Creatives Under Lockdown is a SABC News feature that focuses on issues affecting artists. This week poet, writer, and director Siphokazi Jonas shares her journey.
The theatre production #WeAreDyingHere which is currently streaming online confronts the prevalence of Gender-based Violence in South Africa.
It is a response to the people that have been dying at the hands of their partners, the abuse and rape culture in the country which has seen some people take to social media to voice their anger and frustration.
Producer and writer of the poetry and music production, Siphokazi Jonas, says it is a result of the despair that she was feeling as more women were being killed.
“It was an idea that came to me in 2019, after the death of Uyinene (Mrwetyana) and a number of women who then trended under different hashtags. I think for a lot of us, especially women in South Africa, felt this deep sense of fear and hopelessness that we were not being heard, nothing concrete is being done about gender-based violence in South Africa. But above all, it was this overwhelming sense of despair in many of us left with the question, am I next?”
University of Cape Town student, Uyinene Mrwetyana was raped and murdered by a post office employee, Luyanda Botha in August 2019. He dumped her body in an open field in Khayelitsha, Western Cape, and set it alight. Botha is now serving a life sentence and will not be eligible for parole for 25 years.
Jonas says the production is an opportunity to express feelings brought about by these incidents.
“As a writer, I wondered how I could speak to that particular void. At first, I did not feel that the arts could have anything to say because the reality of our situation seemed so overwhelmingly grim. But after a conversation with a friend, she helped me understand that it is not just about changing the behaviour of the perpetrator for example, that when we have these artistic interventions we have an opportunity to articulate or help ourselves articulate our own stories and to express what we are really feeling and that, for me, was a beautiful point of departure.”
Jonas is no stranger to dealing with issues affecting women through her work. Around the Fire, which she wrote and produced started as a series of poems in 2015 and turned into full production. The production, which follows the stories of three women in Cape Town, ended up being featured at the Artscape Spiritual Festival.
“It was an interesting narrative. I had interviewed three women in Cape Town who told me their stories and it speaks to homelessness in Cape Town. It speaks to, you know, class issues. There is this one character who has to move from the flats to UCT and she is assaulted in that space and she is negotiating a number of different things, and what it means to have women having relationships and building a sense of community, coming from different backgrounds. So, they sit around this fire on a winter night and share their stories.”
Jonas is also the first of many. She is the first African poet to perform at the spoken word event Rhetoric in the United States; the first Cape Town Ultimate Slam champion; and she was the headline of the first South African Poetry Tour. She says performing at the Rhetoric was a dream come true.
“That was certainly what felt like a once in a lifetime experience. First of all, going to perform at Rhetoric, the platform itself when I had spent so many years watching their material and being a fan of so many of the poets. I remember how excited we were when they came to South Africa for the first time. It is really unforgettable because there is something about having like 3 500 people in this massive church who love poetry and are here to support it and the poets.”
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Jonas’ stage journey began when she played a hippo in a Grade 4 Noah’ Ark school play. She spent most of her childhood days in Queenstown, Eastern Cape at the library.
“I think my love of art has been with me because my parents were in a choir. My mom was a choir conductor and my dad was in the choir. I come from a very musical family. Unfortunately, I did not pick up a lot of that. Musically, it is very average. But I was surrounded by it in that way.”
Jonas is currently busy together with two other writers, working on an animated feature for young teenage girls.
“I am hoping to do some television writing as well. You may see my name on some credits in the next year or so depending on how things go with the coronavirus. We would like to take #WeAreDyingHere on tour.”
The production #WeAreDyingHere will be streaming online until 13 July.
Interesting facts about Siphokazi Jonas
Q: Who is your favourite writer or poet?
A: It shifts, but right now: Gabeba Baderoon.
Q: What career would you have chosen had you not been an artist?
Q: What inspires you?
A: Humans being at their best and being invested in the wellbeing of others.
Q: What is your biggest regret?
A: That I didn’t believe in my abilities as an artist sooner.
Below is a podcast with Siphokazi Jonas:
Related: Part 1: Starving artist’ a more meaningful phrase amid lockdown
Related: Part 2: ‘I don’t know myself outside my world of acting’
Related: Part 3: Letshego Zulu on fitness under lockdown
Related: Part 4: Uzalo’s Wiseman Mncube shares his journey
Related: Part 5: Artists advised to spend prudently in order to survive rainy days
Related: Part 6: Thabo Malema on the new enemy, his dream and COVID-19
Related: Part 7: Musician Tribute Mboweni on her collaboration with DJ Ganyani
Related : Part 8: Musician Shade on life as an independent artist
Related: Part 9: Kabelo Letshwene talks about fine art