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A LIGHT IN THE NIGHT OF PRESIDENT KHAYA AFRIKHA (article first published : 2000-10-10)

The best way to get a message across is through fun, humour and a little bit of satire. This has been director/playwright Nicholas Ellenbogen’s style of theatre long before he founded Theatre for Africa, a company which has produced such fine wildlife conservation productions as Kwamanzi and Horn of Sorrows. A former head of drama for Napac (now the Playhouse Company), he came to Durban to form the long-since disbanded Loft Company. He is equally well-known for his series of nonsensical spoofs complete with hundreds of props on the Raiders of the Lost Aardvark theme which play to packed audiences whenever they appear at the Standard Bank National Arts festivals in Grahamstown.

The result of a unique joint initiative between Theatre for Africa and the community outreach programme of regional development NGO Africa Resources Trust and some 20 other internationally recognised NGOs, ReportBack Africa is a theatre company to be reckoned with. Appearing under the patronage of Ms Graca Machel, it consists of 17 award-winning actors from seven countries representing some of the finest young talent Southern Africa has to offer.

The cast, directed by Nicholas Ellenbogen, is currently presenting a show with the awesome title of A Light in the Night of President Khaya Afrikha which explores the serious issues of resource conservation facing African leadership today. The show had its premiere last night in the University of Natal’s delightful and much under-used Pieter Scholtz Open Air Theatre, before heading off today on a tour of Southern Africa to give performances in Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe and back to South Africa.

It’s a highly entertaining and humorous show, featuring song, dance, a hint of legend and loads of imagination in true Ellenbogen style. Under the calm musical leadership of fine guitarist Nick Turner, several of the cast provide the vocals and backing.

The project has taken 15 months to come to fruition as teams have been involved in fieldwork, interacting with various communities and developing an understanding of their perception of natural resources. The aim of the show is to “demonstrate the progress made when African solutions are found for African problems”.

Briefly, the story deals with one President Khaya Afrikha who is struggling to get some sleep the night before he flies to Brussels for an important conference. First of all, there’s a Renaissance Ball in full swing downstairs and, secondly, he is troubled by dreams which his trusty batman is adamant contains a message which he must heed.

Added to the president’s troubles are an uppity bunch of ministers which include a minister of defence who - by chance? - resembles Winnie Madikizela-Mandela; a minister of justice spouting unintelligible Latin; a minister of trade and commerce with glitzy sequin gear, and the chairperson of the traditional council clad in bright orange caftan. They all have their own agenda, everything is a crisis and they need immediate access to the President.

Who keeps getting thrust to the end of the queue? The Minister of Environment, of course. But all is not lost. He is the one who will eventually save the day because all things are have their base in the environment. This enlightenment is only achieved by the leaders after a fairly lengthy “trial” scene (which could do with some tightening and pruning). Here a former friend of the president, now jailed for criminal activities, accuses Khaya Afrikha of not upholding his promise to put fish back into the waters, allowing game to roam the land and returning the forests to their former splendour.

If you can catch this production, take time off for an enjoyable couple of hours of clever imagery, inventive imagination and a display of youthful talent committed to furthering the serious message of saving the world’s natural resources.

More information on the tour can be found at http://www.khayaafrikha.com or contact Africa Resources Trust, PO Box 13141, Mowbray 7705 Cape Town, South Africa. Phone (021) 447-1338, fax (021) 447-0986 or e-mail: artcop@mweb.co.za




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