Forget the term “razor-sharp wit”. Instead, prepare yourself for satire that hits more like a stabbing javelin. Gut-bustingly funny, while at the same time underlining South Africa’s sad political state, Return of the Ancestors shines a spotlight on how former political activists might view the New South Africa.
The play tells the story of respected Apartheid activists, Steve Biko (Siya Sikawuti) and Neil Agett (Mandisi Sindo) who have been elected to return to the new South Africa to deliver a message to Nkandla and to report back to the rest of the deceased leaders on the progress of the country. Of course, what they find in the New South Africa comes as a slap in the face to those who sacrificed so much for it.
There’s a clear theme of ‘the second coming’, reminiscent of the play Woza Albert! which ties political satire with Biblical prophecies. Throughout the play Biko is seen as somewhat of a messiah: “We don’t need Jesus to come,” we hear. “We need Biko”.
Mandisi Sindo and Siya Sikawuti each play several additional characters to the protagonists and are equally brilliant at doing so with a tireless energy. The set consists of only a few tyres and a stand on which hangs the various props used for characterisation. The actors do full justice to Mike van Graan’s script, highlighting its succulent comedy, and its even richer vein of sadness.
Through various short scenes we see the various endeavours of Biko as the pair make their way to Nkandla, and we also are witness to thoughts from characters ranging from an old woman in a village to inanimate objects. One consistent character is Sunshine Tshabalala (Sindo) who reports for the Good News (alluding to the gospel), giving the country misleading ‘positive news’ on behalf of the government, such as “Zuma has made donations to charity… and as we all know, charity starts at home.”
References are made to Nkandla’s firepool, xenophobia, racism and AIDS, all of which brings to Biko the striking realisation that after Apartheid, even people of the same race are now against one another. It also brings about the disturbing thought that he and other freedom fighters may have died in vain.
Return of the Ancestors runs at Cape Town’s Artscape Theatre until 15 November 2014.