REVIEW: Ankobia: A whisper that awakens purposeful existence

Momo Matsunyane, Alfred Motlhapi and Billy Langa. Photographer: Thandile Zwelibanzi
Momo Matsunyane, Alfred Motlhapi and Billy Langa. Photographer: Thandile Zwelibanzi

“Xhoi! Xhoi Xhoi”, a conjuring whisper by Kamma and Ditukile of Maitayatshwene order, haunts you as an audience member. It is a whisper not into the ear but into the soul. It is a call that implores one to listen to the susurration of thousands of distant tribes, clans and nations who had the humanity balance.

Not to reduce its message to singularity, the story beseeches us to re-imagine the possibility of a just existence. It challenges us to negate tutelage that brainwashes and propagandize us into servitude, and educates us into ignorance.

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The 2017 Standard Bank Artist of Year for Theatre Rre Monageng Motshabi’s choice of the work speaks volumes about his integrity, uprightness and robustness as a playwright, theatre maker and director. He could have easily chosen a work that would be a theatrical spectacle. He instead chose to pen and stage work that sits at the heart of a conflicted post apartheid South Africa.

The co-writing of Rre Motshabi and Rre Omphile Molusi appears to emerge from the concept of ‘Mainane  or Dikinane’  – often misconstrued as folk tale, which is a western concept. At the heart of ‘Leinane’ is an interrogation of the life imbalances effected by varied universal inhabitants. ‘Mainane‘ use a combination of symbols, imagery, song, dance, lament and mystical elements to paint either an ideal scenario or a worst case scenario in  cases of inaction to curb a situation. Ankobia has all these elements. The choice of a young yet graceful cast speaks to the idea of who major target of the revolution impulse are. The cast together with the musical genius of Volley Nchabeleng, form an ensemble that paints the landscape of the piece with diligence.

All seems well in the world. Only it isn’t, that is what marks the beginning of the plot of Ankobia. The play paints a nuanced worst case scenario set in 2041. The people of Peloikgale are at crossroads in a fight against the beast of monotheistic worldview and systemic oppression. The play intricately navigates this complex subject matter laying it bare in manner similar to that of Credo Mutwa, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Dambudzo Marechera.

Play credits
Director: Monageng Vice Motshabi
Writers: Monageng Vice Motshabi and Omphile Molusi
Lighting Designer: Thapelo Mokgosi
Set Designer: Thando Lobese
Choreographer: Lulu Mlangeni
Musician: Volley Nchabeleng

Omphile Molusi as Magnae Animae
Momo Matsunyane as Kamma
Billy Langa as Ditukile
Alfred Motlhapi as Xhoi
Lillian Tshabalala as Victoria
Katlego Letsholonya as Dominique

Ankobia explores different themes of the whiteness project such as cultural  structuring  of  thought, the use  of  religion and  ideology  to drive  monotheistic  ideal,  exploration  of  power symbols and realities  including land,  the myth of  universal aesthetic,  the complexity of image   and  national consciousness,  the image  of  self and other,  the  matrix  of  the function  rhetoric  and behavior  (interpersonal, intracultural and intercultural), the syntax of cultural imperialism, and the life of an unfulfilled lethargic being. With South African situation and history as a backdrop, Ankobia reflects on historical milieu of the cumulative whiteness project stretching as far back as  imperialism, slavery and colonialism. Some say  what Rre Motshabi has done is bravery, I believe it is pure intellect and an evidence of a storyteller who has a pulse on and awareness of human condition

This  minimally constructed story deliberately avoids unnecessary theatrical gimmicks and spectacle by elevating the core subject matter. It subtly pursues everyone  to  account  for  their  complicit silence and apathy in giving body to entrenchment of ‘whiteness’. It is a story about how the architects of dominance of ‘whiteness’ are frightened to the point of warfare with what and those they see as opposition. The creation of Magnae Animae exemplifies this embodied fear to lose power and control.

Monageng and his creative team have astutely crafted as a confront of a world so swiftly crafted for over 5000 years through the written word, war, hereditary monarchy, private property and monotheistic worldview. So ingrained is this system that an alternative seems impossible and unimaginable. This is the dilemma of Xhoi and those he leads. Through Maitayatshwene’s pilgrimage the struggle to purge the self of this monstrous system is explored and the challenge is not easy. The use of the ‘chip’ and ‘bleach’ as symbols for this oppressive and violent system in the digital age and modern society is a stroke of a genius.

Ankobia absolves no one of the responsibility in enabling the violent system of whiteness. It argues that through self-justifying reason, strife for financial power,  and the quest to matter or be seen, we have brought the system to dominant life and the implications have taken over our lives. The hand of repetition and no learning conducts us to a tune and rhythm of calamity. This calamity is carried in simple everyday activities, our diets, anxieties around our bodies, attitudes towards animals, children and nature in general, our sense of gender and sexuality. We have become a callous story that elevates the patriarchal dominance while forbidding, alienating and negating the feminine with fatal imbalance.

Akobia is clarion call to black and people of colour to redress and rid themselves of the narrative that paints them as powerless, apathetic, fearful,  delusional,  alienated,  self-hating,  angry,  confused,  absurdly   materialistic,  dependent,  unhealthy,  and unashamed at the grossest misbehaviors. The play challenges one to consciously fashion an Afrocentric enlightenment system, formal and informal, that will repair the colossal damage that centuries of defeats and enslavement and Eurocentric education has done to the Black African psyche. It urges all of us, black and white take responsibility and end the humiliation by race and to take full control of our societies and our destiny.

My challenge to the director and his design team would be around the play staging. Such a play requires a penetration of the fourth wall and a challenge of the theatre space as a symbol for the status quo. In order to fully disrupt the dominant narrative there is need to re-imagine the theatre as a space built for storytelling and stories as literary constituents of life that transforms this black box called the theatre.

What could be a greater testament to our heroism than to overcome the problems that face us today? Why would we wish to escape this kind of challenge? It’s too wonderful, too magnificent. Now that’s how one could matter. Ankobia Speaks. This review is just a whisper, lets make Ankobia a voice. “Moroto wa oo esi ga o ele”.

Maatla. Strength!

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