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  • Writer's pictureBulelwa Mthombothi

KWAITO IN SLAGHUIS by Paul Noko and Hannah van Tonder

Review by Bulelwa Mthombothi

Kwaito in Slaghuis, a theatre play written by Paul Noko and directed by

Hannah van Tonder was staged at the Diepkloof Multi-Purpose Hall from the

14 th to the 16 th of May. A fully immersive experience, from the onset as the

audience sees five young women dressed to kill in their spotis and All Stars,

humming a consistent tune, accompanied by light pantsula footwork creating

a stomping sound as their All Stars strike the rubber floor – which one could

say was chosen specifically to be utilised as a sort of drum accompanying

the humming.

As the women start speaking they introduce themselves and by extension

Kwaito by giving short synopsis of its inception and the environment in

which it was birthed – Soweto, the township. They deliver this information in

the form of rhymes, as one would witness in cypher – beatboxing included of

course. Showcasing their individual talents while also highlighting the

resonance shared with hip hop culture. This of course ties into the title

Kwaito in Slaghuis.” Slaghuis for the non-Soweto natives was part of a

movement celebrating Hip-Hop culture and providing a platform for

emerging artists in Soweto, in the form of cyphers and performances. Hip-

Hop and Kwaito being likened to one other is a mistake that has stolen

Kwaito’s independence and political significance as a uniquely South African

sound emerging out of our post-apartheid reality.

Giving kwaito and the township the nuance they deserve, Noko utilises the passing of time as a tool by telling a coming of age story of our characters and by extension Kwaito, but in the broader sense the story revolves around

the trajectory of life in the township. As the girls move through their lives from crèche to high school. It interrogates the role of women and the value of their existence in the township how that intersects with the broader context of poverty and the crime resulting from the disparity of services and access to opportunities. We travel with them as they start dreaming and as they discover that in their reality dreams are often deferred or never realised

with lives almost always ending too soon. Showing that it is not only men

who suffer the injustices of oppression, that women do too while also having

to protect themselves [from men] and the system continuously excluding

them. That same poverty and lack of service delivery that leads men to

crime is the same as the one that leads to sex work and contributes to the

violence women experience at the hands of men. “To dream we had to be

the other gender” perfectly encapsulating that even imagination was

reserved for men. The overarching theme being the trajectory of township

life melding with the trajectory of kwaito, from birth to death. The ways in

which kwaito was born out of struggle – the need to “make it out” - and

became the township’s psyche, it is therefore used to symbolise women’s

lack of agency and representation in both spheres.

Performers; Nomfundo Khambule, Molatelo Tracey Maffa, Thembi

Ngwenya, Nhlakanipho Mkongi and Songezo Khumalo do an excellent job

of portraying the characters. Each character has her place on stage, no one

outdoes the other because they embody the essence of what group work

should look like; everyone playing their part and doing it exceptionally. We

got an idea of every character’s personality in every sense down to their

styling, the only uniformity being their shoes – the ever present All Stars.

The characters are also indicative of how multi-dimensional people are and

directly opposing the racist assumptions of a single township narrative. van

Tonder’s skills as a director shine through the performers. In their use of

space, their interaction with the audience, how coordinated the scene

changes were in terms of rearranging props, in their intonations, even in the

silence there was depth. Seamless is a word that comes to mind, immersive

is another as all elements of the stage were used, nothing was unnecessary.

The lighting was well done, and always on cue, we knew whether the scene

was meant to be dark or whether they were meant to be ‘outside.’

As short as it was (between 30-45 minutes) it was impactful, I left the theatre

feeling as though I witnessed something unforgettable and validating. In that

our stories are being told to us by us which gave it a sense of authenticity I

will always look for in the telling of our stories. Having this play staged in

Diepkloof and being set in Diepkloof felt like a full circle moment even more

so as the play ended tragically, because sometimes it be like that elokshin’.

Images by Tshepiso (Darkroom) Seleke

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