Edward Tsumele

Edward Tsumele

Gert Sibande, the Lion of the East, will soon roar again, but instead of opening tomorrow as planned the musical will now open in February next year.

It was confirmed this week that the choice of cast is almost complete.

This information comes from dramatic genius Mbongeni Ngema, who has been commissioned by the Mpumalanga department of arts and culture to create the musical to celebrate the life of struggle icon Gert Sibande.

"Well, when a date was decided on for the opening of Gert Sibande, the Lion of the East it might not have been realised how much still had to be done in terms of researching Sibande's life.

"I have since discovered that little is known about this man." Ngema said. "The records that are available are about the era and the event itself - the potato boycott.

"It's not that easy to get records about him because during that time everything was done under circumstances that required that people such as Sibande to operate underground.

"I have been to libraries at Wits University, the University of Fort Hare and Bailey's African Archives to piece together what little is known about the man.

"Dramatically this becomes as challenging as it is interesting. We need to do justice to the man by producing work with a has high standard of artistic merit and cannot be challenged in terms of its historical accuracy," Ngema explained.

"In terms of theatre you have to choose which slice of history concerning Sibande you need to tell the story coherently."

He explained that the best time to open this production would be after the holidays. He confirmed that the show will open towards the end of February at the Emalahleni Civic Theatre in Witbank.

Ngema is almost finished with the castings of about 40 young and talented hopefuls selected from around Mpumalanga. The challenge facing him now is to identify a main character for the musical.

"In this musical we might use a documentary format to tell the story of Gert Sibande and the potato boycott.

"This has been an emotional journey for me. When you create work of this nature you become it. This is not just any piece of theatre.

"Of course in terms of historical accuracy everything has to have integrity as one cannot be given licence to lie about history. But in terms of the creative process, I have been left alone."