By Chamu Wilson –
Controversial musical, Paleho, is set to set tongues wagging at the 20th edition of the Mangaung Arts and Culture Festival (MACUFE) with performances at the Andre Huguenet stage from the 4th to the 5th of October.
Having enjoyed success on different stages across South Africa, Paleho, SeSotho for running away, will afford Free State residents and Macufe revellers a chance to peep into the goings-on at the highly guarded and controversial female initiation schools. A story about a runaway young girl who finds herself at the initiation school, Paleho is an entirely Free State production which was first initiated in 2009.
“The play is about this girl on a quest of self-identity being raised between a background of religion and going back into the initiation school. Throughout the play, the audience is drawn into a sacred world of drama of BaSotho female initiation where this young girl is thrown into by fate,” explained Lebo Leisa, the producer and director of Paleho.
According to Leisa, the motivation behind her going into a sacred area of female initiation that is often shrouded in mystery, awe, controversy and sheer misunderstanding was the need to tell “our own stories” instead of waiting for someone from another culture or country to come and distort it.
“We are BaSotho, this is who we are and we need to tell our own stories. When we started, it was difficult to tap into this subject because of the high wall that has been built around it. But I must say we have been receiving very positive reviews because the storyline itself is not mainly based on female initiation but it’s just that the main actor’s journey takes her through the initiation school,” said Leisa.
Paleho has 13 cast members. The play has since been adapted into a book and, according to Leisa, by 2019, a film based on the play should be showing on the big screens.
Mannini Nkata, who plays the role of Paleho, the runaway girl, says the play taught her a lot about her own Sotho culture.
“Playing the part of Paleho has been a bit challenging for me. Firstly, the character Paleho is almost a decade younger than me but she has been through a lot. And secondly, I have never been to an initiation school so I had to do a lot of research to be able to understand the subject,” Nkata explained.
The actor added that the play helped open her eyes to the secrets of the Sotho culture.
“Through Paleho, I have learnt a lot about my Sotho culture. It has taught me to be more rooted in my culture because when one doesn’t understand who they are, everything becomes difficult to achieve,” said Nkata.
Veteran actor, Nthabiseng Mojaki, who plays Manoko, the initiation school teacher in Paleho, says this was the most challenging role she has had to play in her acting career.
“This was the most challenging role I have ever played because the character is very different to me. She is ruthless, something I am not and everything was a bit overwhelming for me. It tested me to the core.
“But as a person, I have learnt a lot. Through the character, I got to understand that the deep secrets that we keep inside, have a way of influencing us and turning us into very hard and cruel people. It’s only when the secrets come out, that we can be able to understand the behaviour of some people,” said Mojaki.
The winner of the Standard Bank Standing Ovation at Grahamstown in 2016, Paleho has been performed since 2015 at such prestigious platforms as Botho Pan African Arts Festival in Durban, Cape Town Spiritual Arts Festival, Maiteso Festival in Botswana, Lesotho Matjhabeng International College as well as the State Theatre.
After their performance at Macufe, the cast will head to the South African State Theatre where the play will be performed from 13 October to 5 November.