root - April 11, 2023

Zwelitsha informal settlement resident wins top awards at the Zabalaza Theatre Festival.

His play based on little-known anti-apartheid activist will be developed and hopefully tour the country’s stages.

Peter Luhanga 

A play about a little-known anti-apartheid activist has catapulted a Dunoon playwright from his informal settlement shack to the bright lights of the Baxter Theatre, with Joburg theatres beckoning.

Tiros Toughloop Testimony, a play written by Ayanda ka Nobakabona about struggle activist Onkgopotse Tiro, was the big winner at this year’s 13th Zabalaza Theatre Festival at the Baxter Theatre Centre, scooping three top awards.

The festival, held from 24 to 31 March, boasted 37 productions and 189 participants, but it was ka Nobakabona’s one-man play which which bagged the awards for Best Script, Best Actor, and the Finest of the Festival award which it shared with Oorwinnings Reis and Lamentations.

Ka Nobakabona, the festival’s best actor and script writer for 2023, lives in a two-room shack in Dunoon’s Zwelitsha informal settlement. It was in the midst of overcrowding, poverty, and a lack of basic municipal services where ka Nobakabona wrote his award-winning script.

“I wrote the script after intense research. I read a lot,” said ka Nobakabona, adding that it is the first of more plays to come from his research over the last four years. 

He says the play is based on a seminal speech Onkgopotse Tiro delivered at the University of the North in 1972 before later being killed while in exile in Botswana.

“The play zooms into his life, from a young age growing up (to) student politics and eventually his sudden death,” said ka Nobakabona, “I wrote a script about him because I feel our history is suppressed in a manner which we don’t take seriously.”

He says his play revives history that has been “hidden or suppressed deliberately” and he is using theatre to bring that history back to life.

“We’re giving our history life by telling our stories again and again in a different unique way.”

Once he completed the script he applied to take part in the 13th Zabalaza Theatre Festival, as he “felt Zabalaza is the right place to showcase my work”.

The play deservedly received a standing ovation, and thereafter came the awards, giving him the impetus to take the play further.

“Will work on it more. We’re taking it to all festivals that exist out there. We hope, if we get funds, to take it to Joburg because Joburgers will relate to the story because the story is based in the former Transvaal.”

For ka Nobakabona, art is life and the stage is where “we get a chance to portray the beauty of life”.

“Art is education. In as much as art entertains, the main objective is to educate. Yes, you have people who do art just for entertainment, for commercial purposes, but years later down the line that art is dead. But when you shift into education you get a chance to impact on someone’s life in a positive way.”

While ka Nobakabona also performed in his own play, Tiros Toughloop Testimony was directed by Mfundo Zono, who has 17 years experience in the performing arts.  

Zono says he found ka Nobakabona’s script “thought provoking”, with “writing that challenges the way we think of education.”

“We all know about Biko and others but we never heard of Tiro.” 

Tiros Toughloop Testimony is currently 55 minutes long, but ka Nobakabona says he will redevelop the script to full length, adding on about another 20 minutes. 

With support from the Baxter Theatre, the full length version will undergo rehearsals and be performed, along with the other two Finest of the Festival award winners, at the Baxter Theatre toward the end of the year. 

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