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Writer tells the story of unsung mom's heroism

By Edward Tsumele | 2012-06-29 07:50:45.0

YOUNG writer and theatre director Ntsako Mkhabela's new play will make its debut at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival, which kicks off today.

By The Apricot Trees is part of a huge artistic menu at the festival, which features art, dance, jazz, visual art, puppetry and film among other genres.

The festival runs until July 8.

Mkhabela, pictured, says her the play was inspired by her mother's experiences at the hands of the apartheid regime's security police.

Mkhabela's mother, Sibongile, was imprisoned and tortured for her role in the 1976 Soweto student uprisings.

Sibongile Mkhabela, chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, was the only woman among the 11 student leaders arrested in connection with the 1976 student uprisings.

She was the Fort Prison in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, and Kroonstad Prison in Free State.

By The Apricot Trees is a daughter's reflections on her mother's life during the struggle for freedom.

"The problem with young people in post-colonial Africa is that we shy away from telling our stories, especially those that remind us of our painful past," she says.

"Storytelling is an important part of a nation's past.

"The inability or lack of interest in telling our stories is tragic. I have chosen to tell the story of my mother as a way of understanding what my parents underwent during the struggle for liberation.

Ntsako holds degrees in drama and sociology from the University of the Witwatersrand.

She readily admits her political view of the world was shaped by her heritage.

Her father is community and political leader Ishmael Mkhabela, while her maternal uncle is political activist-turned-businessman Khehla Mthembu.

"As a young black South African born of the generation of 76, memory as a personal and national exercise has been central to my view of the past," she says.

"South Africa is developing a story of what it took to win her freedom and this story had heroes and heroines, big forces working for freedom.

" The story as drawn by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and history books can sometimes be removed from the personal, everyday reality of the price of freedom.

"It is the forgotten woman who let some students hide under her bed while at the same time taking care of herself and her own children - or the teacher who refused to teach Afrikaans or the teenager who exchanged her youth for a prison cell."

Mkhabela says it is important that we begin to tell these stories of real people who are trying to live their lives in the face of adversity.

She says it is important to capture their fears and to tell our children about their responses to tyranny and inequality.

"For South Africa to heal, we must craft more than the official history and tell the stories of ordinary people who fought for freedom," she says.

The play is a daughter's interrogation of her mother's history. It is an attempt to understand the real personal story of her mother.

"How did she survive? What did the experience do to her? What was broken and what still needs to be healed?," asks Mkhabela.

By the Apricot Trees will be on from Sunday until July 5 at the B2 Arena in Grahamstown.