As part of Human Rights month, the Ukunuka Theatre Forum created a participatory theatre production about ghost workers, undrinkable water and poo in Makhanda, all against the backdrop of corruption. 

Its aim was to engage communities within the Makhanda Municipality about the conditions in which they live. Performances took place throughout April 2019, and drew large crowds at each show - the cast was not always welcomed by the community, but robust debate took place before, during and after each performance regardless of this. 

Facing the stench of corruption, head on

Addressing the literal stench of corruption was always going to be a challenge, but the Ukunuka Theatre Forum faced the challenge head on, and pulled off a series of fantastic performances. Although at the heart of the Creative Storytelling Project, the team struggled with the timing of their performances, as they felt everyone was too focused on the National Elections to participate. Under normal, less time-bound circumstances, the creative team would have liked to build a long-term relationship with the Makhanda community, but this was not possible due to how little time they had to implement the project. 

Ukunuka is a production that addresses the stench of corruption in Makhanda. Image: Sue Maclennan

Timing is everything

The most significant lesson the Ukunuku team learned was that going forward, they must be mindful of the timing of their performances, as they faced the risk of being misunderstood throughout the process, due to the production’s implementation during the election campaigning period. This was why they felt that engagement was so important, so as to avoid the community mistaking them for canvassing for any number of political parties. 

Ukunuka lets audience members take over the plot and change the outcome – perhaps finding a different kind of solution to the mess we’re in. Image: Sue Maclennan

Giving a voice to the people of Makhanda

Ukunuka was a very successful production, reaching nearly 2, 000 people across Makhanda. The team engaged with community members on issues surrounding the state of their municipalities, giving a voice to their experiences. This in turn led to broader and more widespread engagement on issues related to water, sewerage, security and politics throughout Makhanda. 

Local newspaper Grocott's Mail has been covering issues related to the Makhanda municipality since 2017.