And these are first year students?

We are sitting in the terraces of the Nanzikambe Arts Café. Before us is the stage. No tables, no decorations, no whatever – just a plain stage.

It is evening.

Earlier in the day it had rained and I had had my fears that the rain might continue and mar an otherwise looked-forward-to show. But now, the skies are clear. If not for their female shyness, I am certain, the stars could have been in the skies.

But now, they are not there. The sky is just plain, and clear.

We are awaiting for the staging of the South African movie, Sarafina – its stage version. Chancellor College first year students, so I gather, are the ones who will be on stage tonight.

I remember my first year days. First year days are fun, almost. They are certainly confusing, to some extent. First year days leave you with little choice than to listen to those of years ahead of you. You listen to the ways of survival. You listen to whom, amongst the lecturers you have encountered, is worse than the other: which one manufactures marks and which one does not read the essays you submit, which one judges you by your first work and which one judges you by the smile you carry in his class and which one takes the personality of you over the social weekend into class.

First year days, in brief, are years for learning – everything and not just school – but not serious acting. And, not a serious play like Sarafina, now a major motion picture.

But today we are seated here – the three of us – awaiting first years to act out Sarafina. Somehow, I feel like I am about to watch the David – Goliath fight and, in this case, I give my support to Goliath. I am getting nervous that David will lose it.

I am not the only one nervous. My neighbor, V, is nervous as well. She keeps on saying that the ‘kids better not miss it, they should perform to standards.’ Every time the crowd swells, she repeats that. Actually, she is more nervous than me.

I ask her if she has ever watched the play before, performed by the same kids.

She says she has and she acknowledges it was good. I say I have heard beautiful compliments about it as well and, what more? I add that the danger of hearing compliments about a performance before you watch it is that you have heightened expectations and when the performers wake on the wrong side then you are frustrated and you leave wondering what the hype was all about.

She assures me that no, this play will not be like those ones. This one will not frustrate. Suddenly, it seems her nerves are in control but not for long…

For the crowd keeps swelling until after the play is allowed on stage.

The first year students march on stage, in beautiful school uniforms, singing. It is rhythmical at this stage, one can easily spot beauty in it. For those who have watched Sarafina, the movie, back in the days eventually a nostalgia is aroused.

As the play rolls on, our nerves appear to have calmed. Sarafina, the high mountain, is gently being climbed by the freshmen in College. At their level, they are doing what few can expect of first year students.

They take us to the streets of South Africa, the 1976 (?) Soweto killings, the sad and chilling narrations depicted in the movie, the music and violence associated with the beautiful motion picture which I place alongside my all time favourites: A beautiful mind and Malcolm X, not forgetting Sometimes in April.

And, it is almost a flawless performance. A performance that has had the audience not utterly quiet but captivated of course with all that is happening on stage as some reminisce of the movie; one can easily guess by their comments.

We clap and laugh where we can and, when the Pastor takes up the second greatest sermon on earth according to me (after the first one by Jesus Christ, that one on the Mountain), one can only watch but in awe the special skill with which this pastor character handles his sermon.

“They fear you because you are young,” he preaches amidst wails from the friends of the dead and some two bodies lying on the ground.

His voice, his composure, says something: this one might be in first year but certainly can make my two comrades – V and V – run for their money when it comes to acting despite that these two are final products of the same drama school.

It is a meal well-served, almost…

Until when they come to sing for the last time.

It is the song leader who flops. Her voice gets entangled in her own throat and to release it properly appears to be a difficult task almost needing special prayers. Sadly, the whole team finds itself in the mess of failing to sing that beautiful song one Hugh Masekela does with a talent matching no other:

“Bring back Nelson Mandela…bring him back to Soweto…We want to see him walking down the streets…with Winnie Mandela…Tomorrow!”

At this song, they have lost the plot. Now, almost at the peak of this mountain called Sarafina we had clearly thought they had finished climbing with a dexterity reserved for them only, the fresh ladies and gentlemen of Chirunga are sliding back.

It is saddening, but not forever, for the little girl acting out that role of Sarafina comes to pick up the staggering group of her friends with the popular lines of ‘Freedom is coming tomorrow!’

It is from those lines the beginning of their closure to an appetizing performance start. It is after that that the improvised lines that urges Mandela’s soul to rest in peace are added.

The dish has been served, warm, by first University students. The audience stand to clap as the figurative curtain is closed. I join them in clapping but still wondering why that Mistress It’s a Pity (Miss Masambuka in the movie) had that fear of the Police – it was so very much exaggerated. I think watching Sarafina and seeing the courage and magic that Miss Masambuka had can do her good, a lot of good. Her fear of the Police, trembling at their sight, made us who have the movie parts stuck in our minds not enjoy the play.

But then, I caution myself, and say that these are first year students. First year students who never had to take the mammoth task of acting out such a huge thing as Sarafina, the major motion picture to have ever come out of South Africa in my opinion.

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