Mother of Freedom – SA in Dubai Expo 2020

Mother of Freedom - SA in Dubai Expo 2020

Tebogo Ditinti:I was at the South African State Theatre on September 29 2021 for the final dress rehearsal of a piece titled Mother of Freedom.

Just in case you thought I meant to say Dubai Expo 2021, no, I mean #DubaiExpo2020. The expo was originally scheduled to take place from 20 October 2020 till 10 April 2021, but due to the Coronavirus and global lockdown it was rescheduled to 01 October 2021 to 31 March 2022. The expo committee opted to keep the 2020 marketing material that I imagine was already done and most probably very expensive, which makes some kind of sense because the World Expo happens every five years; the last one was in Milan, Italy in 2015. Remember how we saw the same thing happen with the Olympics?

Mother of Freedom is a concept by Aubrey Sekhabi, written and directed by the immensely talented award-winning playwright, director and artistic director of the South African State Theatre.

The Department of Sports, Arts and Culture and its collaborating partners wanted the best to represent SA in Dubai, hence the appointment of The South African State Theatre as the producing agency and Sekhabi as the curator of the performing arts program, writer and director of the opening event.

Knowing Sekhabi’s work, he specializes in doing the outmost. If Freedom, that was in cinemas countrywide not so long ago, Marikana the musical, Silent Voice, Mantolo – the 10th step, Kalushi – the story of Solomon Mahlangu, Rivonia Trial, only to name a few, are anything to go by, then Mother of Freedom is a very welcome treat.

I had the honour of talking to Aubrey Sekhabi, who is currently in Dubai, might I add. Yes, he took time out of his busy schedule to grant me an interview which felt more like a life lesson in performing arts from SA to the world. He describes his collaboration with Luthando Arts Academy as a natural progression when it comes to the development of artists.

When I asked him how he selected the artists that he did for Mother of Freedom, he brings the story to life with his dialect. Mother of Freedom is about the journey of performing arts in South Africa while paying tribute to mama Charlotte Maxeke and her contribution to the history and development of our country in her efforts to fight for human rights. For that to translate from mama Mirriam Makeba, to mama Winnie Madikizela Mandela, Brenda Fassie, and to bring us Thandiswa Mazwai whom he describes as the matriarch of South African entertainment, and Mafikizolo, all consistent throughout their careers, is a stroke of genius.

Aubrey Sekhabi also brought in Nondumiso Tembe, a South African artist based in LA whose rendition was digital, complemented by Hape Mokhele who was live on the day of the performance in Dubai. The Luthando Arts Academy under the leadership of Luyanda Sidiya and musical direction by Tebogo Mokoena brought the magic.

What I experienced at the final dress rehearsal of Mother of Freedom is a quilt of art; the young and the old from all corners of the continent with different shades of talents. And that was only a portion of it. We saw on Newzroom Afrika (our only media coverage for the expo) how the presentation actually begins in the foyer where audiences were met by fine artists, Elpee Anathi Nkanyuza and Percy Maimela, who were in actual fact a part of the incubator program by the South African State Theatre some years ago. Sekhabi brings new meaning to Development and in his words “We try by all means to do what we can for artists. We ensure that we create necessary platforms for them to practice their art and fulfil their ambition.” That statement needs no investigation.

The opening night was held at the Habtoor Palace, where Aubrey Sekhabi says they moved in on the very same day of the event – talk about pressure. He speaks very proudly and profoundly of his technical team and cast who made sure that everything goes smoothly without a hitch. “I don’t trust machines,” he says. “Anything can go wrong,” he adds, and to his satisfaction, nothing did.

I asked Aubrey Sekhabi if Mother of Freedom will be seen in SA. “I don’t know, this is new work that has only been seen in Dubai,” he pointed out. We deserve Mother of Freedom; it is our story and it needs to be told here at home as well. Anyone from anywhere in the globe can see it and walk away knowing what SA is all about.

South Africa is among the 190 countries represented at the world’s biggest event. The Dubai Expo 2020 is currently being recorded as the biggest event to ever take place during a pandemic, most probably the most expensive too. I hear a portion of chips costs 30 Dirham which amounts to a whopping R120. Purely for my curiosity, I asked Mr Sekhabi if they have Mentos in Dubai. You see, those are my favourite sweets and guess what? He doesn’t know. He only has time to focus on the task at hand and nothing else…

“Being trusted with national duty is affirming” – Aubrey Sekhabi.

Tebogo Ditinti
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