At this marketplace, we trade stories
A young Mamello Mokoena sat in a darkened theatre, the only light reserved for the actors on stage. What he saw enchanted him. With every gesture and exclamation, he became part of the magic. A schoolboy on an excursion to the Market Theatre, in that moment he knew where his future lay.
Today, Mokoena has been on countless stages as a stand-up comedian and media director. More commonly known as Mum-z, every return to the Market Theatre is a reminder of his journey. “This place will always be special to me,” he says. Since 1976, the theatre has reflected our country’s changes. Founded by Barney Simon and Mannie Manim, the theatre took up residence in an old Indian farm market building. It became known as South Africa’s ‘Theatre of Struggle’, putting on plays that challenged the apartheid government in face of censorship, allowing black actors the opportunity to be on stage. Here, Athol Fugard’s dramas made their mark, and plays like Woza Albert! transformed the theatre scene. “It gave black actors a chance to creatively express what they were actually dealing with,” Mokoena says.
Some of his best memories took place here. Members of Mokoena’s family have performed at the Market on multiple occasions, including his brother Fana, and uncles Shimmy and Thapelo Mofokeng. “This is the place where I fell in love with the theatre,” Mokoena says. “Coming back here brings such nostalgia.” Its walls are lined with images of some of the most famous performances, a celebration of its revolutionary past. “When I’m here I get to reconnect with some of the greatest artists and actors that South Africa has ever produced,” Mokoena says. Situated in the cultural hub of Newtown, the Market is surrounded by attractions such as Museum Africa and the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre. “I’m actually really grateful, like many others, to have this place in my life,” Mokoena says. “It holds such meaning.” As the theatre continues to produce up-and-coming talent, it will always be the beating heart of South Africa’s artistic history.