South Africa: Classic Pan-African tale in Johannesburg

By Martin Chemhere – South African audiences are increasingly acquainting themselves to outside, pan-African performances with Sunjata the latest production to hit local theatre stages in Johannesburg.

Adapted and directed by the award-winning James Ngcobo, it runs at The Market Theatre from 14 January to March 14.

Sunjata is an adaptation of a classic African tale that has been told by generations of griots (oral historians) from Sengui, Banyangara, Manding, Dogon and other villages – each of them committed to ensuring that this timeless tale is never lost under the sands of the southern Sahara.

Two powerful kings receive a prophecy from messengers about the imminent birth of boy. He will be the greatest king Mali will ever know. The one king is desperate for this boy to be born for he needs an heir who will ensure that his name echoes throughout time. The other king tries everything he can to ensure the boy is never born for the prophecy states that the boy will end this king’s reign… An ugly girl of a low status travels from a distant land to find the seeds of a baobab tree. Her journey is also part of the prophecy, for she is destined to give birth to this famed boy.

Years later, when Sunjata reaches maturity, he defeats the demon king who has usurped his throne. With the help of his sister, Sunjata will go on to conquer an area that will become known as the empire of Mali, ruling for many years with fairness and in peace.

This production includes a range of established and emerging talents – Dominique Gumede, Sibulele Gcilitshana, Conrad Kemp, Masasa Mbangeni, Lerato Mvelase and Reshoketswe Sebotsane.