By PRASHALAN GOVENDER
Rhodes Drama Master’s student Khanya Ngcuka’s directorial debut, Jikijela (Zulu for “throwing stones”), recently performed at the National Arts Festival (NAF), has garnered significant critical acclaim and deep appreciation from members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Ahead of another performance of the play on Wednesday, 10 August, Ngcuka greeted me with the warmth people usually reserve for close friends.
When asked to say what her play is about, she carefully contemplated what she could tell me about the play that doesn’t reveal too much. Eventually, joyously smiling on coming up with a spoiler-free synopsis, she said, “Jikijela is about a friend group of three lesbians who used to be a group of four but lost their friend to a brutal hate crime. In the wake of her murder, the living members of the group grapple with her loss and try to find ways to get justice for her.”
“I am a queer woman who has experienced certain types of violence because of my sexuality. I’ve also heard and seen stories on social media, the news, and documentaries about queer people who have experienced violence because of their sexuality. For these reasons, I felt an urgency to speak on the hate crimes the queer community are at risk of experiencing.”
The hate crime addressed in the play is ‘corrective rape’. Conversations around the atrocity of ‘corrective rape’ are deeply uncomfortable. But, Ngcuka felt compelled to start that dialogue.
The play has only been viewed by a relatively small number of people so far; consequently, it is yet to be seen whether it will ignite many conversations about ‘corrective rape’. But, Ngcuka reveals that she has met one of her other objectives – she has made survivors feel seen. “After a NAF performance, lesbian and gay men came up to me to tell me they have been ‘correctively raped’.” These exchanges were powerful as survivors often feel alone and isolated.
Jikijela not only addresses queerphobic violence; it also subtly but sharply comments on how queerphobic violence is different for women of colour. Furthermore, the play is one of few plays which address queerphobic violence and one of few plays which prominently feature queer women of colour. Considering that the play is one of the first to do so many things, it feels right that at the NAF, the production house that Ngcuka is a part of, won a coveted Standard Bank Ovation Award.
Jikijela can be seen on Wednesday, 10 August at 7 pm at the Rhodes Theatre. The play will show as part of a Woman’s Day programme, which will also feature a panel discussion that Khanya Ngcuka will be a part of. Entrance is free.