University of Cape Town: Four powerful productions at first-ever ‘Zabalaza Season of the Best, Masambeni!’

Selected from the main festival held earlier this year for their powerful themes, writing, performances, directing and overall presentation, they are “Heads or Tail(s)”, “Thank you for your Service”, “Blood on the Road” and “Ganga Nyoko! Inzima Nyoko!”.

Formerly known as Best of Zabalaza, this Season of the Best, Masambeni! will have morning performances at 10:00 and 11:30 and double‑bill evening performances at 18:30 and Saturday matinees at 14:00. Another innovation this year is the addition of subtitles for all the productions. Performed in isiXhosa, Afrikaans, English and a combination of the languages, vital themes tackled include identity, self‑expression, memory, childhood trauma, forgotten war veterans, and gender.

Performances will be limited to a capacity of 50 audience members, as regulated by lockdown Level 3 restrictions with all COVID‑19 protocols in place and to be observed. These include the availability of hand sanitisers, tracking and tracing recorded temperature checks, mandatory wearing of masks and physical distancing. Audience members are advised to arrive at least 40 minutes before the start of the performance to avoid delays.

Exceptional work

During their sold‑out runs at the 11th annual Baxter Zabalaza Theatre Festival in March, the team decided to create the first‑ever selection of four winners because the quality and standard of the work produced by the participants were so exceptional.


“Heads or Tail(s)?”, performed in Afrikaans and English, delves into the life of a family torn by a secret harboured by the mother. Her three adolescent children are battling to get the truth out of her. The twins, Julia and Julian, are desperate to understand how their father passed away when they were young, and their adopted brother wishes to be initiated. For this to happen, he needs to reconnect with his biological family and ancestors. Everyone has questions that will connect them to their identity and culture, but on which side of the coin will the truth land, “Heads or Tail(s)?”.

In “Thank you for your Service”, a young man who followed in the footsteps of his father has completed his service in the army and returns home to visit his family. Upon arrival, he must deal with an ageing mother, and a younger brother who has been sucked into gang life. Performed in isiXhosa and English, it deals with the trauma that soldiers and their families go through while in service, and how little the government offers them in return for their loyalty and patriotic deeds. As the winner of the Best Script award, the play text will be published by Junkets Publisher.


“Blood on the Road” examines how, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. What happens when one suffers from the consequences of another’s reaction, when anger builds up because of the past and how easy it is to fake love when based on hidden agendas. Deceit and murder are underscored by traditional practices, culture and history in this rich isiXhosa text.

Finally, in “Ganga Nyoko! Inzima nyoko!”, a young gay doctor returns to his village after his father dies. He tries to hide his sexuality from his childhood friend during their reunion. “Ganga Nyoko! Inzima nyoko!” shows what lengths he must go through to conceal his identity for his own safety. Performed in isiXhosa, the poignant story exposes the pain and difficulties experienced by a community who just want to be their true selves and to be accepted.


Innovative thinking

Mdu Kweyama, the Zabalaza Theatre Festival’s artistic director, said they are “super excited” to present four productions and a brand new season of Best of Zabalaza this year.

“The impact of lockdown and the COVID‑19 pandemic meant that we had to think innovatively and differently about conceptualising and planning the main festival, as well as the mini festivals.

“It was quite clear from the mini festivals that the new approach to the script development process, and where industry practitioners (mentors) worked closely with the writers at an early stage, resulted in work of an exceptionally high standard.”

Kweyama continued: “We would like to thank our loyal partners and sponsors who help to make this much‑needed platform possible. They are the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport, the City of Cape Town, Distell, HCI Foundation, Pick n Pay and Junkets Publisher.”

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