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The Scars of our Heroes – Imivumba YamaQhawe

WORDS: Beverley Brommert

Cape Town Opera’s upcoming production: The Scars of our Heroes – Imivumba YamaQhawe, which incorporates the story of the aftermath of the 1976 Soweto Uprising, is not the company’s first commitment to promoting a love of music and opera among the youth. This venture has the added merit of recording a painful past with which today’s younger generation may be increasingly unfamiliar.

Cape Town Opera The Scars of our Heroes Imivumba YamaQhawe theatre children youth
A re-enactment of 1976 – students and history teacher

The Scars of our Heroes – Imivumba YamaQhawe represents a collaboration between Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) – who is contributing some necessary funding – and a creative team consisting of scriptwriter and director Mhlanguli George and composer Sipumzo Trueman Lucwaba, co-ordinated by Cape Town Opera’s Masixole Makwetu, who is responsible for the company’s Youth Development and Education programmes.
     The Scars of our Heroes – Imivumba YamaQhawe will be performed by students from Chris Hani Secondary School and Lathi-tha School of Skills, both based in Khayelitsha, at their schools on 17 and 18 October 2019.
     On the motivation for The Scars of our Heroes – Imivumba YamaQhawe, Makwetu explains that this musical is intended to make today’s youth aware that 16 June is not ‘just a day off school’; the commemoration of this significant event in South African history, and especially the sacrifices incidental thereto, should be brought to the attention of learners in 2019. He insists that ‘both sides of the story need to be heard for us to understand where we’ve come from since 1976. What have we learnt? How have things changed, and how can we inspire youth today?’ The work deals specifically with the aftermath as opposed to the uprising per se, exploring what happened to those involved on opposing sides in the 1970s.

Cape Town Opera The Scars of our Heroes Imivumba YamaQhawe theatre children youth
Mhlanguli George and learners

Although far too young to claim any personal participation in that march, Makwetu has a deep interest in it through his activist grandfather, who was a political prisoner on Robben Island at the time.
     Scriptwriter and director Mhlanguli George, noted for his fresh and unique take on various productions, says, ‘I was very happy when Masixole asked me to direct this musical, then on reflection, I realised that it’s not like previous shows as some of those involved are still alive – unlike works dating from a long-gone past. That enabled me to do first-hand research, such as talking to Seth Mazibuko (a school prefect who headed the march). I heard the story from my parents… Are the kids up to the challenge? Totally. I’ve worked with learners at both these schools before, on an adaptation of Tsotsi, and they’re equally committed and full of talent. I’m looking forward to working with them again.’

Cape Town Opera The Scars of our Heroes Imivumba YamaQhawe theatre children youth
Back row – Mhlanguli George (Director), CTO YDE Coordinator Masixole Makwetu, Sipumzo Trueman Lucwaba (Book and Lyrics)

Composer Sipumzo Trueman Lucwaba admits that inspiration for the score of The Scars of our Heroes – Imivumba YamaQhawe is a complex affair, due to the broad range of emotions evoked. ‘You can’t just rush in and start composing for a subject like this; there’s hope, tragedy, loss, ups and downs, highs and lows. As for genre, there are elements of choral music as well as high school music. With my Eastern Cape roots, I’m familiar with that powerfully emotive singing heard at, for example, sports matches to rouse a crowd the way struggle songs do, and that is also included.’ He was adamant though that traditional struggle songs are not incorporated into his score: ‘Do we want people moved by “old” music? Struggle songs are very specific, and I need to create new songs of similar power instead of relying on history.’ 
     Says Yvette Nowell, Head of Social Investment at RMB, ‘This kind of partnership reinforces RMB’s commitment to unlocking talent and social transformation through the creative arts. While encouraging participation in music among young people, Cape Town Opera are using their genre and discipline to remind us of relevant milestones that have shaped South Africa. The creation of new songs from old struggles is also inspiring. In a similar vein to Albert Einstein’s view that we cannot solve problems by using the “same kind of thinking we used when we created them,” we need to form new pathways for our progress. This requires creativity, commitment and an openness to new ideas of collaboration, from all of us.’

COMPOSER Sipumzo Trueman Lucwaba 
CAST Learners at Chris Hani Arts and Culture High School and Lathi-tha School of Skills in Khayelitsha, Cape Town

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