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Freedom the Musical: Remembering #FeesMustFall

The story in the play is told through the experiences of two students, Phindile (Simphiwe Ndlovu) and Bonifide (Kabelo ‘Bonafide’ Togoe), during #FeesMustFall demonstrations.

‘Freedom The Musical’ is showing at the State Theatre until 1 April 2018. Picture: Sanmari Marais

JOHANNESBURG – Director Aubrey Sekhabi has again found a creative way to tackle burning issues in the public discourse by bringing the hardships around the struggle for free higher education onto the stage through his latest offering at the State Theatre: ‘Freedom the Musical’.

The story is told through the experiences of two students, Phindile (Simphiwe Ndlovu) and Bonifide (Kabelo ‘Bonafide’ Togoe), who lead the #FeesMustFall demonstrations while dealing with personal tribulations such as Phindile’s abusive relationship and the death of Bonifide’s grandmother – his only guardian.

At a quick glance, one could mistake the main actors as representing Nompendulo Mkatshwa, Mcebo Dlamini, and Vuyani Pambo, but as the plot unfolds the characters reveal life stories very different to those of the leaders who became some of the many unforgettable faces and voices of #FeesMustFall movement.

Opening night on Friday 2 March 2018 kicked off with a few sound glitches, a crackling mic, and some inaudible voices. But that was quickly forgiven as the powerful singing grabbed the audience, dragging them into the seriousness of the various themes portrayed in the play.

Sekhabi and his crew tackle xenophobia, rape culture, racism, corruption, the cycle of poverty, unaffordable fees and the socio-economic vulnerability of (young) women.

Though all very important themes, they crowd the flow of the tale and make it feel ‘segmented’.

An immature audience on the night made it difficult to delve into the emotions I believe the creators hoped to evoke from the audience. Childish giggles as the female actors stood bare-breasted on stage, portraying one of the most iconic moments in a demonstration against rape and the violation of women’s bodies, confirmed to me that society still has a way to go in appreciating the arts as a way of mobilising behind a cause.

However, the effort to continue the discussion on regrettable events from our recent past is commendable.

The victories of the young people who amplified the call in 2015, which ultimately led to no fees increase, should not be forgotten. The names of Karabo Mokoena, Reeva Steenkamp and Frances Rasuge must remain on our lips until women are safe in this country. The cycle of poverty can and must be broken through the eradication of the corruption which robs young people of opportunities.

The cast of 47 young actors did well, and the music was enjoyable.

I believe with more showings and better control over the audience, the play has great potential to improve and leave the audience both entertained and educated.

Students who lived through #FeesMustFall and #CampusRape may find the play nostalgic, while those who have just come into the higher education system may receive this as a way to understand the politics of their education.

‘Freedom The Musical’ is showing at the State Theatre until 1 April 2018.

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