Soweto Theatre is proud to announce a ten day musical tribute to culture luminary and godfather of South African theatre, Gibson Kente, from 7 to 17 December 2017.
Where Robert Sobukwe, Miriam Makeba and Nelson Mandela left an indelible mark on our imaginations, the late Gibson Kente played an equally consequential role. Plays like How Long, I Believe and Too Late, among many others, spoke to the heart of what indigenous South Africans experienced under a repressive and foreign regime. Gibson Kente is referred to as the father of township theatre. It is from the townships that legends like him have influenced the cultural, economic and political landscapes of South Africa and various parts of the globe. Gibson Kente was a theatre extraordinaire; he was a director, producer, playwright, music composer and choreographer of his own plays. Not only was he a theatre practitioner but he also contributed to the education and training space in South Africa. Kente was born in Duncan Village, a township outside East London in the Eastern Cape, on 23 July 1932. He studied social work, but soon abandoned it for his real love, drama. At the age of 23, he set off for Johannesburg. Without any formal training, he produced his first play, the musical Manana, The Jazz Prophet, in 1963. Both Manana and his second play, Isikalo, in 1966, enjoyed huge township support. Neither were overtly political, but they dealt in the nitty gritty of township existence – crime, alcoholism, love and soccer – with wit and humour.
He was prolific, producing 23 plays and three television dramas as well as writing songs for Miriam Makeba, Letta Mbulu and others. Many prominent performers, including Brenda Fassie and Mbongeni Ngema, passed through Kente’s Dube garage, where he taught acting, singing and dancing. His musicals were high-energy, melodramatic and eclectic, employing mixed dance forms and a range of local languages – Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, English and Tsotsitaal. In 1973, he began producing overtly political plays, such as How Long, on the pass laws, and Sekunjalo, which he regarded as his pièce de résistance, a satirical warning to the black elite not to oppress the masses after liberation. His plays were frequently banned and his actors arrested. In September 1976, he was detained by security police. In 1989, his Soweto home was firebombed. When he was diagnosed HIV positive, Kente began his last play. The Call is about a man aiming to bring hope to people living with HIV. The hero, Smudza, forms a group to educate people about HIV, but then they fail to practise safe sex themselves. Smudza himself relies on muti from a sangoma instead of condoms. Parts of it could have been autobiographical. In his heyday, Kente lived a glamorous, fast-paced life. He drove fancy cars, partied energetically and had numerous girlfriends, some decades younger than himself.
When he was diagnosed HIV positive, he said he was not surprised. ‘I have been a naughty boy and I knew it could happen to me,’ he said. In a society that venerates old people and stigmatises Aids victims, it was brave of him to come out at the age of 70, a move for which fellow senior citizen, Nelson Mandela, personally commended him. Kente passed away on 7 November 2004. Being the cardinal storyteller illustrating black pain, love and aspiration in the time of apartheid, it is with great pleasure that Joburg City Theatres announces that he will be commemorated in a musical tribute at Soweto Theatre this festive season. ‘South Africa is at a time of great possibilities as we are on the verge of a cultural renaissance. Our audiences are in for a treat,’ says Makhaola Ndebele, Artistic Manager at Joburg City Theatres. A Musical Tribute to Gibson Kente will be in Soweto Theatre’s main auditorium (The Red) from 7 to 17 December 2017. Tickets are now on sale at R120, with early bird tickets at R80. For corporate specials, the full house of 436 seats can be purchased at R30 000. Tickets are available at all Joburg Theatre Box Offices. www.sowetotheatre.com and participating Pick n Pay outlets through Webtickets. For corporate bookings call Didi on 0119307461. Catering is available on request.