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“Nothing lasts long enough to have been. These fragments of everything descend upon us haphazardly. Only rarely do we see the immanence of wholes. And that is the beginning of art”.(Dambudzo Marechera, House of Hunger)

ISILILO is a mix of comedy, absurdism, physical theatre and dramatic prose. It is an extraordinary example of contemporary  South African theatre and the dynamism with which our local practitioners treat their narrative and performative responsibilities. It is also a deeply South African story in form and content.

The Life Esidimeni tragedy rocked our consciousness as a nation.

The rainbow nation had again faltered and instituted unbelievable suffering and pain on the lives of its citizens. Siyambonga Mdubeki  has been able to recount the collective traumas of all the families who lost their lives in the height of this investigation. Through delicate story-telling, beautiful prose and truly dynamic scenes and prop-work, the cast of ISILILO has gifted the victims of the tragedy their humanity.

1) A word from the playwright:

It is 2016 when I came across a news headline saying “At least 144 mentally ill patients died during Life Esidimeni”.

Now this is obviously how the Journalists write headlines to attract readers and make people curious to read what comes after the headline, but for me, I knew there and then that there is really no way that, this can sound right to someone reading, not the headline itself but the actual thing carried by the headline, “At least 144 mentally ill patients died during Life Esidimeni”.

Even though I had had an interest in what was happening with the Life Esidimeni incident, that headline incited something in me and that is when I started reading more about it.

At this point I was not even sure yet that I wanted to do a play about it but I was just a concerned citizen. Upon reading articles about Life Esidimeni, I  learnt that the victims were being compensated R1.2 million for the loss of their loved ones. This, I thought, was not the justice the families were looking for ;but I was looking at it from the outside, without the knowledge of how they felt at the time.

I continued to wonder “How does one put a price on someone’s life?” “Does money take away the pain?”.

Of course there was no way I would have had answers to these questions from the outside.

I decided to approach a journalist by the name of Suzanne Venter, who worked for Rapport. Suzanne was the one who helped me with the articles she wrote and any information she had about the Life Esidimeni incident as well as the arbitration process.

After going through those gruesome stories she shared, I wondered how the victims were and what their thoughts were, especially that even after all that has been said. No one had been held accountable for what happened, let alone being imprisoned.  Suzanne then directed me to Mrs Christene Nxumalo who was the leader of the family committee and who had also lost her sister during the Life Esidimeni transfers.

Mrs Nxumalo is the one who then made it possible for me to meet with other direct family members who lost their loved ones during the Life Esidimeni incident. From then on I would meet up with those families and have a conversation with them, trying to understand and get their side of the story as well as what it is they wish could have been done to avoid the incident that happened. I recorded everything I heard and listened to it again when I was home by myself to make sense of everything.

The families recounted  how their loved ones were ill treated in the different NGOs that they were moved to. They spoke about  the conditions in which they lived under with some instances of patients being given the wrong medication.

At this point I knew that I needed to do something.

@TheMarketTheatre ·

As a qualified writer, actor and director, I thought that telling this  a story was a no brainer.

2) About ISILILO

ISILILO is a look into the state of health institutions in South Africa through the life of a young boy whose dreams are deferred because of his father’s deteriorating health. As the story unfolds, we encounter young Gcina Mabitsela, the protagonist, having to choose between his career as a soccer star, the love of his life and caring for his father.

The Market Theater Laboratory is honoured to present ISILILO again to Gauteng audiences as part of the human rights program on the 17,18,19,20,21 March 2023.

This play first debuted at the Market Theatre in 2020, but was only open to the Media as well as the Life Esidimeni family Committee.

In 2021 it had its run at The Forge in Braamfontein.

Written by:

Siyambonga Mdubeki

Developed by the Cast:

Zanele Mthombeni

Tsegofatso Masekwameng

Siyambonga Mdubeki Directed By:

Ncumisa Ndimeni

Baleni Ernest

3) Comments and Testimonials

“I am watching this play for the second time now. This will be a mouthpiece for Life Esidimeni families, as our government looks down on us. They think that since they have compensated us, everything is alright. We still need justice for our own lost families. I think this play will give us justice”. Mrs Jabulile Hlatshwayo

“I lost my younger sister who had a disability, she was epileptic and she was lost into the system, I would like to put it, because she was sent to hospital and she never came back. There was never an explanation from the hospital as to what happened, but her body was bruised, with blood veins all over her, but no one explained what was going on. So the family just concluded that clearly she was given wrong medication because, how does someone go to hospital and just die without any explanation?.” Zanele Mthombeni

” What a beautiful story, beyond the Activism, beyond the story. What an honor and a privilege to be part of that room and to witness all that. You know when you think of people from Life Esidimeni, you think of them from a state of, when they are already born, that they suffered from a mental health issue, but to go through the timeline of this man, for me it just hits home. It is so relatable, I could empathize. I left saying ‘what if this was my father?, what if? ” Chris Djuma.