REVIEW: Oratorio of a forgotten youth 

The ensemble put together by producer and trumpeter Mandla Mlangeni took the Great Hall audience through the stages of grieving the failed dream of freedom.  

The Amandla Freedom Ensemble led by the Standard Bank young artist for jazz 2019, Mandla Mlangeni, launched their interdisciplinary album Oratorio of a forgotten youth at the Wits Great Hall on Saturday, May 27. 

Mlangeni told IOL that the album was the culmination of a production that started in 2019, that sought to tell the story of how far South Africa had come in confronting its past.   

The production brought together a collaboration of musical ensembles, with their own distinct sounds, laced with provocative spoken word poetry and a visual artist who used sand to draw intricate images with his hands, live, to the sound of the music. The images changed throughout the production but the most memorable were clenched fists and trees that had African faces instead of leaves. The visual artist, Tawanda MuAfrika also created the album art.  

The empty stage was set up as though for a multi-piece orchestra with what initially seemed like too many moving parts. And when the artists walked onto the stage, it was difficult to know where to focus one’s attention. To the right, poet Lesego Rampolokeng sat at a desk with his anthology in front of him, a string quartet and a nine-piece choir behind him.

Jazz pianist Yonela Mnana set up with afro-jazz group A Brother Moves On and visual artist MuAfrika on either side of him. MuAfrika’s sand art was being projected on a screen at the back of the stage. Right at the front was the Amandla Freedom Ensemble with Mandla Mlangeni poised like a conductor with his back to the audience.  

Producer Mandla Mlangeni leads a large musical production, fusing poetry, jazz, choral and orchestral music. Photo: Morongoa Masebe

The Great Hall was half full with a mix of students and non-students, with the audience appearing as if they were in the creative industry by the colourful ways that they were dressed.  

Katleho Hubi, a third-year bachelor of fine arts student who attended the show, said that she was deeply moved by what felt to her like “a spiritual experience”. She said that the production had inspired her to want to explore the relationship between music and visual art in her own work.   

Mlangeni’s production took the audience from mourning to celebration by blending a bit of afro-jazz, afro-beat, classical, poetry and chorus like a true oratorio, which is a large-scale musical production that blends orchestral, voice and choral music.   

The first piece of the night, the gathering, started with Rampolokeng loudly reciting spoken word poetry that sounded like a lamentation over a broken promise. The slow introduction of the bass and a soft djembe drum began to drown out the poet and brought in the hum of the choir. The saxophonists led the trumpet in, and then everything went quiet, leaving Mlangeni in a trumpet solo. 

The choir was reminiscent of an African indigenous church, with the use of music as a medium for connecting with spirit. They took the lead on ubaba, a song about the search for a missing father. The entire ensemble joined into a melancholic sound of a prayer that for a moment seemed to be a petition that was no longer to an absent earthly father, but to a heavenly father, who seemed to be absent and blind to the pain of African people. 

The arrangement came together beautifully. Led by the protest poetry of Rampolokeng, the production carried the same impassioned energy that can turn a church service into a site of protest.  

The afrobeat sound of inkululeko brought Siyabonga Mthembu of The Brother Moves On onto the stage to lead in the demand for the freedom that democracy had promised. 

The drummer played the consistent sound of a marching band in #movement/soldier’s lament and Rampolokeng came back to remind us that “our hopes are buried alive”, when those who were at the forefront of fighting for freedom, turned to gatekeepers of the wealth that should have been shared amongst all.  

In darkness, all the different pieces of the ensemble seemed to do their own thing, like loud mourning at a wake deep into the night, all crying separately, over the same loss. Rampolokeng also cried in his own way, about the disillusionment of protests that yield nothing in the long term, even after lives had been lost. He juxtaposed the 1976 uprisings with the 2015 #FeesMustFall protests and expressed sorrow over the lack of change. 

Crying turned to celebration when the show closed with woza, which got the audience to its feet to dance and rang in my head long after the show had ended. The high tempo and vibrant piece goes “Woza mama, woza” but the audience recast it as “Woza Mandla, woza” as it sang along all the way out of the Great Hall.  

Vuvu rating: 9/10 

FEATURED IMAGE: Trumpeter Mandla Mlangeni leads a multi-disciplinary musical production at the Wits Great Hall. Photo: Morongoa Masebe


A racy topic for Ruth First

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A race conversation is the order of the day at the 14th annual Ruth First Memorial Lecture at the Wits University Great Hall on Monday evening.

The lecture will feature commentators Eusebius McKaiser and Sisonke Msimang, and Vanguard Magazine founder Panashe Chigumadzi. Themed as “Race: Lived Experiences and Contemporary Conversations”,  this year’s lecture will also feature a performance by poet Lebo Mashile.

“The wave of transformation that has taken place is an important issue relevant to young people, the Wits student body. It’s going to cut deep,” said McKaiser.

Chigumadzi, the 2015 Ruth First Fellow, will deliver a talk on her research about what it means to be a “coconut” and the experiences of young black South Africans.

“The conversation is important because it hasn’t been had before. [People] are not willing to wait anymore, we need to deal with the legacy of apartheid in a very frank way,” said Chigumadzi.

“This year in particular [we] are looking for young black people. The emphasis on lived experiences and a clearer commitment to centring black people and black spaces.”

Msimang, who is also a Ruth First fellow, will be partnering with Mashile to perform Msimang’s text based research into the possibility of authentic interracial friendships.

“[My work] looks at friendship, directly engaging with middle class concerns in order to tease out race as an independent variable from class. I wanted to do this because too often we focus on race and class as intertwined – which is important – but sometimes it makes it hard to talk about race and racism – especially with well-intentioned whites,” said Msimang.

Ruth First was a journalist and anti-apartheid activist who was killed in exile by a parcel bomb on the August, 17 1982. First, a Wits graduate, was a member of the Communist Party who was imprisoned and held in isolation before going into exile in Mozambique, where she was assassinated by the apartheid government. First was a prolific writer whose probing investigative journalism exposed many of the harsh conditions under which the majority of South Africans lived. During her time, she was the editor-in-chief of the radical newspaper The Guardian –a paper which was subsequently banned by the state.

McKaiser said the Ruth First lecture was an important part of remembering and discussing South Africa’s history. First, herself, was an interesting historical figure whose work should not be forgotten.

“She, a white Jewish woman, understood what happened within the black community,” McKaiser said.

“We need to do more to commemorate women in this country.”

This year’s talks will feature a stream of discussions that will allow attendees to attend various topics and discussions.

Jazzing up the Great Hall with Carlo Mombelli

Africa and Europe met at the Great Hall last night. Bassist, composer and Wits lecturer, Carlo Mombelli reunited with his European touring band, the Stories Ensemble, joined by Capetonian pianist Kyle Shepherd. They played music from Mombelli’s latest album, Stories.


PLAYER AND TEACHER: Carlo Mombelli tells ‘Stories’ through music  Photo: Michael Hoefner/WikiCommons

Groove met classical and traditional at the Wits Great Hall last night. Composer, bassist and Wits music lecturer Carlo Mombelli and his band, the Stories Ensemble, took jazz music and stretched it. They played music that not only entertained, but pulled at the heartstrings – places indescribable by words.

“I love teaching, and I am very anti the ‘jazz police”

Mombelli brought his European band, the Stories Ensemble, for a South African tour that had them performing at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, at the University of KwaZulu Natal, in Maputo, Mozambique and ending off at the Wits Great Hall. They mainly performed music from Mombelli’s latest album, Stories (Instinct Africaine), recorded in Switzerland.

Born in Pretoria, Mombelli taught himself how to play the bass at age 16, and later went on to start his own band called Abstractions in 1985. He has performed with South African jazz greats like Marcus Wyatt, Zim Ngqawana and Miriam Makeba. He has, and continues to, perform all over the world.

Last night, the bassist was joined by Zulu ‘traditional’ vocalist Mbuso Khoza, whose clean yet strong and passionate voice effortlessly blended in with the ensemble. Adrian Mears’ warm trombone transitioned from powerful to delicate melodies in an instant. Drummer Dejan Terzic created a full, rounded powerful sound. Cape Town pianist Kyle Shepherd, who was not part of Mombelli’s original recording in Switzerland, merged his Cape jazz style with the eclectic sound of the band. His playing was intimate, compelling and strong, as usual. The classical element was brought by cellist Daniel Pezzotti, bringing elegance and originality to the group.

Mombelli began the set with a composition titled Requiem, originally performed with his band The Prisoners of Strange in 1996. The Hunter had the crowd grooving to its infectious bouncy melody. Shepherd took it to Cape Town, Khoza brought in a dynamic traditional component, resulting in a trance-like element to the music. A poetic tribute to Mombelli’s first piano teacher titled, For Mrs Loveday, then followed. Experimentation, creativity and improvisation. All elements piercing through the music.

On stage, Mombelli was tiny and short, and his bass guitars seemed almost too big for him. But, he connected with his band members like a choir master would to a 60 voice choir. Making eye contact, hand signals and head nods that indicated when to start, stop or pause. A seamless form of communication.

At times, Mombelli played with his back turned to the audience. Not as an act of alienation, but to rather unite – the audience, the band members, and those only among us in spirit.

“I love teaching, and I am very anti the ‘jazz police’” Mombelli told The Cape Argus last year. This shows in the Ensemble’s style of playing – going beyond rigid boundaries. Their music moves. It drives itself, creating new possibilities for the art of making music.

Carlo Mombelli and the Stories Ensemble delivered a solid performance, but what else can we expect from some of the world’s most creative and sought after musicians?

10 things you didn’t know about Bram Fischer

Abram Fischer, commonly known as Bram Fischer (1908-1975), was honoured at the University of Witwatersrand with an honorary doctorate and colloquium on March 26, for his place in the history of the struggle against apartheid. 

BRAM FISCHER: Panel at the  Colloquium at the Wits University, including Lorraine Chaskalson, Ruth Rice,  Max Sisulu, Ilse Wilson, Sir Nicholas Stadlen, Professor Stephan Clingman, Dr Sholto Cross,  Ahmed Kathrada, Lord Joel Joffe, Andrew Mlangeni, Denis Goldberg, Lesley Schermbrucker, George Bizos, Mosie Moolla not pictured here) and Yvonne Malan not pictured here). Photo: Tanisha Heiberg

BRAM FISCHER: Panel at the colloquium at the Wits University, including Lorraine Chaskalson, Ruth Rice, Max Sisulu, Ilse Wilson, Sir Nicholas Stadlen, Professor Stephan Clingman, Dr Sholto Cross, Ahmed Kathrada, Lord Joel Joffe, Andrew Mlangeni, Denis Goldberg, Lesley Schermbrucker, George Bizos, Mosie Moolla not pictured here) and Yvonne Malan not pictured here). Photo: Tanisha Heiberg

1.  Nelson Mandela has credited Fischer for saving him and other senior leadership of the ANC (African National Congress) from the gallows during the Rivonia Trial.

2. He is the only revolutionary communist leader to have played rugby as scrumhalf against the All Blacks for the Free State Province.

3. He has cum laude degrees in both his BA and LLB from Grey University College


4. In 1930 he was awarded the Rhodes scholarship and attended New College at Oxford where he received a diploma in law and economics.

5.   His wife, Molly, who was also a political activist, died in a freak car accident shortly after the Rivonia Trial verdict, a fact that Fischer did not mention whilst visiting his comrades on Robben Island, a week later, so as not to burden them.

6. Fischer was a part time lecturer in law at Wits during the time he was building up his practice at the Bar

7. He used the surname “Black” as a pseudonym in 1965 when he went underground for 9 months

8. Whilst in prison, Fischer was unable to attend the funeral of his son Paul who suffered from cystic fibrosis and died at the age of 23

9. After his arrest and sentence, Fischer was asked whether his sacrifice was worth it. He was offended by the question and replied, “Did you ask Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki or Kathy Kathrada or any others that have already suffered this punishment? If not, why do you ask me?”

10. Fischer died cancer in 1975 at his brothers home in Bloemfontein, after being released from jail a few weeks prior.




‘Zuma is still on top despite Nkandla,’ says DA’s Maimane

FRIENDLY ENEMIES:  Mmusi Maimane, Imaan Rappetti and Paul Mashatile pictured after a heated debate. Photo: Bongiwe Tutu

FRIENDLY ENEMIES: Pictured at the Wits Great Debate (from left to right), Mmusi Maimane, Imaan Rappetti and Paul Mashatile. Photo: Bongiwe Tutu

Corruption and race dominated discussions in the penultimate of the Great Debate series at Wits University last night.

The African National Congress (ANC)’s Paul Mashatile and the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) Mmusi Maimane took to the stage in front of a packed Great Hall divided between supporters dressed in blue and those in yellow.

“The DA has some black members, but the black people in the DA aren’t good enough to go to parliament,” argued Gauteng ANC chair Mashatile.

Maimane responded to the lack of black DA MPs (members of parliament) by saying, “we haven’t said we’d reward cadres. We’ve said we’d reward the best, based on skill.”

Editor of The Star newspaper, Makhudu Sefara, who was part of the audience at the debate, noted that the DA “skilfully avoided questions of race and accountability, leaving the ANC to over-capitalise on it”.

The high levels of corruption was also addressed when an audience member criticised the ANC for its lack of transparency, citing Nkandla and budget deficits as affecting the legitimacy of the government.

Maimane capitalised on the criticism when he said, “ANC says it scans its lists for people charged with corruption but Zuma is [still] on top despite Nkandla”.

Mashatile, in response, focused on Gauteng specifically by saying: “There is no corruption in Gauteng.” He went on to blame increased migration for the current budget deficit in the province.

The final leg of the debate series will take place tonight at Wits University starting promptly at 8pm. For tickets, click here.



Family’s first to graduate

CELEBRATION: Simphiwe Mazibuko's family has supported him throughout his studies.  Pictured from behind are his father, Buti Mazibuko and sister Ntompifuthi Mazibuko.  From left to right are his sisters, Jabulile Mazibuko and Nonkululeko Mazibuko,  Simphiwe Mazibuko and his  mother Thenji Mazibuko. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

CELEBRATION: Simphiwe Mazibuko’s family has supported him throughout his studies. Pictured from behind are his father, Buti and sister Ntompifuthi. From left to right are his sisters, Jabulile and Nonkululeko, Simphiwe and his mother Thenji. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

The last born and only son in his family, but the first to walk the steps of the Great Hall and graduate Monday morning, Simphiwe Mazibuko’s five year journey concluded with a BSc in maths, economics and risk.

Supportive family

Like many Witsies’, he was not immune to the challenges that come with the edge.  His father, Buti Mazibuko, was a  machine operator and mother, Thenji Mazibuko, a florist, worked hard to fund his studies.  When it became too expensive for them, his studies were funded by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

Moving to Joburg “was very painful” for his family, according to his eldest sister, Jabulile.

“We were even crying when we left him here, even my dad’s heart was broken.  But we knew he would finish because he is a hard worker,” she said.

Jabulile has two children of her own who look up to their uncle Simphiwe and want to study at Wits because of him.

For his family, seeing him graduate makes them proud considering the sacrifices they made.  Buti took the day off work to see his son graduate.  For his son’s future he hopes “he works and gets a business to provide for his family.”

His mother, Thenji,  said she worried when she left Simphiwe at Wits.

“At first I was scared when he went to Wits, that he would get involved with the wrong friends and face peer pressure … but he never did something wrong.  He finished.  He came to do what he wanted to do.  He has been good,” she said.

Mathematical interest

Simphiwe grew up in Duduza township outside of Johannesburg and initially intended to complete a Bachelor of Actuarial Science (BActSci) degree but had to complete an extended BSc programme to qualify for the course.  A year after he qualified for actuarial science, he decided to pursue a BSc in mathematical science, economics and risk instead.

[pullquote]“I try and give back, especially when I look at where I come from.  I help where I can, use what I know can help.”[/pullquote]

Simphiwe had an interest in maths since high school and when he was in grade nine developed an interest in the field of actuarial science and built up an aptitude for numbers.

“University maths is different to maths in high school, you build a different perspective of maths,” he said. However, the difficulty of his programme has not deterred him and he plans on returning to do his Honours in maths.

Simphiwe said hee always wanted to come to Wits. 

“I just saw myself here and not anywhere else I guess,” he said.    

During his studies he tutored matric maths for three years.  Three of his former students received distinctions in maths at the end of last year.  

“I try and give back, especially when I look at where I come from.  I help where I can, use what I know can help,” he said.

Simphiwe now works for Santam and divides his time between Johannesburg and Cape Town. He took the day off work to graduate.  His sisters, Nonkululeko and Ntompifuthi, said although their brother is serious , he always makes them laugh.



Wits University remembers Mandela at fireside chat


A picture of Nelson Mandela greeted guests to the Wits University memorial in honour of the late statesman on Thursday night. Photo: Mfuneko Toyana.

Wits University’s memorial service in honour of late former president Nelson Mandela was not a somber affair.

Nor was it bogged down by strict decorum. Instead, the vast and iconic Wits Great Hall auditorium was transformed into an intimate scene where a few of Madiba’s closest comrades sat together and shared fond memories of the great statesman.

Constitutional Court deputy chief justice and Wits chancellor Dikgang Moseneke facilitated what he termed a “fire-side conversation” with Advocate George Bizos, who defended Mandela at the 1959 Rivonia Trial, and liberation stalwart Ahmed Kathadra, a close confidant of Mandela on Robben Island.

Together, they took the 1000-strong audience, gathered inside and outside the Great Hall, on a leisurely stroll down memory lane, effortlessly evoking the mercurial spirit and humour of their former comrade and the nation’s father.

[pullquote align=”right”]”We have failed to live up to Mandela’s egalitarian vision”[/pullquote]

Moseneke, the younger of the three on the stage, told the audience his first encounter with Mandela was under less “illustrious” circumstances than those of Bizos and Kathadra.


Ahmad Kathrada, a contemporary and confidant of Nelson Mandela who spent many years imprisoned on Robben Island with Mandela. Photo: Wits Communications.

“It was on Robben Island … I used to be a runner for them, delivering newspapers to Mandela and other comrades … I used to cut out all the rubbish like advertisements and then smuggle them in.”

The smile, a somewhat despairing one, in Moseneke’s voice as he conducted proceedings radiated from his words and into the audience, as if the larger than life portrait of a half-smiling Mandela at the entrance of the hall had silently  lifted darkness of loss from the hearts of all of those present.


Advocate George Bizos who defended Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia Treason Trials. Photo: Wits Communications.

Bizos and Kathrada took the turns to join in the mock irreverence.

“I met him in 1948 right here,” Bizos chuckled.  “He was always [dressed] in a suit and shiny shoes,” said Bizos, wondering out loud where Mandela could have possibly found the money to look so dapper.

Kathrada, in a low voice, told the audience he had met Mandela two years earlier, in 1946, before eventually being imprisoned on Robben Island with him.

The panel, however, did not shy from using Mandela’s passing to assess how far the country had come in its liberation.

“I get upset when people say nothing has changed,” Bizos chided. “Look at the panel here. Look at the student body.” Bizos said that you would not have kind of diversity during apartheid.

Commenting on the current leadership of the country, he lamented: “We have failed to live up to Mandela’s egalitarian vision… We have failed materially in many respects.”

Bringing an end to proceedings, Moseneke echoed Bizos’ disappointment saying the country had a long way to go. The optimistic tone, however, returned.

“There will be many good men to us through these tempestuous times … We are a nation of good people,” Moseneke said.


Watch a video of the memorial provided by Wits Communications: