Angola Camp 13, the multiple-award winning South African State Theatre production would not have happened had the powers-that-be had their way according to its creator, celebrated writer and director Sello Maseko. Of course such a statement would come off as somewhat strange in a democratic state like South Africa but that such kind of ‘state censorship’ is something which could actually have occurred tells you all you need to know about Angola Camp 13 and why it stirred so many emotions and embarrassing kneejerk reactions from the political establishment.
Angola Camp 13 is not apologetic about what kind of story it wanted to tell and how that story was to be told – hardly unsurprising given that in doing research for the story it’s writer and director, Sello Maseko spoke not only to the victims but also to families of the victims and also to survivors of the atrocities and human rights abuses which form the backdrop and where much of the narrative is derived from for this production.
This brave, unrelenting and hard-hitting production won a slew of awards at last year’s Covid-19 affected Naledi Theatre Awards (arguably the most prestigious theatre awards in South African theatre) namely for Best Director in a Musical, Best Choreography, Best Musical Original Score, Best Sound Design, Best Musical Original Score and Best Ensemble.
For a story of this kind which is not only based on true and (and now) fiercely contested historical events but which also ‘speaks truth to power’ and for a narrative (or counter-narrative) which focuses on the ANC and it’s armed wing uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in exile, winning these awards was certainly no mean feat at a time when ‘struggle fatigue’ is something which can no longer be denied or ignored.
For Sello Maseko, Angola Camp 13 was a story that was personal and needed to be told because he was born in exile to parents who were also in the struggle and so these stories were common-place but they seemingly were never formally acknowledged later alone told and this is what made him decide to do what some would have deemed treasonous given his own strong connections and standing in the same organisation today.
As a prolific writer who has penned numerous productions, Angola Camp 13 was in his own words one which sat with him for the longest time demanding to be written and when he relented and travelled to Angola as part of his research process then the proverbial die had been cast.
Angola Camp 13 is a powerful choreographic and musical masterpiece in how it utilises well-timed military-style marching movements interspersed with the protest-style toyi-toyi and with some of the most mesmerising singing of well-known struggle songs all expertly put together by a world-class creative team, Angola Camp 13 ‘s production values are certainly of stratospheric levels. The creative team must be commended for going all-out to ensure that Angola Camp 13 does not become just another nostalgic struggle story but using all available creative tools at their disposal it honours the harrowing and heart-breaking stories of what happened when erstwhile comrades became everything they were fighting to liberate themselves and the nation from.
In the words of writer and director Sello Maseko productions like Angola Camp 13 are important in that they serve to ‘close the missing gap’ in the formally told, historically recorded and accepted narratives but also provide much needed closure for survivors and families of survivors.
Angola Camp 13 written and directed by Sello Maseko and featuring Soiso Ndaba, Kabelo Moremedi, Eric Vilakazi, Thulani Ramogototoane, Kabelo Tshimakwane, Phethiwe Sibanyoni, Tiisetso Qilane, Nompumelelo Bucwa, Maveraine Amos, Lesego Montwedi and Tiisetso Qungale was on at South African State Theatre 3-6 December 2020
Tonderai Chiyindiko is a part-time arts writer and contributor. He holds a B.A honours degree in drama from the University of Zimbabwe and a Masters degree in Applied Drama from University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. He has been part and parcel of the theatre-verse both as an actor and director and more generally worked extensively within the cultural and creative industries sector in various capacities.