increased by 50 percent from a year ago.
‘Child abuse is such a sensitive subject, that we sought to use animals to tell the tale, and we found this makes a controversial subject like sex acceptable to conservative adults as well,’ says Brody.
Actor Skumbusa Matsebula, who plays the lead role of a snake that seduces the nubile daughter of the Rock Rabbit family, says, ‘The allegorical approach also allows us actors to create broad comic roles. This is fun for us, and the audiences respond well, especially the children, who are the primary audience for the message.’
Smooth talking Mr. Snake, who slithers in from the city, gets Mr. Rock Rabbit drunk, and convinces the daughter to go away with him. He is thwarted when the girl shows common sense, and resists his advances at the play’s climax.
The group’s AIDS message play is performed for such health-oriented NGOs as the Alliance of Mayors’ Initiative for Community Action Against AIDS on the Local Level (AMICAALL), which has brought the actors to audiences in all of Swaziland’s large and mid-size towns. A new government organisation, the National Emergency Response Committee on HIV and AIDS (NERCA) is another of the group’s patrons. So are the health and social welfare ministry and the ministry of education, which calls upon Sibahle Nje to inform while entertaining audiences of schoolchildren who have never seen professional actors.
The People’s Educational Theatre is employed by ‘Women in Law for Southern Africa’s Swaziland branch to perform a topical comedy on the subject of women’s rights.
‘The subject of gender rights is controversial in a traditional paternalistic society,’ says PET’s artistic director Mavusa. ‘People respond well to the comedy, and this makes the message more palatable. The audience members see themselves in the characters on stage.’
Often, there is no stage, and only on the rarest of occasions are performers given microphones to pick up their voices. The actors have a challenge to be heard when performing in wind-swept open areas. They manage through the old-fashioned method: by projecting their voices.
‘It is like we’re actors at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre 500 years ago, but instead of shouting over the drunken groundlings in the cheap seats we have to compete with the chattering school kids,’ says Sibahle Nje actor Skumbusa Matsebula.
Vusi Gamedze, who plays wily Mr. Goat in the child abuse play, is a natural actor whose background is typical of the thespians in the country. ‘I’ve only been acting with the group for a year. I was making refrigerators at a factory for five years until it closed down. I tried out at an audition, and it came easily to me.’
Alie Yende, who at 22 is Sibahle Nje’s youngest actor, says, ‘There is no theatre in Swaziland because people are too poor buy enough tickets to keep a production company going on a regular basis. But plays are good ways to communicate messages to people. That is why we use ourselves to educate the people.’
All plays from Aristophanes onward are educational in what they say about human nature. But African NGOs are using plays to emphasise specific messages, and in so doing are exposing thousands of people to live theatre and giving talented actors a way to practice their craft.
|© UNICEF Swaziland/2007/Skorochod|
|Bongiwe, pictured left and two peers in the theatre club, hold their trophy for second position in a recent regional drama competition|
Langeni, December 2007 — Well spoken with a broad smile, Bongiwe is a natural actress. Even when her stage is a big dusty field at the side of the road, she shines. Her gestures are big and bold, and the 20 or so community grandparents nestled under the trees follow her every move.
At 17, Bongiwe is the second oldest member of the eLangeni Youth Drama Group. The other 15 members range in age from seven to 18 years. The day’s performance was one of their best, portraying how physical abuse of children impacts families and communities.
“I feel fortunate to be in the club,” says Bongiwe. “School is almost finished and there isn’t much hope for a job here. But I could be doing nothing. Instead I’m having fun and helping my community.”
An expert at creating other worlds for her audiences, Bongiwe has no illusions for herself about finding work. She knows that her chances of gaining employment, even with a high school diploma, are slim. Nearly 40% unemployment and 69% of the population living below the poverty line makes young people like Bongiwe vulnerable – to HIV infection, unwanted pregnancy, and a host of other ills that plague the rural poor, especially women, in Swaziland.
But drama clubs like those in eLangeni keep youth busy, out of trouble, and help teach them something along the way.
Recognizing the potential of drama, UNICEF teamed up with Swaziland Theatre for Children and Young People (SWATCYP) in 2006 to promote theatre as a tool to educate and entertain children and youth. A nationwide drama festival followed and clubs such as the one in eLangeni were formed across Swaziland. A similar programme was held in 2007 to reach out to even more children.
The drama clubs don’t shy away from the tough issues. ELangeni Drama Club performances address child abuse, HIV, drug addiction and child trafficking – issues that Swazi children face each day.
“More than 12,000 children have been reached through theatre programmes,” says SWATCYP Secretary General Maswati Dludlu. “These children teach one another and teach the communities at the same time. The children bring their own ideas and experiences to the performance so it makes the messages they send more meaningful.”
eLangeni Drama Club performs within its own community and, when the club can raise the funds for bus fare, also performs in other parts of the country. Despite being together for only one year, the Club has proved itself, earning second position in a regional drama competition in mid 2007.
“I know we’re making a difference in our community,” says Bongiwe. “We bring up issues that many people just don’t want to talk about. The club is so good for our people, and so good for me. I hope it continues.”