Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers, real and fictional

My mother’s garments 
never seemed to grow old.
Slack suits and twin sets
from the seventies,
woven from some synthetic
substance that did not wear
or tear, unlike the natural fibre
of her skin. My aged mother’s
delicate covering bled
every time she stumbled.
Worn out; worn to shreds.

— "Going home", Disturbance, Dawn Garisch


It has just gone six a.m. I walk my son down the road to the corner where we wait for his lift. The sun is rising, the light streaking the horizon gold. I comment on the morning buzz, the company we keep, power-walkers, the dog walkers, workers and school kids heading for the train. ‘The day carries on.’
Without you, the day must carry on.
Al says, ‘Of course, but let me remind you that you’re wearing pyjamas.’

— Death and the After Parties, Joanne Hichens


They fled with nothing, never stopping. Not even when his mother tripped, his sister, tied to her back, knocking her head so hard that a bump rose immediately. She had been crying, now she screamed. Yet still they ran, amid their own blood and spittle, as the black cloud of the burning valley hunted them, chasing them forward, forward, towards the blue sky.

— An Island, Karen Jennings


Now Shirley, you know, became a mother quite young – sixteen or something like that. She ran away from home with newborn Jason; his naeltjie at his belly hadn’t even fallen off yet. Came to Cape Town where she thought no one would find her. The Northern Cape was far.

— "Homeful", Let It Fall Where It Will, Lester Walbrugh


Lexi shrugged off her coat. She heard the rustle of beads as her mother, Sandra, came through the hippie curtain from the kitchen at the end of the long hallway. Like the town was bisected by a highway, so was their house by the passage.
‘I thought you would be asleep by now.’ Lexi feigned surprise.
‘I waited up. You’re my responsibility now.’ Her mother was in a kaftan, her hair long and loose. She looked like she’d escaped from the Mamas and the Papas.
‘Yay.’ The joys of being dumped and fleeced by her husband never ceased.

— A Fractured Land, Melissa A. Volker


I still remember my mother’s words when we got in the car to go to mass. ‘It’s Christmas, Mary, not a funeral.’ But I’ve always worn black. I would have said she was tempting providence, if that wasn’t exactly the sort of thing she would say. I should have, though. When we got home, a bunch of armed response cars were blocking the gates to the complex. The police were there. Men in bulletproof vests. Guns.

— A Hibiscus Coast, Nick Mulgrew


Not a word was exchanged between us as my mother and I made our way home. She must have seen how disappointed I was for, as soon as we walked into the house, she turned to me, demanding – ‘Where is the form?’
Puzzled, I looked at her. What use was that form now? What would she do with it? Only my father could sign it; and he had flatly refused, hadn’t he?
‘Give me the form, Thembi.’
‘Why, Mama?’
‘Letha, bo!’
My mother forged Baba’s signature.
I applied for a passport, astounded by my mother’s actions. She had shown me a side of her I didn’t suspect existed.

— Theatre Road, Sindiwe Magona


The lagoon has
forgotten us
like a son
sometimes
forgets his father

but never his mother

— "Port is red and starboard green", For Everything That Is Pointless and Perfect, Stephen Symons


But tell me this: where is his irrepressible, eternal soul? Because that is what interests me more. Where is his spirit, free of the gritty, grey residue of his body, which I have felt with my own hands? Because I, with the five senses of a woman, and undeniable sixth one 16 of a mother, cannot fathom the dimension within which my child now exists.

— "Lost", Earth to Mom, Sue Brown

“Agency” by Sindiwe Magona

Sindiwe and Thembi

Thembi Mtshali-Jones is an international legend. Theatre Road, as the title suggests, is a book about the path, choices, hurdles, surprises and much more in Thembi’s life that have given us the actress she is today, an internationally celebrated icon. It is the first of what will probably end up a series of life stories about her. The book is a gift to South Africa and the world.

Thembi Mtshali-Jones’s life is a roadmap to the history of South Africa. When she was born, apartheid was one year old – barely understood by the bewildered ‘Bantu’ on whom it would be mercilessly inflicted for the next fifty years.

But Theatre Road is not an angry outburst about the evils and cruelty of apartheid. It is a gently-told story of a life, a very rich life. A life that happened because of the integrity of a family. Thembi is the embodiment of the saying ‘It Takes a Village to Raise a Child’.

Theatre Road depicts a life that has not been easy – not always; she has had a fair share of ups and downs, of loss, of missteps. But integrity, especially that of family, and a strong sense of self form the cornerstone of Thembi’s life: this is richly depicted in Theatre Road.

Thembi’s parents worked in Durban, where she was born. Black life being what it was then, they took newly-born infant Thembi to her paternal grandparents. She was barely a month old, still on her mother’s breast. She grew up in the village of Sabhoza where she was surrounded by the love and attention of her extended family and the caring, mindful attention of all the grownups in the village – when we still knew or remembered that a child is a child to all grownups, not only her or his biological parents. She was cradled in love.

The actress she has become is rooted in that rich soil. When challenges came in her life – as they do in all lives – her rootedness enabled her to not only endure those with fortitude but transcend them.

If there is one characteristic that shines through and through in the book – it is AGENCY. I love the book for that. It reminds me of one of my mottos: ‘If you do not like what you have become, who you are or where you are … M O V E!’

Nothing will move in one’s life unless that life moves.

To expect your life to change but do nothing is magical thinking. Thembi’s life may look like the stuff of fairy tales, but hard work, dedication, integrity have brought her to where she is today. Not dependency. Not chance … for when chance knocked at her door – it found her wide awake and ready to roll.

Theatre Road is a book that will inspire not only young people, not only aspiring actors and singers, but all who value their lives and know that whatever they may be doing … can be improved, made better, richer, more startling and more satisfying. For that is how we serve the world, how we fulfil our purpose on Earth … being the best we can be. Thembi Mtshali-Jones is all that … and more. Theatre Road captures this gem of a human being – umntu ngenene!

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THEATRE ROAD

(This piece was written for the promotion of the EB Homebru list, which has ended last week. We hope it will inspire new readers to embark on this incredible life journey of resilience and perseverance, evocatively portrayed by Sindiwe Magona in Theatre Road, the biography of Thembi Mtshali-Jones.)

Sindiwe Magona’s biography of Thembi Mtshali-Jones, Theatre Road, on the Exclusive Books HOMEBRU list

EB Homebru

Homebru: Meet South African authors in their own words

Themed under the banner of “Meet them in their own words”, this year we aim to make our valued authors the heroes of the campaign that celebrate the pens behind the text.

We have chosen books across a wide range of genres – reflective of the current burgeoning publishing of local writing. Cookery, biography, fiction, current affairs, inspirational and children’s are all covered in the selection.

This year, the Homebru campaign runs to the end of July 2020.

HOMEBRU – THEATRE ROAD

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Theatre Road: My Story

THEATRE ROAD: 16 June 1976

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One cold midwinter morning, snuggling in bed because the
previous night had been one of those insufferably late ones, I wanted
to squeeze the last drop of sleep from the night gods. I had a vague
sense the sun had long risen, for the room had shed its gloomy night
coat; but, warm and cosy, I was in no hurry to get out of bed.
Suddenly, peace fled from the room as a loud, unruly noise rudely
peeled back my eyelids. Silently cursing, I dragged myself out of bed,
for the noise grew instead of subsiding, and I knew time to rest was
over. I went out to check what the din was about.
‘The school children are protesting!’ the announcement came
from an unidentifiable mouth, spreading to other sources with a
varying pitch.
‘They do not want to be taught in Afrikaans at school!’
As the information began pouring in from the communal radio,
the angry students drew nearer and nearer, the noise levels rising.
The electric mood in the air pushed me out of the house and yard,
into the thronging street. I could not resist joining the jittery crowd,
waiting to see the approaching students. The shouts and sounds
of stampeding feet coming our way were alarming. These were no
quietly marching Sunday school brigades but, by the sound and look
of it, young people angry enough to spit fire. The head of the crowd
emerged. Knees up in the air, fists stabbing the sky, mouths wide as
hot ovens: the angry, young people poured into our street.

Wednesday, 16 June 1976.
‘Come! Come, join us!’
The students were everywhere, although there was some semblance
of a body, the main body of the march. They spilled out into every
street, jumping fences and popping up in sleepy yards – shouting
and screaming, recruiting support.
‘Join us! Come and join us!’
‘This is your war, too, come!’
At the heart of the march was the rejection of Afrikaans as a
medium of instruction in most of the subjects in Higher Primary and
Secondary Schools. The students had taken to the street, marching
to Orlando Stadium, holding placards with ‘Down with Afrikaans!’
emblazoned prominently on most. Afrikaans was detested by most
Black people since it was the language of the ruling National Party.
It was seen as the language of the oppressor.
What began as a peaceful march slowly became chaotic as the
police moved in to stop the children from proceeding with their
protest. The police, using loudspeakers, ordered the children to go
back to their schools. We could hear the shouting. We could smell
teargas. And the children were running for shelter all over Orlando
West and Dube.
There were those who were crying, blinded by the teargas. We
soon became involved, taking sides, in something that had initially
nothing to do with us grownups. As the community, how could we
not offer to wash the faces of victims of police assault? We could hear
gunshots and were told the police were firing rubber bullets at not
only the students but anyone and everyone out in the streets now.
If the march had provoked police attack, their attack provoked
retaliation. Students began throwing stones at the police. By the
afternoon, we heard the police were firing real bullets directly at the
children. Two children had died and many were injured.
Before nightfall, the whole of Soweto was engulfed in smoke. I
remember trying to go to work late that afternoon and wondering if
we would be able to return.
That night, we performed and the white crowd rose to its feet. The
standing ovation was an every night occurrence. And it pleased us
to no end. But that night, our hearts were in Soweto. As the curtain
rolled down, we all ran to our dressing rooms. After a frenzied
change of clothing, we ran to our bus, hopped in, and then it roared
away. Rumours had already reached us about more and more people
being injured.
Soweto was a fortress that night. Soldiers everywhere. They
stopped each car driving into or out of Soweto. Our mini-bus had Ipi
Tombi conspicuously emblazoned all over it. It was stopped anyway.
‘Where d’you come from, this late?’
The driver explained.
Still the bus was searched.
Driving up to Ephefeni (Orlando West) felt like driving through
a war zone: terrifying. Smoke enveloped everything. The smell of
death hung in the air, palpable.
Trying to sleep that night, I wondered how a day that had started
so peacefully could end up like this.

The next morning, the nation was hit by the photo of a boy, mouth
wide open in a silent scream as he runs with all his might, eyes
bulging in search of help he hopes against hope will come. Every
muscle in the taut body strains under the sad, limp human cargo
he carries.
Hector Pieterson died in the arms of eighteen-year-old
Mbuyisa Makhubu. He was shot by the police and made history:
The First Victim of Police Shooting of Unarmed School Children –
June 16, 1976.
That was an event South Africa will, no doubt, forget one day.
But, that day is not in the country’s foreseeable future. Hector was
followed by many more, killed and injured, hospitals filling to
capacity, often overwhelmed. Mbuyisa eventually went into exile.
That unforgettable afternoon, on my way to work, I took a taxi
to Pimville to check on my daughter. Phumzile, then seven years
old, innocently showed me how ‘the big children, students, said we
must get out!’ Even children that young were ordered out of their
classroom and told to join the protests in the streets.
Turmoil. And, like a wild veld fire, that turmoil grew and grew
and grew until it filled the land. The students’ protest turned into
an uprising and then a revolution and engulfed all youth – those
in school as well as those who were not. The shooting in Soweto
sparked a massive national agitation and soon, even adults were
involved, politicians leading the rest. The fire of discontent had
spread everywhere. It crackled and sizzled throughout the country,
reaching urban and rural areas, big cities and small towns, dorpies
and villages.

Pages 109-112 of Thembi Mtshali-Jones’s Theatre Road: My Story as told to Sindiwe Magona.

Thembi and Sindiwe

Nancy Richards reviews Theatre Road for Breakaway Reviewers

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From domestic worker to diva – a truly South African story

“To a greater or lesser extent all biographies, auto or otherwise, tell the story of the times as much as that of their subject. In Ms Mtshali-Jones case, her story reflects the anomalies and atrocities of apartheid as well as her own journey through theatre. But to begin at the beginning, young Thembi, born of a childlike ‘makoti’ (new wife) grows up in rural Kwa Zulu-Natal with her grandparents. Her early childhood is simple, honest and filled with old school love and care. Things change though when aged 13 she is put on a bus to join her mother in Durban where her eyes are opened wide – and she sees white people for the first time…”

Continue reading: From domestic worker to diva – a truly South African story

Robyn Y. Cohen reviews Theatre Road

The Cape Robyn

Arts and lifestyle writer Robyn Y. Cohen reviews Theatre Road, Thembi Mtshali-Jones’s story as told to Sindiwe Magona:

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“A big surprise for me in reading Theatre Road is that it operates along two converging points. There is the Thembi Mtshali-Jones story – how she made her way from domestic worker to international star on her personal theatre road. And there is the story of the theatre road of Black artists in South Africa and how they have been – and in many instances continue to be –side-lined in terms of recognition (creative and intellectual property) and remuneration.”

“Absence and presence resonate powerfully in reading in Theatre Road and will stay in my mind – long after learning about the details of Mtshali-Jones’ life. From an early age, she dealt with the absence of her mom who was a domestic worker. She was not absent by choice but circumstance of Apartheid which forced her to be separated from her child in order to earn a living. Until she was 13, Mtshali-Jones saw her mom only about once a year. She stayed with her grandparents. Although her mother was not physically there, she was very much a loving presence and this is conveyed deeply by Mtshali-Jones in this book. Her father was generally absent. He was keen to get back into her life when she was famous. His absence was felt but it didn’t define her life and she didn’t shroud herself in anger and resentment.”

Click here to read the entire review: The Cape Robyn

Theatre Road chosen as one of this year’s “most outstanding books”

 

Sunday Times outstanding books2

Sunday Times outstanding books1Theatre Road, the story of Thembi Mtshali-Jones as told to Sindiwe Magona, is among this year’s “most outstanding books”, chosen by the reviewers of the Sunday Times. Thank you to Nancy Richards for including the biography among her picks.

Great to see quite a few independent presses, local and international, getting a mention on this wonderful “Grand Book Tour” of 2019.

Cheers to a great year in books!