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It is possible to make reparations for past wrongs, to both seek and give forgiveness – this is the message in the play Zanandule – Spirit of the Elephant.
THE spirit of the old Sophiatown is celebrated in a young show at the University of Johannesburg’s Arts Centre.


The Kofifi Youth TheatreThe Kofifi Youth Theatre presents Zanandule-Spirit of the ElephantZanandule – Spirit of the Elephantis a theatre piece set in an unnamed part of Africa at a time when European adventurers are just beginning to open up the continent for exploration and exploitation.

It follows the fate of an African chief, Zanumela, who was involved in the slaughtering of elephants for profit and other corrupt dealings. However, just before he dies, his ancestors visit him and urge him to examine his past and see how he had not been faithful with the position the gods entrusted to him.

As he journeys down memory lane, he remembers his past crimes, his betrayal of those who had trusted him, his forced marriage of a woman his brother loved dearly, and finally the murder of his brother.

He is overcome with guilt and remorse; he repents to his ancestors and his subjects. He confesses all his wrongs to a traditional court, and in an attempt to make things right before he crosses over, he chooses his brother’s son to be his successor. The village celebrates and peace is restored.

Youth theatre
The show is a production of the Kofifi Youth Theatre in partnership with the Tongues of Fire Youth Theatre in the United Kingdom. It features some 24 young actors from the Trevor Huddleston Centre in Sophiatown.

Phathutshedzo Ramulongo, a first-year student at Cida City Campus, said the show was great and displayed how much talent South Africa had.

Ramulongo struggled to speak he was so emotional. “It shows that for every obstacle there is a breakthrough. Another thing I learned through the show is that life can be lived in two ways; it can either be changed if you can or accepted if you cannot change it.”

The Huddleston centre’s chairman of the board, Isaac Meletse, and a board member, Sally Matlana, attended the play’s debut on 9 February; the day commemorated the day in 1955 that blacks were forcibly removed from Sophiatown.

The suburb was established in 1904. Before 1913, black South Africans had freehold rights and they bought properties in the suburb. By the 1920s, whites had moved out, leaving behind a vibrant community of blacks, coloureds, Indians and Chinese. But on 9 February 1955, 2 000 armed policemen forcefully moved the families of Sophiatown to Meadowlands, in Soweto.

Over the next eight years, Sophiatown was systematically flattened. The suburb was rebuilt for whites and renamed Triomf, the Afrikaans word for triumph. In 2006, however, it reverted to Sophiatown in a concrete example of the transition to democracy and freedom.

“We thank you all for coming tonight,” Meletse said. Speaking about the old Sophiatown, he added: “Sophiatown was a place where you could experience for yourself what it means that a true person is a person through other people.”

The two board members encouraged young people to come to the centre to enrich their lives, discover their talents and stay away from bad company.

The centre was established in 1999 to pursue a programme of community integration through culture, training and development of the community. In 2005, Nelson Mandela and the former archbishop, Desmond Tutu, launched the Sophiatown Commemoration Programme, which seeks to revive the spirit of the old suburb. It is run by the Huddleston centre.

Several steps have already been taken: other than reclaiming the name Sophiatown, the Sophiatown Heritage and Cultural eKhaya has also been set up at the home of Dr AB Xuma.

AB Xuma
Xuma was the president-general of the ANC from 1939 to 1949, and a long-time resident of Sophiatown. His house was one of several buildings that escaped the bulldozers when the suburb was flattened in the 1950s and ’60s. It was declared a national monument in 1998, and the City bought it in late 2007.

Today, the commemoration programme celebrates the multicultural, creative and entrepreneurial spirit of old Sophiatown and works to build a truly integrated South Africa.

“We promote the exchange of ideas and experience between different racial, class and age groups, and present dance, music and art in a space that’s open to all,” reads s press release issued by the centre. “We’re home to the Sophiatown Institute, which researches and preserves Sophiatown’s unique heritage.”

At the Xuma home, young people are given an understanding of heritage, role models and life-changing opportunities to learn: life skills, basic qualifications in numeracy and English, computer training and business practice. The educational resources include the Huddleston Library and the Huddleston Youth Centre.

Zanandule – Spirit of the Elephant is on at the University of Johannesburg’s Arts Centre, Kingsway Campus in Auckland Park. Tickets are R110 each at Computicket or the theatre’s box office. The show is on every day until 12 February, at 7.30pm. For more information, call the Trevor Huddleston Youth Centre on 011 673 1271.

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