It was our second year in Drama and, unlike everyone else, ‘Siyabuwela’, ‘Limp’, ‘Sinokolo’ and I, ‘Eshishle’, were very sure of what we wanted to share with the world. “This year you have to choose a theme that resonates with you,” he said. All four of us looked up at the same time with smug faces. “Something that speaks to your soul,” he continued. He closed his eyes for a moment and gently pressed a hand onto his chest. “And!” He opened his eyes dramatically, “not something that’s aaairy faaairy.” We looked at each other and I could tell we were thinking of the same thing.
Mr Davis always dismissed issues pertaining to the dismantling of the system, decolonisation and ‘consciousness’. Being conscious is being aware of who you are, your roots, your history, culture, and the influences around you. Every day we shared information about the history of our own people as the syllabus did not cover it. To Mr Davis, we were problematic. He was aware of our ways of thinking – our aim was to challenge the mind. We stuck out like sore thumbs, and that was something he tried to deny us of. I recall, once, he dismissed our opinion because it was ‘radical’ from his perspective. That did not discourage us. Instead, it motivated us; in the blink of an eye our final Drama practical had arrived.
When the lights went down on stage our bodies took a different form. We stood in a square formation peering through jail bars as our shadows reflected against the backdrop. The atmosphere was dim, dark and dingy. We simultaneously took a deep breath, loud enough for the music cue. My heart began beating like a drum. A bead of sweat dripped down my face and I delivered my first line. “My mother tells me to fix my hair and by fix she means straighten, and by straighten she means whiten.” The atmosphere on stage ignited. To us, it was more than just delivering lines to get the highest marks in class, or impress the invigilator. We did not want the audience to leave saying, “That was so beautiful,” or, “Such raw talent.” No. The reaction we were looking for was, “Where do we start with dismantling these systems?”
From having secret rendezvous in the hallways to rehearsals in found spaces, we came up with the concept of unlearning all that we had assimilated to. Our ideas, creations, and intellectual thought processes were second to none, all compressed into less than 30 minutes. “When you no longer hate who you are and the circumstances that brought you here, undress yourself,” I stepped forward and the light glistened on my face. Siyabuwela, Limp, and Sonokolo all stood with their fits up, humming a song of struggle while I performed the final piece. From the corner of my eye I saw tears tumbling down Siyabuwela’s face – tears of joy. On my right, Limp had never looked so proud – we had accomplished something that had never been done. Our names, Siyabulela, Limpo, Sinoxolo and, Esihle were no longer a common mispronunciation. In that moment we felt revived, as though our birth names had more meaning than ever. Mister had finally pronounced our names right.