Kudu: Land claims its blood

So here we are again, have been for some time; in a tussle over land.

Those who don’t have it are full of fury, and those who do full of fear. But when the furious have vanquished the fearful, when a particular interpretation of justice has been meted out, will peace then be attained?

Not according to Kudu, a play currently showing at the Baxter Theatre and looking to the future. A future a mere 22 years away when the Xhosa nation has taken over (taken back) their ancestral home of the Eastern Cape.

True to the nature of political discourse and increasingly polarised views in which nuance is an irritation to be disposed of with propaganda and ‘alternative facts‘, it’s a winner-takes-all situation. Nationalism is reborn. The Xhosa land can only be for the AmaXhosa, and of course for AmaXhosa to continue to exist and lay claim to the their spiritual landscape and ancestral home, their blood needs to remain pure.

In this sense Kudu acknowleges how geography can provide a deep psychological sense of rootedness, which is able to bear a rich fruit of culture and belonging. But Kudu is no paean to the promised land, it is a reminder, and a warning.

For before the Israelites crossed the Jordan, the Canaanites were living in the land of milk and honey. The Canaanites of Kudu’s Eastern Cape are the Khoi-San, who inhabited most of southern Africa before anyone else wandered over – an irritating detail glossed over in the land debate. The dramatic conflict arises when three of their descendants come along and stake their claim on the AmaXhosa’s mystical mountain.

Writer Lwanda Sindaphi, who also directs his play, refreshingly strays from a politically correct path, raising the spectre of tribalism and a people obsessed with their own identity, their own purity. Hitler’s Aryan race, Verwoed’s Afrikaaner volk, England’s obsessive belief in their own superiority which provided them self-justification for slaughtering Khoi-San, Native Americans, Aborigines, anyone darker-skinned and different. The Hutus slaughtering the Tutsis.

Thus the AmaXhosa in Kudu and the ‘Khoi – Coloured’ (as described in the programme notes) descendants who upset their notions of ancestral ownership, are poetic allegories for the claims of nationhood and identity, which the play surprisingly failed to make full use of, particularly since the scene is set in the future (albeit a not very distant one).

The particularity of place and the almost retrogressive costuming constructed a border that took at least half the play to cross. There were opportunities missed by Asiphe Lili (who was mentored by Craig Leo), although the design created staggered levels put to good use with Themba Stewart’s transformative lighting.

It was the chorus intro, the strangely inserted video projection, and over-staged Khoi-Coloured journey that put up a barrier to entry that was at times literal. It was only at the haunting, wailing trance voiced by Inge Isaacs that my visa was granted. From there we were along for the ride.

Certain things continued to detract from the belated poetic arc though. Lwanda needs to rethink Natasha Gana’s role; a child forsaking her parents for strangers is a very creaky bridge to cross and needs a lot more motivation – would in fact require an entire play – than can be contained in this work. It is no fault of Natasha’s acting, rather a glitch in the script, one that could easily be solved by adding a few years to her character.

The rocks giving voice to the past is an inspired connection to all who have trod upon the land, but the dissonance between the mystery of their voices our Khoi-Coloured heroines urge us to pay attention to, and the loudness of their clicking blasted at us over the sound system, was jarring. And that bloody fence. It was used to great effect in the later scenes but in the beginning was so close to comic it required effort not to get hung up on it. Also still confused about Kudu, when Eland was the antelope Khoi-San revered most.

This baggage aside, Lwanda’s Kudu takes us to the top of the mountain to provide a view across history’s arc and into the conflicted ideals of nationhood – the desire for self-rule and independence, and the interlinked fear of its potential loss, with the cruelty and intolerance such fear fosters.

With tensions over land stretching to breaking point here at home, and nationalism desperately plying its political pitch from America to Brexit to Catalan, Kudu could not be more pertinent.

Best we heed its warning.

Kudu is on at the Baxter Theatre Flipside until 10 March. It was created  by Lwanda Sindaphi as part of the Magnet Theatre Theatremaking Internship Program with the cast of third year Magnet trainees on the Full Time Training and Job Creation Program. Book here.

Writer and director: Lwanda Sindaphi; Design: Asiphe Lili (mentored by Craig Leo); Lighting design: Themba Stewart; Music: Zinzi  Nogavu; Choreography: Jennie Reznek; Stage manager: Mark Strydom; Assistant stage manager: Xola Mntanywa; Production manager: Themba Stewart; Publicity: Mari Stimie.

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