XOBULA INXEBA – PEEL BACK THE WOUND
Katlego Chale macht sich Gedanken zur Performance von Qondiswa James, einer Liebesgeschichte zwischen zwei prekären Arbeiter*innen im ländlichen Südafrika, in der sich Privates und Politisches vermischen. “Was wird aus dem, was auf dem Weg zu Demokratie, Gleichheit, Frieden, Fairness, Gerechtigkeit und Liebe stirbt? Was hat Liebe mit Freiheit zu tun? Und: Wer kann hier schlafen?”
Are we not always thinking about women, and workers, and children and queers? The headlines read hashtag Black Death while the pandemic rocks us gently in its suffocating embrace, the mask a wound and an equalizer and a reminder… Are we not always thinking about the scourge of global unfreedom? (Qondiswa James: Tsietsi Mashinini in Guinea)
What states the stream of black queer womxn unconsciousness and who has a sense of where to go to drink from it? Qondiswa James is a mastermind, a cunning, cutting radical, soaked in the lives of her receptors. She knows them. Like God knew Adam. And she too puts them in deep sleep to weave their dreams into reality. Certain fabrics are always present. We can turn them, see less of them, see more, and still see nothing. Even as we see that we do not see. Not I as a black man yes, gazing upon, occupying this space and time, nor you as chief protagonist in the rape of a continent yes-not any more though, but still in the nightmares of (many) a people. There are some things that you and I are not allowed to see. This does not paralyze us, but asks of us what we do?
The question remains as to whether those posting black squares and those toppling statues are going to join grounded and organised anti-capitalist, anti-racist struggles and work to transform the real relations of oppression and exploitation that persist in this moment. Joina (From #GetYourKneeOffOurNeck) – Asher Gamedze
“Xobula Inxeba” stems from Qondiswa’s current and ongoing MA project at the Institute of Creative Arts in Cape Town, South Africa. This story follows the lives of a couple living in the rural hinterlands of the Eastern Cape. The woman, a “cultural worker, in this instance a storyteller who is also a street-vendor, ruptures notions of the public and the private, asserting that the private, the domestic, is completely political.” The man, a truck driver, enmeshed in the fabric of the N2 highway, drives to earn the weight of his body in capital from his employers. Their love affair, though rural, is as palpable as any urban romance between lovers estranged from each other not by choice, but circumstance. In their precarious existence their loneliness beckons that they should speak to one another even if their words will never create the illusion of presence. Unable to bear their own seeds, they come to adopt (in the loose sense) a neighbour’s son, raising him as their own. He becomes the man of this forlorn house, adding what we hope is a light for the future – the promise of youth. In the absence of her lover, the womxn offers life to this young man, who, raised in their care, comes to know them as pillars in his life. Tragedy descends on a morning that proves to be the womxn’s last, strangled by the boy, she falls into a lasting sleep to shift from this plane into the ancestral. Liminalised by this boy’s act, her presence that seemed to be everywhere along this road fades into it, into him, the truck driver dealing with protest waged against the capitalist machinery, put off by the stench of xenophobia that abides the war cries. He must come to terms – learn to live – with the scab, and peel it back so that what festers underneath may be revealed, that it may breathe, that there might be peace, but what peace awaits the unforgivable, the unredeemable? The play is not about why this happened, but about the fact that it does.
The makers, here, have a keen sense of awareness of the historical effect of the cape colony on the people hidden in the hills of its margins. The mountains are folded back to locate this intersection where whole peoples are buried. Qondiswa and Asher ask us – what is to become of what dies on the road to democracy, equality, justice, peace, fairness, justice and love? What does love have to do with freedom? And: Who can sleep here? Without land, without beds, behind trucks, in the middle of the road? Who can fall asleep here on a road where there is only falling and walking in waking?
This story, carried by the orator that enters the world of her characters, shows us how the longing that this couple has to be together, as lovers, abuses the both of them in sleep. In English, what is called sleep paralysis is referred to in isiXhosa as Impundulu, and Segatelledi in Setswana. There is a distinction to be made in that the English understanding of this phenomenon suggests that there is only biology at play where blood is deprived of movement through the veins, resulting in a person waking during the transition to REM sleep. In our understanding, however, much like many other cultures, this state is understood as a form of haunting. There is a force, a demon, an energy, a spirit that sits atop your chest restricting your movements while infecting you with the greatest terror. Winning your body back is a spiritual fight, and it is often said that the spirit was sent to destroy you, and as such waking up becomes a triumph. In Xoluba Inxeba, we see impundulu at work in the life of this couple, and the boy comes to embody the spirit that sucks the life out of the womxn’s body, while the man is oppressed nightly by the demon that pulls his wife away from him and into the land of the ancestors. Qondiswa holds that in the narrative context we often encounter, the resolution following the climax, known as a “return to the world” in the hero’s journey, is for us, always a return to a world that is far worse off. In waking, the truck driver has won his body, but that same body is not his own, and even though he does not know it yet, the one to whom he wishes to offer the sweat of his brow has not won the fight against the spirit that slipped out of the subconscious to stalk her in her waking life. The revelation is a reminder of the private being political, beyond platitude. Black death is everywhere.
The virus spreads its tentacles underneath the worldscape, and the tendrils of death reach softly out towards the people. The people are on the margins of the city in government structures built to survive a summer PR tour but not much else… The devil is a mouth that opens, and they have all slipped inside to the stomach. (Qondiswa James: Tsietsi Mashinini in Guinea)
With this work, Qondiswa and Asher weave a world together through body, sound and image. Each element tells the story fully. In the piano’s sparse phrases, there is so much space that the lament of the characters is palpable in the waning silences. We hear the rainbow failing, and the repetition of certain sounds and movements remind us that this state persists. Everything has history woven into it. The set, the text, the score and even the action created in the present. Spanning a few hours of a single morning, Xobula Inxeba reveals to us the festering wound that is life lived in precarity and rurality where voices merge into the clucking of chickens, where the rooster’s crow becomes an operatic yodel, where people live and walk in the wound, while trying to talk through it. It doesn’t make it easier that attempts at decency and love and softness always come up against the scathing rocky ground of class and capitalism as they crush those failed by history. Performed by a lone actor – Qondiswa – and accompanied by Asher on piano, this work takes us into a world of disturbance, entrapment, loneliness and the poisoned breath circulating the black body.
For blackness – growing up is – learning tentatively – to occupy your lungs – slowly and nervously – with pockets of air and fire – in unequal measure – to become at once – filled with oxygen – to keep the flame alight. BREATHING IS REBELLION!
Qondiswa James is a culture worker living in Cape Town, South Africa. She is an award-winning theatre-maker, performance artist, film and theatre performer, installation artist, writer, arts facilitator and activist. She is currently studying her Masters in Live Art, Interdisciplinary and Public Art at the Institute of Creative Arts. Her work engages the socio-political imagination towards mobilising transgression.
Asher Gamedze is a cultural worker currently based in Cape Town, South Africa and working with/in various collectives as a musician, student, a writer, an organiser and an educator. He is also a historian engaged in PhD research on activist work.