Wamkelekile at Jens Primary School

Gogo, from the row behind me, grabbed my hand, and while giving it a tight squeeze, shouted above the noise of the crowd, ‘Oh Mrs Wolhuter!’ turned to my husband who was sitting next to me, and next to him, Mr Mseleku our Department of Education circuit manager, both grinning from ear to ear.

Every gap in the hall was filled by an adult or child, cell phone in hand, singing and swaying to the traditional wedding song ‘Vuli Ndlela’. I held Gogo’s hand tightly, fighting back my happy tears to ensure that I did not break this magic around me! Ululating, clapping, singing. Young and old, every race, Christians of every denomination, celebrating as one, a South African tribe united in a love for God and for this country, South Africa.

The beat of a drum speaking to our African souls. In the last two years, we have stood side by side, each member of the tribe being a pillar of strength giving support to another, when the weight of the hardships facing us threatened to break us.

Capturing the spirit of collaboration

I wrote the play Wamkelekile with an apprehensive heart. I wanted this play to be a truly South African Christian celebration. I was scared. Did I know enough? No, with each day it became apparent that I did not! I prayed hard, ‘Please provide me with the people I need to make this concert work.’

And it was the input of my diverse staff and teachers that steadied me as the dialogue and plot developed and I learned so much about the diverse cultures that have been part of my life at JENS Primary School in Kokstad, KwaZulu-Natal, for the past 20 years.

It was the eagerness of the parents to provide what we needed in the form of costumes, and to share different stories of traditions and culture that ensured that the project stayed ‘true’. It was the Dutch Reformed Kerk down the road which provided a venue and made it possible for us to perform.

It was the lady in the shop standing behind me, laughing with me, as I held an armful of dreadlocks and explained to her what they were for. It was the lady behind the fabric counter, who shared pictures of herself in the dress she made with the same South African rainbow colours that I had chosen for some of the costumes … Not a day went by when I was not sent someone to help me make the concert work, to tell me to keep going.

Wamkelekile, like all good stories, is about a journey

‘Wamkelekile’ means welcome. ‘Wamkelekile’ is a story based on the isiXhosa fable about the knocking beetle, described in ‘The Click Song’ by Miriam Makeba, as well as the parable of the lost son, returning home, being welcomed by our Heavenly Father.

The play character Wamkelekile feels overwhelmed by life and meets Makhulu in the local market. Makhulu compares the beating of her heart to that of the knocking beetle; her heart is not in rhythm with her soul. In order for Wamkelekile to find her way again, Makhulu suggests that she takes a trip back to her hometown; Lusikisiki.

Wamkelekile has a new pair of shoes, and a plan to go home! Wamkelekile meets various people on the way, a Rastafarian, a South African hippie, a hip-hop dancer, and our local, helpful taxi owner, Tat Fikeni, with his faithful Quantum taxi, who ensures that she and Makhulu get to their hometown safely.

On the way, Wamkelekile is invited to join the celebrations of a traditional isiXhosa wedding. The advice she receives on her journey is all good advice, the songs performed are a celebration of South African culture, traditions and heritage, of ubuntu and love.

Despite the advice she receives, and Wamkelekile’s own efforts, she still feels lost. In a dream she feels the arms of an angel holding her safely and she realises that only by turning to God will she able to find peace within! Bringing a community closer together

It was the smiles and giggles, the wiggles and jiggles, the swish of traditional makoti skirts, the rhythmic stomping of feet, the clicking of isiXhosa sounds, the talent and delight of little people composing their dances, the laughter and joy of the teacher’s input, the growth in learner confidence, the explosive voices singing, the expressive little faces that had been hidden behind masks for far too long, and above all, the magic of that sense of unity and belonging, that will forever remain embedded in the hearts of the learners, teachers, parents, family members and friends.

JENS Primary School performs the Wamkelekile play.

What I learnt

I am the principal of JENS Senior Primary School, a small school in Kokstad, and I have faced the same challenges over the past two years that principals in every school in South Africa have faced.

Being part of ISASA helped me realise that the challenges we faced were not unique to me; and listening to the ISASA heads sharing challenges over Zoom, as well as the guidance received by ISASA in these difficult times, is what kept me on the path of sanity when there was very little reason to stay sane.

I feel that I am not able to give this experience justice with the words that I am able to find, but I feel that not sharing this experience with the ISASA family would be a bigger injustice.

I no longer need to feel only hope for a better South Africa, I now believe in a better South Africa. I no longer wonder if we are making any difference, I know that we are, because I now know what we as a community can be. I continue to pray each day. I pray that each person in this country can experience the magic of Wamkelekile, to feel the power of love and unity and belonging, to experience what we can be, so that they too, can believe.