“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.