poet muse: Matsemela Manaka (1957 – 1999)

Poetry Potion | September 26th, 2014 | current issue, poet muses | No Comments

poet, writer, director, actor, artist, cultural theorist.

“We believe in positive art, theatre of purpose, communal theatre, theatre of survival and liberation”

The 1976 Soweto uprising gave impetus to Matsemela Manaka’s career in theatre and the arts. He started out as a painter and when he discovered theatre, he began to write. He founded Soyikwa African Theatre Company in 1977 at the legendary Funda Centre in Diepkloof, Soweto.

With a philosophy shaped by Black Consciousness, Manaka’s work dealt with “the emotional and psychological effects of political oppression”*. He wrote plays such as Egoli (1979), Vuka (1982), Children of Asazi (1984) and Goree (1989) among others.

Though he didn’t have any formal training in theatre, he drew a lot from the work of Stanislavski and Grotowski. He used their methods in teaching acting and directing at Funda Centre. Through theatre, Manaka and his company showed “their most personal selves” and expressed their moral values.

For Manaka, theatre was a political platform and this meant a rejection of state funding, refusing to perform in places where they had to submit scripts first. In an interview in The Drama Review (Winter, 1986), Manaka, said, “We wanted to shape a theatre culture in Soweto.**” He wanted a theatre that did more than just describe the reality of black people but went deeper into the human experience and dealt with “the human problems that come our of theatre.”



**Matsemela Manaka: Human Problems That Come from a Political Situation: An Interview, T. Philemon Wakashe and Matsemela Manaka The Drama Review: TDR Vol. 30, No. 4 (Winter, 1986), pp. 48-50, Published by: The MIT Press




this article was published in our print quarterly number seven, Words.

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