“Winnie the Opera” pays tribute to Winnie Mandela

10th May 2011

When Winnie the Opera premiered at the State theatre in Pretoria last month the curtain went down to a standing ovation for South African composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen, the first black South African to produce and compose an opera. The hotly anticipated show, which has been talked about ever since it went into production, is based on the life of former wife of Nelson Mandela, Winnie Madikizela Mandela – affectionately known as “the mother of the nation” in South Africa

The opera focuses on Madikizela Mandela as she is called to appear before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), to face a murder charge.  Madikizela Mandela was accused of murdering “Stompie” one of the boys who belonged to the Mandela football club who’s death was surrounded by an air of mystery. Madikizela Mandela maintains her boldness in the face of the charges and memories from a fragmented life are evoked.

She has had to sacrifice her family life for the political struggle; tortured in solitary  confinement and faced expulsion and isolation in Brandfort. Tsakane Maswangani who plays the character of Madikizela Mandela added that she has a better understanding of the icon through playing the character considering that she was very  young during the struggle The opera sheds light on .the events surrounding to the murder of “Stompie” and introduces a new dimension to the trial.

Producer and composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen said the fact that it is the first opera that has been composed and orchestrated by a black South African means it is a landmark piece of theatre. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up by theGovernment of National Unity to help deal with the violence and human rights abuses that took place under apartheid. The initiative led by Bishop Desmond Tutu offered perpetrators the opportunity to be granted amnesty on full disclosure, and afforded victims the opportunity to find closure.

The “mother of the nation” who was an honoured guest expressed that she was pleased that the opera was produced as it a true depiction of our country’s dark history “A total portrayal of what truly happened in those unfortunate years in our dark history,” said Madikizela Mandela. The daughter of Madikizela Mandela, Zindzi Mandela who was amongst the audience said watching the performance had helped her see from a new angle what her and her family went through.