Life Esidimini:
The Irony

This collaboration of theatre and journalism looked at the Life Esidimeni tragedy, which involved the deaths of 143 people at psychiatric facilities in Gauteng, due to starvation and neglect.

Bulelani Mabutyana, Lwanda Sindaphi and Asiphe Lili set out to bring Daily Maverick journalist Marianne Thamm's articles surrounding the Life Esidimeni scandal to life, in the form of a live performance. These performances, which drew audiences of between approximately 50 and 200 people, consisted of seven separate shows and took place over a period of three weeks in April 2019.

Rain or shine, the show must go on

Before doing anything else, the Life Esidimeni team needed to decide what aspects of the tragedy they were going to focus on in their storytelling process, as there are lots of images representing the scandal. By working together, they were able to create a strong and powerful narrative, despite difficulties related to extreme weather conditions and a handful of administrative issues that prolonged the creative process. 

Many of Life Esidimeni: The Irony's audience members did not know that this was going on at the time, much to their shock and horror. Image: Thembisa Rantanga

Team work makes the dream work

The team learned several lessons throughout the project: first, about accountability and the importance of ensuring that every role on the team is set out clearly before the project kicks off. Second, they had to improvise more than once, but luckily, had prepared for a few different scenarios when it came to executing their performances. Finally, they learnt that communication is key and that working together as a team will always make for a more successful project. 

"We do not know what mental illness looks like in our community. It's probably un-African." Image: Thembisa Rantanga

Educating civil society

Every Life Esidimeni performance drew a large crowd and audiences not only stayed for the entirety of the show, but also displayed interest and understanding of the story and the issues surrounding it. One of the biggest successes of the project was that more civil society members who were not previously aware of the incident learned more about what happened, and made their shock well known across various platforms. The team managed to tell the stories of the actual people affected by the Life Esidimeni tragedy in a clear, powerful and above all else, respectful, manner.