As I understand it, Kwasuka Sukela means, or is the equivalent phrase to, Once upon a time… in the Zulu language (but don’t take that as gospel – I will research further, and get back to you). In other words, the beginning of a story, and so an appropriate title for our African adventure (though whether or not it turns out to be adventurous in reality, only time will tell.)
Kwasuka Sukela is also the possible title for a play to be performed as part of the adventure, but that too has yet to be confirmed, so more later.
I first met the students of Dominican Convent School, Johannesburg, when five of them arrived at Stowe School , the English independent school just outside Buckingham, in September 2008. As the first beneficiaries of a new scheme, part funded by a benevolent Stowe parent, and part by Richard Branson and Virgin Airways, they were to spend a year living, working and playing at Stowe.
There were three girls and two boys chosen, and all three girls elected to study Drama as one of their optional subjects; all the students followed the 4th form, or Year 10, curriculum, and I was lucky enough to have all three placed in my GCSE Drama class.
I say it was me that got lucky here, but actually it was the whole class. From the very beginning, it was clear that these were very capable and committed students, who listened attentively, and then always did their best to contribute. In a practical subject like Drama, that approach is not only self-evident and clear, it is also infectious, and the whole class benefited. The three girls – Karabo, Makhotso and Matshidiso – all auditioned for the major Junior production that year – a lively and colourful version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – and all three, as Hippolyta, Puck, and Moon respectively, contributed hugely to its success.
My involvement with the five students per year varied, depending upon timetable and circumstances, but I always found the students I met to be exemplary, and I promised myself that, if the opportunity ever arose to work with such young people in their home territory, I would seize it with both hands.
Retirement gave me that opportunity, and I took advantage of the Dominican School choir tour in 2015 to meet Graham Howarth, the Headteacher, and to explain my idea, which was to come out to Dominican both to visit and to work with the staff and students there to put on a production. He was enthusiastic, and the negotiations began.
The arrangements , and in particular obtaining the right visa, proved more problematic that we had anticipated – did you know, for example, that your marriage certificate is only a legal document in some parts of the world if it has been “legalised”? Or that there is an official police document which proves that we are not wanted by them? No, nor us. All of which took time (and money, especially for the “VIP” service) but it is all now done.
And now, with just days away from flying out to South Africa, we are about to start. Kwasuka Sukela…