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MALUJU ZULU! (article first published : 2004-10-26)

After several earlier seasons of his musical theatre piece, Maluju Zulu , Durban playwright and director Bonginkosi Shangase has finally got the ingredients right and his new version appeared in the opening slot of the Playhouse Company’s New Stages season. New Stages highlights theatrical expressions of the New South Africa and will be followed by Talking Spirits and African Queen this weekend.

The production was in isiZulu and so I had problems following aspects of the story and dialogue, obviously missing the humour which generated gales of laughter from the audience. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the work and welcomed its more focused and better staged presentation. It rightfully justifies its selection as the best production at this year’s Market Theatre Laboratory’s Zwakala festival in Gauteng.

Maluju Zulu tells a tale of love and war as clans go to battle over boundaries drawn by colonialism. It’s a kind of Romeo and Juliet scenario as the young lovers come from different clans. The girl’s admirer (from her own clan) kills her boyfriend in a jealous rage which generates the inevitable reprisals. Eventually it takes the wisdom of an elder to decide that violence is destroying the Zulu nation.

Sadly, faction fighting is still very prevalent in the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal and Bonginkosi was exposed to tribal warfare as a young boy growing up in these areas. The main movitation behind writing Maluju Zulu (“Maluju” meaning “it is enough”) was to focus on the futility of violence and its repercussions.

The energy of the disciplined cast was undeniable and scenes followed one another efficiently. I was particularly impressed by the performances of Paulette Khwela as the young girl (also the old woman); Mduduzi Ndunakazi as the jealous boyfriend and Khulekani Kunene as a proud and unswerving clan leader, not to mention Cyril Meyiwa who has considerable dancing and comedic ability. The dancing was excellent with some memorable gymastics!

Good use is made of the stage, particularly a departure from the normal Zulu dance format in the final moments. The technology of the Drama Theatre allowed for highly effective lighting and sound and the scenes on the periphery of the battle were very dramatic, accompanied by chilling ululation.

In his programme notes, Bonginkosi Shangase also states: “I wanted to send a message to all Africans that we need to learn the art of dialogue instead of taking up arms and slaughtering each other.”

This sense of compassion and community spirit speaks out strongly in his production and I believe that we have an exciting director in the making. I look forward to seeing more work from Bonginkosi Shangase in the future. – Caroline Smart.




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