Text: Siyabonga Sithole
Photograph: Supplied

Previously titled, Uthando Ngumanqoba, Eqhudeni is a stage production directed by Ntando Ngcungama and written by Nomfundo Magwaza set before colonial times when a man’s status was measured by the size of his cattle and the ability to provide for his family. Take away his cattle, and you would have tempered with his influence in the community as well as within his household. This measure of influence and stature is captured in the old Zulu saying: Ubuhle bendoda izinkomo zayo, loosely translated to “the beauty of a man lies in the size of his cattle.” You can be as unattractive and ugly as a toad, but if you have livestock; your lack of looks could be pardoned, and be allowed and even be courted to marry the most beautiful woman in your community. This is because society attributes and ascribes your wealth to your ability to provide for your wife and family.

This very basic notion of cattle and stock is as old has mankind and is as relevant today as it was back in pre-colonial times. Today it is about the bank balance, the big house and the fastest sports car. The more you have, the more you are given attention, love and respect. The opposite is true, and the less you have the less respect, love and attention you get.

In essence man owes his belonging to being able to provide, and when the chief fines Ndlovu all his prized cattle, his family becomes a laughing stock and is forced to beg and borrow their way out of sticky household situations.

With no any other prospect to regain their wealth, Ndlovu is forced to look to his two daughters as the only solution against his own wishes for his daughters.

Eqhudeni is a story rich in culture, language and the very noble role of unity and solid family structures. But it fails to fully deliver on the richness of the Zulu traditions. There is not enough song and dance, and when there is, it is whimsical, done in passing and not as elaborate as it should be. The play could have done well had it traded heavy dialogue for a light yet effective use of music. It could have gone full-blown musical and still achieved what it sought out to achieve.

However, there were a few light-hearted moments that kept the story together as they helped draw members of the audience closer into the narrative. We laughed when the two runaway lovers Ndlovu’s daughter, Gcinile and Qhawe joked about, and were as concerned when Gcinile realised that love does not feed an empty stomach and that love alone is never enough to keep hunger pangs away when your husband cannot provide for you as is expected of him by society.

Qhawe’s inability to provide for Gcinile who is now estranged with her family is both a source of shame and pain for the Ndlovu family which now has to find ways to appease Cijimpi who has paid lobola to the runaway bride, Gcinile.