“Marikana: The Musical.”

Book and Director: Aubrey W. Sekhabi
Composer and Musical Director: Mpho Mckenzi Matome
Choreographer: Thabo Rapoo
Set, Lighting and Video Designer: Wilhelm Disbergen
Costume Coordinator and Senior Stage Manager: Irene Moheedi Mathe
Sound Engineer: Richard Mitchell
Assistant Sound Engineer: Zwelibanzi Jan
Assistant Director: Tshepo Ratona
Featuring: Meshack Mavuso, Aubrey Poo, Mpho Mackenzie Matome, Segomotso Simon Modise, Simphiwe Shakhane, Simphiwe Emma Mmekwa, Mathapelo Masilela, Siyasanga Catherine Papu, Terrence Ignacious Ngwila, Jabulani Wiseman Mthembu, Njabulo Ntaka, Nkululeko Khutshwa, Vuyo Sishuba, Sbongiseni Mnguni, Thabiso Zondi, Saviour Mthethwa, Sibonelo Mdlalose (leading cast), Kgaugelo James Sithole, Steven Mokone, Phelokazi Maphitshi, Given Wiseman Maziya, Mohlalefi Ernest Mokete, Pholoso Mohlala, Mpho Maifadi, Masego Peele, Georgina Nwa-manabele Mabasa, Refuwe Mofokeng, Mpho Sewela, Kabelo Moshidi, Veli Mavuso, Remember Maluleka, Bongani Mthombeni, Sfiso Matlala, Tinyiko Mkhabela, Sydney Gwadiso (chorus and dancers)
Executive Producer: Aubrey Sekhabi
Stage Manager: Joseph Mogale
Assistant Stage Manager: Bafana Dladla
Follow Spot Operators: Evelyn Mpheteng, Athini Ncayo
Band: Oupa Makhubela (Guitarist), Zakhele Mabena (Pianist), Kelvin James (Bass Guitarist), Yisrael Mutale Mashabela (Keyboard), Itumeleng Mmutlana (Drummer)
11 August 2017, 20:00
South African State Theatre, Pretoria

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Well executed, necessary, but not avoiding the pitfalls of supposedly “documentary” theatre

The tragic events at Marikana on this day in 2012 is undoubtedly one of the most important events in the history of South Africa. It was a shocking concretization of the failures of, not only the management of Lonmin Platinum, but also the mineworkers’ unions, the South African police force, and a government who has not delivered on a promise of a better life for all. And yet, behind the newspaper reports, political analysis, and outrage, there were real people who had lost their lives.

Therefore, when I first read the title, “Marikana: The Musical,” it seemed to be an oxymoron. I expected a dark musical that commented on the viral mediation of the unfortunate events with detached cynicism. I was a little disappointed to read in the director’s note that the musical aimed to be, just like the book that it is based on, a “blow-by-blow account” of the events at Marikana. Sekhabi states that he aimed to remain faithful the book, We Are Going To Kill Each Other Today: The Marikana Story (2013), which he describes as “a ‘warts and all’ account of who did what that told the facts without taking sides.”

The musical therefore aims to be an unbiased documentary account of what happened. I have written elsewhere about historical fiction (particularly within the genre of musical theatre) that aims to present itself as objective truth. Such a venture is impossible – a point to which I shall return.

That being said, “Marikana: The Musical” is an engaging theatre experience and I think that it is important for South Africans to be reminded of the event in question and to honour those who lost their lives. The historical events lend themselves effortlessly to the genre, since song was integrally part of the strike, as Sekhabi mentions in his programme note. The choreography aptly represented scenes of the police marching, the mine workers striking, and the conflict between these two groups. The accessibility of the genre is also appropriate, since this is a story that needs to be told widely.

Furthermore, the set was functional and effective. As the show starts, the performers are lifted from the stage floor on a platform. As the show ends, the players on the platform are again lowered into the stage floor. This quite effectively resembles miners being raised from and lowered into a mineshaft, working underground where their fate is easily forgotten, not only by the managing structures of the mine, but also the consumers of the precious metals and minerals that the miners unearth. The stage is quite empty apart from a mineshaft and the now infamous koppie where the striking mineworkers gathered. A wire structure doubled to both represent the koppie and be an “orchestra pit” for the band. The band is visible onstage, but at the same time safely secluded from the events.

There are also actors that need to be singled out for their performances. Aubrey Poo’s representation of Commander Nyoka was compelling. He effortlessly attracts attention to himself and elicited quite a reaction from the audience on the nigt that I attended, although this might be due to his roles in the soapies Muvhango and Scandal! I found Phelokazi Maphitshi’s portrayal as a police officer haunting. Her role may have been modest, but her face conveyed a complex mix of emotions, where fear and uncertainty is masked through discipline. It is as if her character knew from the start what the outcome would be, but had little choice in how the events were handled.

Unfortunately, the transitions from music to dialogue were not always smooth, and the production tended to be too sentimental at times, which brings me to my issue with fiction that tries to sell itself as objective truth. Whereas “Marikana: The Musical” indeed does not take sides as far as the miners and police are concerned and shows the humanity of both groups, these are not the only role players in the events. The journalists covering the events as well as Ziyaad, the panga salesman, were represented as stereotypical caricatures, far removed from the reality of the events. Lonmin’s management is depicted as undeniably evil and Riah Phiyega as a caricature. While I am in no way suggesting that Lonmin’s management or Riah Phiyega are innocent victims in the Marikana story, their cartoonish representation, where the lines between good and evil are easily drawn, undermines any attempt of the production to be an objective account that does not take sides.

In my discussion of Deon Opperman’s “Tree Aan!,” I sharply criticize the production for presenting a suspect ideological viewpoint (that justifies the border war) as fact. While I cannot disagree with where “Marikana: The Musical” lays the blame for the massacre, the fact that it is blind to its own fictionality leaves me slightly uncomfortable.

Sources:

Dlangamandla, Felix; Jika, Thanduxolo; Ledwaba, Lucas; Mosamo, Sebabatso; Saba, Athandiwe; & Sadiki, Leon. 2013. We Will Kill Each Other Today: The Marikana Story. Tafelberg: Cape Town.

Sekhabi, Aubrey. 2017. “Writer’s and Director’s Note.” Marikana: The Musical. Programme, p. 4.

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