Wave of xenophobic attacks relived in dance and drama

WITH nostrils flaring and a heaving chest, she defiantly holds a bottle of petrol, oblivious to her friends' pleas not to do it.

Charging forward she empties the contents of the bottle on her victim and with the strike of a match sends him to his fiery death. His final words are drowned out by the audience, who had earlier laughed while he was beaten and stoned.

Had this been real life the dying man could easily have been Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave, whose burning body was splashed on the front pages of local newspapers at the height of last year's xenophobic violence.

Chilling and daunting, the scene is part of a play performed by the MaAfrika Tikkun Dance and Drama group from Khayelitsha in Western Cape.

The 12 teenage members of the group performed the piece in front of elderly women and men in Alexandra, north of Johannesburg.

They will also perform their show at various venues in Gauteng, including Orange Farm and Diepsloot, as part of their tour.

Founder of the group Lizeka Rantsane says they decided to focus on xenophobia after the wave of attacks last year.

"Dance and drama provide a creative outlet for these children to express their thoughts and feelings about what are often sensitive and painful issues," Rantsane says.

The group also tackles issues such as sexuality and HIV-Aids through their productions.

The 45-minute xenophobia piece was developed with the help of University of Cape Town lecturer Gabriella Sulcas.

The group always anticipates differening responses from the audiences they perform for, Rantsane says.

Though not meant to be funny, the group expects some spectators to laugh at the violence of the play.

"People respond to emotions differently. They sometimes use laughter to distract themselves and hide their true feelings," Rantsane says.

Performing such an emotive piece also takes its toll on the young actors.

Rantsane says the piece is "heavy and intense" and can be "emotionally draining" to the performers and the audience.

So she encourages the group to perform energetic and elaborate dance pieces afterwards as a way to "get out of character".

"It can be difficult to get out of character because you need to dip into a situation that made you cry," says actor Nomfuneko Fusa.

Fusa says acting in the drama made her sympathetic to the plight of foreigners.