ZWAI Mgijima is not afraid of complex content. He takes it and makes it cannon fodder for deep and dark societal analysis. Sure, there are light moments – in the unbearable lightness of being kind of way – but mostly his plays focus on the visceral and raw.
The Veil is no different. In it Mgijima peeks behind the pale gossamer that separates African from African, South African from Somalian. He transports us beyond the liminal space that separates customer and shop-keeper as he journeys with Ali (Anele Penny), a Somalian émigré seeking refuge in South Africa.
Having fled war – and the murder of his mother and brother – in the North African country, Ali is liberated by the freedoms on offer in South Africa. Here he establishes a shop in a Port Elizabeth township through a network of fellow Somalians – and finds love in an unlikely place and person.
Nosipho (Zinathi Ngcwangu) challenges all his world and cultural views while winning the most important battle, for that of his heart. Joy and abundance enter his world for the first time – and he experiences a hope he has never known before.
But there is little room for love when you cross African borders – real or imaginary – and the two fall into a cultural chasm that tears them apart and ends in their tainted, uneasy resignation in favour the cultural status quo. A submission devoid of hope, fouled by love, but immersed in the reality of South African life.
The performances by Penny and Ngcwangu are course, tinged by an unrefined edge that makes the production all the more stark.
The Veil is powerful, gritty, raw and rewarding – it is accurate a glimpse into love, loss and failed cultural defiance. It’s a true South African story embedded in the painful and powerful now, cutting to the heart of cultural complexity on the continent.