LitNet Interview: Sibuyiselo Sbuja Dywili, participant in the Brussels to Karoo residency

The Jakes Gerwel Foundation and Passa Porta international house of literature in Brussels are thrilled to welcome two Belgian and four South African writers to their two-week Brussels to Karoo residency at Paulet House in KwaNojoli, Eastern Cape.

Belgians Nele Van den Broeck and Gerda Dendooven and South Africans; Sibuyiselo Sbuja Dywili; Shireen Mall; Charl-Pierre Naudé and Ayanda Xaba are now sharing the two-week residency borne out of Professor Jakes Gerwel’s considerable legacy. As it was from the Vrije Universiteit of Brussels in 1979 that he received his doctorate in Literature and Philosophy (magna cum laude).

Below is an interview between Naomi Meyer and Sibuyiselo Sbuja Dywili on the residency.

Sibuyiselo, you write for the theatre. Why did you apply for this residency at Paulet House?

It’s interesting that you ask this question. Why do I write for theatre? Why do I even write at all? It’s a question one finds oneself asking in the witchy hours of the morning, when a very good idea may not be coming out well in the writing – why do I even care to write! I say it’s interesting because, firstly, I shouldn’t be doing this, writing for theatre; I should be writing films and for television, as that is what I have an advanced diploma in. And secondly, I keep asking this: why should anyone bother to read or come watch a play written by an unknown young man who lives in the outskirts of Cape Town, where everything is far from him and the city lights are supposedly fantasies? And who lives every day looking up hoping to see a billboard of a role model in the township, but only gets to see the walking, unsung heroes who once tried and failed, the many who sought stability and did everything right, yet still crashed?

And the constant sight and wonder of the city – people know how sometimes a young girl in torn skirts carrying a full water bucket on her head can have a heroic existence to her family and friends. I keep asking myself that question. Perhaps it is the reason I care to write – to uplift the spirit of those I left in Kraaifontein and many who resemble the same life. Every day, I wake up at 4:00 am and I hear voices talking. In my head. In my home. In the streets. Residents chatting. Complaining. Laughing like nothing matters. Preparing to go to work. Being parents to the children – preparing them for school. And I get very much inspired. But when I get to theatre – all of the voices I heard back in the informal settlement are gone. I don’t hear anything that sounds like them. Or a story similar to what I see every day. And I wonder why. Could it be that less is known about them? Or simply that there’s no care for putting their voices and stories under the lights? Well, we can never truly know. But I do know how important it is for them to hear themselves, see themselves up there – or one of their own – to restore their belief, their dignity, their aspirations, and let it be known that some heroes are 12-year-olds who carry water buckets and do not need capes. These heroes need to be sung about, too. I have taken it upon myself to compose the score that will sing “everything them”. I like to think this is why I write theatre – to bring life and light to the voices of the people who have not been given a voice. And I knew that to finish this play that I’m writing, I would need a lot of support, and the Brussels to Karoo residency at Paulet House became that for me.

Read further here:

Sibuyiselo Sbuja Dywili (2000) is a published playwright, as well as an award-winning performer on screen and stage. For his 2021 play Ganga Nyoko! Inzima Nyoko, published by Junkets Press and in which he performed, he won the Zabalaza Theatre Festival’s awards for Best Production and Best Actor and was nominated for three Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards, winning Best New Director. In 2021, he was invited by Lara Foot of the Baxter Theatre to participate in the Masambe Writing Residency, where he was supported while writing his second play, Ngxi! He holds an Advanced Diploma in Filmmaking, with majors in directing, screenwriting and producing. Sbuja had the distinct privilege of being taught Musical Theatre Writing by the legendary David Kramer at the Baxter Theatre.

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