Chuma Sopotela’s multimedia performance ‘Indlulamthi’ at the National Arts Festival proposes a healing of the ‘Settler Frontier’ through a sonicscape. This production was realized with Lulamil Nikani, the Palestinian actor Ahmad Tobasi and Makhanda-based children from Ntsika High School and several other children groups she invited.
‘Indlulamthi’ took place in the unconquered terrain outside the 1820 Settlers Monument. This location is clearly strategic as the audience is guided through the geospecifics of the town of Makhanda. As festival-goers, we are made aware of how we navigate and engage with the children that reside in the townships of Makhanda. During their performance, we are obliged to simply be attentive to their igwaragwara and vosho dance moves and up-tempo music popularly known as Gqom in various townships, even if some sound from their adorned headphones we cannot hear. This creates a loud silence, as audience we are left to wonder, what is within this sound or rhythmic tempo we are presented with?
Several other questions emerge: would Makhana municipality’s By-law on Spatial Planning and Land Use Management allow these township children to perform in this non-demarcated space outside the 1820 Settler’s monument? And, before the colonial settlers arrived and occupy the territory as portrayed in Mitford-Barberton’s sculpture, who occupied the land and how?
Sopotela is seen ushering the audience holding a stick in a white garment with her face painted in ifutha like umkhwetha, but also resembling the kids miming on the streets annually during the Festival. The collaborator Lulamile Nikani is adorned in a garment similar to the one worn by the woman in the sculpture The Settler Family by Ivan Mitford-Barberton. Importantly Nikani’s role becomes pivotal as we see he encourages the resounding intlombe, umgidi and riddle songs. ‘Indlulamthi’ animates the Settler’s Family sculpture by giving us a glimpse of the rhythmic sound the colonial settlers found echoing on the landscape upon their arrival.
In the first scene, Sopotela presented us with what could be termed imvumisa as derived from the causative form of the verb ukuvuma, which literally means ‘to agree, assent or consent’ to something, but with a spiritual connotation. Songs such as Ndibizeleni abazali bam, Ndibizelen’ unodoli wam and Hobe hayi hayi becomes an introductory sound that the audience is presented. One cannot stop to question, what does the songs denote and the significance pronounced? As the land we stand upon is drenched in the blood of the autochthons.
The performance proceeded with syncopated songs such as Nokuzola uzokugilwa sisithuthuthu juxtaposed with a song Bathethil’ abadala, zulawule, with a background voice of Nikani chanting and affirming the children singing, Obu bubuthina! At this stage a cacophony of eclectic sounds was created. The signifiers contained in all the lyrical content of songs highlights that we are given oral history lessons and the children are in charge.
We were also serenaded by two tenors from Ntsika High School who remind us about the rich choral history of Makhanda, singing Thina Singabokhombi bendlela and We belong here, Fountain of Life…This is my fountain yet, I am not one of them. ‘Indlulamthi’ as much as it celebrates and highlights the gifts of the children of Makhanda it can be characterized as what Jing Yang (2015) calls a focus “on dealing with social and political issues, these practices depend on, and value, the collaborative participation of people in communities”.
‘Indlulamthi’ also touched on Palestine/Israel geopolitics of representations using the facade wall of Fort Selwyn as a stand-in for the wall between Palestine and Israel. Ahmad Tobasi lead a discussion about our complicity to injustices we experience daily locally and abroad.
The performance continued with a video telling stories of social ills such as violence and rape perpetuated on children and advocating for peace. In closure ‘Indlulamthi’ ends with a choral note, Intonga yam ngumsimelelo wam, iyandithuthuzela. Once the songs stop what happens to the children of Makhanda and who takes over from Chuma Sopotela and guides them of what they have revealed to know of the oral histories embedded within the townships of Makhanda?
All Photographs courtesy of Borut Bučo Bučinel