Creative and dedicated theatre artist

Edward Tsumele

Edward Tsumele

Peter Ngwenya, the modern Gibson Kente of township theatre, was a hardworking and selfless playwright and artist who empowered young artists.

Ngwenya, who was born on October 1966, lacked financial and other resources. But, through exchange programmes and help from overseas benefactors, who saw and understood his vision, he managed to pursue his dream.

He never put on any of his plays in a commercial theatre. He was shut out completely, as one of the people whom theatre icon John Kani last week described to as "permanently unable to go beyond community theatre", thanks to the anti-development nature of our theatre sector.

I knew Ngwenya for more than 10 years. He was a visionary who genuinely believed that theatre could change people's lives, especially the lives of young people.

He sacrificed his time, his talent and his skills to uplift young people through his company, the Soweto Youth Drama Society. For this, he received very little in return, not even an Arts and Culture Trust award as an administrator.

Ngwenya was blessed with creativity and could have achieved a lot more if he had the finance.

His Soweto Youth Drama Society was characterised by hardship. They performed in barely-equipped halls stripped of their dignity and pretence of being theatres in a community that destroyed and stole their equipment.

Many years ago, I went to one of these theatres. It was a school hall in Mofolo. A serious play on racism was in progress. Ngwenya was in rehearsal with some young people from his society and a few exchange actors from abroad.

Among them was a little girl who grew up and achieved fame in Hollywood recently. The girl is Terry Pheto of Tsotsi fame. She was groomed by Ngwenya, a man who had turned dilapidated halls into theatres.

Ngwenya leaves his wife and three children.

He will be buried at Slovoville Cemetery in Soweto at noon tomorrow. The service will start at 8am at House No 30145, Meadowlands, Extension 11.