ngema targets 2010

GERT Sibande: Lion of the East, the R22million musical created by leading playwright Mbongeni Ngema, will enchant audiences in Gauteng during the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

GERT Sibande: Lion of the East, the R22million musical created by leading playwright Mbongeni Ngema, will enchant audiences in Gauteng during the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

The award-winning artist said this in an interview yesterday.

Made up of mainly first-time actors from Mpumalanga that Ngema groomed and put into the play, it premiered to critical acclaim in eMalahleni last year and performed to full houses at the Durban Playhouse until last week.

With the controversy that accompanied the Mpumalanga provincial government pumping R22million into the musical to record the historical and political context surrounding the potato boycott led by labour leader and political activist Gert Sibande in Bethal in the 1950s, Ngema says he is relieved that he has delivered the goods and as an artist people must judge him on that.

The play starts its Gauteng season at the end of May and will run until mid-July to accommodate the World Cup tourists. But before that it will have a season in Secunda in the Gert Sibande district during March and April.

But it is the Gauteng gig that will attract a lot of interest because of World Cup fever and because it is the first time it will be performed there since it was created last year.

Looking quite radiant and walking with a springy step that shows someone in good health, Ngema apologises for being late for the interview.

"I want to assure the audience that they will see a polished musical that will entertain and educate at the same time.

"Ticket sales are now open and are available at Computicket only. Because many tourists will be interested in the show as we are working closely with travel agents to put together tourist packages, South Africans should book now to avoid disappointment.

"SABC1 has come on board and are contributing to the development of interest in the musical and theatre through flighting some scenes of the musical on the channel," Ngema said.

Well, his being late gave the Sowetan team time to have a closer look at his home where we were warmly welcomed by family members in his absence. We were ushered into the spacious lounge of his up-market house in plush Gallo Manor, northern Johannesburg.

The lounge has an obvious artistic feel to it. We noticed a big piano in one corner, a keyboard player in another, paintings and photographs of Ngema and important personalities, both from South Africa and the US, taking up most of the wall space in the lounge.

There are also framed posters of some of the shows by this creative genius, who has emerged over the years as the undisputed king of African theatre, particularly Afro-centric musicals rooted in historical and political contexts.

We also noticed some statuettes, a few of several awards this Gibson Kente-trained theatre mind has won over the years.

Ngema's contacts in a circle of influential individuals from diverse backgrounds is easy to pick up from just paying a cursory glance at the photos hung up in the lounge. Former president Nelson Mandela's picture is hung prominently in the house.

There is Quincy Jones posing with Ngema and Michael Jackson's parents Joe and Katherine also taking prominent space. We also noticed Muhammad Ali, the retired legendary boxer. The list is endless.

Ngema's neighbourhood tells a story of its own.

Green trees, whose leaves are well pruned, line the streets that are well looked after with hardly any litter around, and some gardens as big as a small soccer stadium, this suburb is simply for the rich and well-to-do, I concluded.

The streets are also curiously named after rivers such as Tugela and Limpopo, making one wonder whether the green trees lining the streets have anything to do with the water from these rivers.

As if reading my mind Ngema volunteered this information. "The good thing is I deliver whenever I'm given work, whether it's worth millions of rands or not.

"I'm simply the best musical theatre director in Africa and one of the best five in the whole world.

"This house I took a bond on it, and I'm paying for it like anyone else. I'm not one who when he gets millions for productions will take R5million and buy a house.

"That is a no, no. I'm both an artist, who wants his work to live for 100 years, and a businessman," Ngema said.

And, as if to prove the point, during our two-hour visit, his lawyer and accountant were also there to do business.