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EGOLI – CITY OF GOLD (article first published : 1999-08-14)

Last night, I saw a performance at the University of Durban-Westville’s Asoka Theatre that restored my faith in the belief that there are still good directors around and that the talent hovering in the wings of professional theatre is committed, exciting and highly disciplined.

A former director-in-residence at the UDW department of drama (1992-93), top South African playwright and director Matsemela Manaka lost his life in a car accident in July last year. Fortunately, his works still live on and drama department head Robin Singh has done an excellent job of directing a fine production of Manaka’s Egoli – City of Gold in his memory.

As John and Hamilton, Errol Sibiya and Charles Ntokozo Radebe put in strong, professional and mature performances as the two mineworkers living in a male worker’s compound hostel, establishing a good rapport as the two dissimilar characters. I had to keep reminding myself that they are both still students at UDW. Charles is doing his drama masters while Errol is an honours law student and has had very little drama training.

Matsemela Manaka’s writing requires of the cast many mood swings as well as a fair amount of physical movement. The scene in the mine when there is a cave-in is highly impressive and dramatic. As the temperamental and womanising John, Errol Sibiya handles his drunken scene particularly well when it could so easily have become grotesque. Charles Ntokozo Radebe as the quieter and more introverted Hamilton presents a character whose dark side is very close to the surface.

Watch out for this production in the future because it would be an artistic crime for it to end here. Hopefully, a longer season can be arranged somewhere and, if at all practical, the show should head for the various arts festivals around the country where it’s bound to be a crowd-pleaser.

The performance I attended was the culmination of successful appearances in Grahamstown and on home turf at the Asoka. While it was stimulating in terms of artistic gratification it was also an evening of much sadness as Egoli – City of Gold is liable to be the last production by the UDW drama department as it is presently constituted. The department is expected to be closed by the end of 1999, as will the departments of music and fine arts.

The drama department counts among its present lecturers Professor Dennis Schauffer, Dr Kriben Pillay, Suria Govender, Dr Satchu Annamalai, Selvan Pillay, Walter Jahava, Logan Shunmugam and, of course, Robin Singh himself. Past students who are making their mark in the arts and communications field are Pat Pillai, Saira Essa, Gita Pather, Omar Essack, Charles Pillay, Junaid Ahmed and Jay Pather as well as Lorraine Singh, Ajay Hurbans, Ketan Lakhani, Sisho Maphiso, Tanya Mudaly, Dante Mashile and Promise Maluleka

In an address before the show, Robin Singh paid tribute to his staff and reminded the audience that the department has produced some 150 shows between 1972 and 1999, with a highly productive period between 1972 and 1975 which saw packed audiences overflowing into the foyers. He cited the advent of television in the mid-70’s - and particularly soap operas such as Dallas - for the demise of theatre in South Africa.

As I watched Errol Sibiya and Charles Ntokozo Radebe putting in a first-class performance, I couldn’t help feeling that there was something wrong with an educational system that could stunt their creative potential and chances of professional success as well as the growth of hundreds of others still to come.


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