February 12, 2009
By Adrienne Sichel
‘Finally our dreams are coming true,” sighed Bongani Linda, the theatre pioneer who was sitting in a white tent in Jabulani, in Soweto, on Tuesday morning, waiting for the formalities to begin for the Soweto Theatre.
Agreeing that the artist’s sketch made this R110-million complex look like a factory, rather than an artistic mecca, Linda added: “At least it is a step in the right direction, but let it not be a white theatre in the township. Why is it going to be managed by the Pro Arte Theatre in Roodepoort? There’s a world of difference between Roodepoort and Soweto.”
There didn’t seem to be any of his Soweto peers around to agree, or disagree, with him at this sod- turning ceremony of Soweto’s first proper theatres.
“I feel terrible. I have come all the way from Alex waiting to find the tent filled with Soweto artists. It is unacceptable. Were they not invited? Or did they boycott this event? I know the positioning of this theatre was a big concern.”
This launch featuring the national Minister of Arts and Culture, Dr Pallo Jordan, and Joburg executive mayor Amos Masondo, was studded with politicians, bureaucrats and high- profile Joburg-based theatre professionals. Where were Jerry Raletebele, Darlington Michaels, Peter Ngwenya, Carly Dibakwane, Thulani Didi, and many other artists who have spent decades training and producing performers and performances without the luxury of an equipped theatre?
Gibson Kente, Matsemela Manaka, Jackie Semela and Thulani Sifeni are long gone, but their spirits must have been hovering over this site adjoining the Jabulani Amphitheatre (which is to be refurbished) and the Jabulani Mall . The choice of the location, which seemed odd considering that Soweto theatre history is linked to Diepkloof, Dube, Orlando East and West, Mofolo North, Emndeni and White City Jabavu (where Herman van Veen was building the Miracle Theatre at Ipelegeng).
The construction of the multi-purpose Soweto Theatre complex of a 420-, 180- and 90-seater venues starts on March 1 and is due to be completed by April 2010. The Pro Arte Theatre has been allocated the initial management and programming duties.
The decision of where to locate this, the Mayor of Joburg’s Fifa World Cup legacy gift to the city, was a strategic one, according to Joburg arts and culture director, Steven Sack. Four sites, which fit into the different cultural and tourist “nodes”, were considered. Kliptown, Vilakazi Street and the Eyethu Cinema were options.
“We chose Jabulani for the proximity to the shopping mall which has banks and restaurants,” said Sack. “It is also next to the amphitheatre and on the Bus Rapid Transport system. You can catch a bus in Sandton and come to theatre in Soweto.”
The ceremony was corporate, autrocratic and clinical with the exception of the Soweto Gospel Choir, who raised the roof, and the minister and mayor’s brave hijinks on the soil excavator. A Christian minister did the soil blessing ceremony. Where were the imbongis?