Every year I work as a theatre technician at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival. This year my venue was Commemoration (Commem) Church and because this is a church productions that were performed there had to have a celestial feel about them. There were orchestras, jazz bands, marimba groups; and then there were two prison groups – and both performed free shows.
One group is from eXesi (Middledrift) and the other is local. The group from eXesi did two performances outside just below the church stairs. They were doing quasi-traditional dance to maskanda music which they apparently recorded. I fell in the habit of trying to figure out what each could be in for. Their leader seemed like a wealthy man and he joked with the prison warders a lot. I figured that he should be a loan shark or a drug dealer. There was one fellow who did not seem mentally stable – the type who could rape a five year old child. He kept saying: “Only God knows’, and when I asked what he meant by that he only stared blankly into my eyes and I almost froze.
The group from the Grahamstown prison performed in and outside. Inside because they were doing drama and outside for marimba and gospel music. One time outside while they were singing a song entitled ‘Kwanele’ meaning ‘enough’ a man came running with a plastic bag in his hands but was caught by two other men who were about to stab him when the police arrived and rescued him by arresting him.
Another time after their performance inside a boy of about nine demanded to be let through backstage. However I tried to convince him that he was not allowed to, he kept asking who I was to tell him that. Eventually the man he wanted to see came out. When I told him about the trouble the boy was giving me he looked depressed.
He later confessed that he had a reputation for being good with the knife, so much that family members had become errogant knowing he would fight their battles for them – and that’s what has kept him in the world of crime for so long. The nine year old was his sister’s child and he had already started using a pen as a knife at school.
Shame! some of these fellows did look rehabilitated. The only pity is that they will come out of prison with some unfortunate scars. In one of their drama pieces they confessed to being used as women in prison. This means that they are being raped by other men.
When you come across some of these things, you wonder what could I do to help better the cituation. If the Village Scribe Association could get permission to record and publish some of their plays (short but good plays), marimmba playing or their dancing online, maybe it would help make their plight noticed by more people who could contribute jobs for these guys when they come out.