IT’S not easy being black in Brno. That’s what 22 Wits drama students discovered when they visited the small town in the Czech Republic recently.

The cast of Relativity – Township Stories was there for the eight-day Setkání/Encounter Festival for international theatre schools.

Being the only black people in Brno was a “shock”, said cast member Nkululeko Maseko. “We walked into a shop and someone would follow us, because they’re not used to us and they’re not very sure what we’re coming to do,” he said, laughing.

This experience, and the fact that some people refused to speak English, helped him understand how foreigners living in South Africa felt. “It was good for us to shift our minds and to see that you can also be a foreigner, you can also be an outsider.”

Zabalaza Mchunu agreed. He said “the glares in the buses, the glares in the street, the glares walking downtown” made him realise “…we probably are guilty of it to people that are foreign to our land as well. It was an interesting experience to feel like ‘the other’ for the first time”.

Actress Bulelwa Ndaba also had some uncomfortable moments. “It’s just the way people look at you and snigger. You know they’re talking about you.”

She described how some cast members were splashed with an unknown substance while waiting for the tram. “A car came by, flying. Windows came down. They started shouting. Then they splashed them and they got soaking wet.”

Despite these challenges, the trip was a success and the Witsies received positive reviews. Tony Miyambo won the best actor award. He described the win as “a surreal experience” and thanked Wits, director Tshepo Mamatu and his fellow cast members for supporting him.

The cast said audiences seemed to understand the play, despite its being in vernacular languages including Xhosa and Zulu. “They forced us to act, instead of vocally telling the story…The idea of acting is action,” said Mchunu.

For many of the actors, the trip to the Czech Republic was their first outside South Africa. “It was my first time in a plane even. It was incredible,” said Ndaba.

While she enjoyed the trip – “…there were Czech people who were really awesome. They wanted to know more about South Africa …” – she was glad to get back to Jo’burg. “I got homesick,” she said.

Published in Wits Vuvuzela, 12th edition, 2nd May 2012.