“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” said Mahatma Ghandi, whose political consciousness was sparked during South Africa’s tumultuous apartheid regime.
His words ring ever more true as South Africans look within to build the country’s future, realising that the power to do so lies in the deeds of ordinary citizens.
Recognising this, Brand South Africa’s Play Your Part campaign encourages South Africans to use their time, money, skills or goods to contribute to a strong, united nation; now the initiative is producing a series for SABC 2 featuring ordinary South Africans doing extraordinary things to contribute to positive change.
The first episode, airing on Sunday 15 June at 9pm on SABC2, features struggle activist Sibongile Mkhabela, and her daughter and playwright, Ntsako Mkhabela. The episode focuses on how Ntsako sees her mother’s sacrifices for her freedom, and how Sibongile feels about her daughter’s accomplishments.
In a quiet moment on location at Constitutional Hill, Sibongile and Ntsako reflect on their respective journeys to freedom and understanding.
SIBONGILE: THE STUDENT ACTIVIST
Sibongile’s life journey took her from Soweto’s burning streets during the 1976 student uprisings, to being chief executive officer at the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital. Growing up in Zola, one of the poorest areas in Soweto, Sibongile says she has always had a desire for change. A former student leader, executive member of the Soweto Students Representative Council and general secretary for the South African Students Movement, she was one of many responsible for driving the nation-wide June 16 1976 revolt.
Sibongile describes the day, saying, “I remember when we were marching, we were coming from Naledi, that was my high school, and it’s further down in the west, and Hector Pieterson died, I think, more to the south.
“And as we were marching we got the message that Hector Pieterson had died. For me that was a defining moment, if there were defining moments, and that sense of loss … just never left me.
“So, for me that moment that I remember walking with my friends and hearing this message, that at that point there is no turning point, we’ve paid the highest price. Going back would be to be unfaithful to the boy who had died. And by the end of that day we didn’t have as many deaths as we had the next day, June 17th. June 17th was a horrible day. But I think from that moment onwards I was almost carried by something else, you know. Within me there was born something.”
After the protests, Sibongile was arrested and charged, with 10 others, with sedition, in what was known as the Soweto 11 trial. She was the only female student arrested during the uprising.
NTSAKO: THE PASSIONATE PLAYWRIGHT
Ntsako’s play, By the Apricot Tree, is based on her mother’s experiences in prison and was penned when she was just 22. Describing her mum as “crazy, daring and incredibly courageous” Ntsako says the play describes her mother’s coping mechanisms during solitary confinement; “She had to forget,” she says.
Sibongile is clearly proud of the result, saying, “In her way she was trying to understand what I went through. And it was beautiful to see it from her eyes … when you get into that you’ve got to find a way of surviving. How do you survive? You have to forget. So she does this play, which I find very fascinating, of playing with memory, how you play with memory.”
For Ntsako, the play is also cathartic. She says, “The problem with young people in post-colonial Africa is that we shy away from telling our stories, especially those that remind us of our painful past. Storytelling is an important part of our nation’s past.
“For South Africa to heal, we must craft more than the official history and tell the stories of ordinary people who fought for freedom.”
She believes nation-building is in the hands of the people, and says, “Democracy was step one; step two is to make the responsibilities real and carry these out.”
She adds; “We … must avoid being complacent when it comes to further growing our nation, and extending our freedoms beyond what they are today.
“Activism is dirty; it needs your hands whether it is a veggie garden, teaching kids how to paint, or how to write; activism needs your hands more than your voice. We need to get dirty man. We need to think deeply about realities… look outside the window.
“We have [the] courage to do things and the choices we make are never linear. My mum is not linear; she is so much more than just a mother. So many mothers want to shield their children, but my life with her is always an adventure.
“She says ‘always ask yourself, what you are doing for your society?'”
Join Sibongile and Ntsako at Constitutional Hill on Sunday 15 June at 9pm on SABC2, and look out for more Play Your Part stories about everyday South Africans every Sunday from then until 7 September.