Hayaniby Bongani Kona / 19.08.2013
It was serendipitous that scholar and writer, Njabulo Ndebele, was in the audience on the night I watched Hayani, a play written and performed by Atandwa Kani and Nat Ramabulana. The play, on reflection, shares familiar touch points with his essay, ‘A home for intimacy,’ which first appeared in the Mail and Guardian in 1996.
The essay considers the subject of ‘home’ and how tenuous the concept is for black South Africans who lived through the era of forced removals and the high-handed madness of apartheid. When he returned to the country during the heady days following Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1991, Ndebele says he tried to show his children the place where he grew up but the house in what was then called the Western Native Township had long been demolished. “Where so many homes have been demolished, people moved to strange places, home temporarily becomes the shared experience of homelessness, the fellow-feeling of loss and the desperate need to regain something,” he wrote.
“The shared experience of homeless, the fellow-feeling of loss and the desperate need to regain something” is the animating force behind, Hayani; which translates to ‘home’ in Venda. Atandwa Kani, son of the legendary John Kani, and Nat Ramabulana weave together their personal histories and memories of growing up in South Africa during the dying days of apartheid up to the present moment. “Where is your true home? How do you find it? How do you keep from leaving it? These are some of the questions we explore and deal with in Hayani.” Kani said in a recent interview. To which Ramabulana added that they use moments from their lives to “take the audience on their own journey down memory lane and give them an opportunity to remember the moments in their lives that brought them to who they are and what they are now.”
The play opens with the two men mimicking their younger selves and re-enacting the familiar ritual of travelling back ‘home’ to the rural areas from the Johannesburg during family holidays. While Kani is gleeful just at the thought of driving back to Port Elizabeth, returning to Limpopo fills Ramabulana with trepidation. Even at a young age he’s aware of his estrangement from his roots brought on by the fact that he goes to a ‘white school’ courtesy of his father’s employer. This sense of estrangement only widens when Ramabulana is in high school.
Masterfully shifting between roles Kani and Ramabulana begin to piece together not only the story of their own lives but that of their parents as well. Delving into memories of joy and heartbreak, both personal and collective, Hayani is a moving story about the journey to find a place to call home.
*Hayani plays at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town until 31 August after which it plays at The Market Theatre in Jozi, from 18 September 2013 – 27 October 2013.