Mercy by Zubayr Charles: a photo essay

The elderly woman sits absolutely still on a nearly bare stage. This is the opening scene of Mercy written and directed by Zubayr Charles, on at The Baxter’s Zabalaza Festival this week.

Enter Nurse Mercy Killane , played by Jennifer Morris – a bundle of nervousness, static noise and faux positivity, the way of nurses toward their patients. Mercy represents the life-force that revolves around the still form of the old woman trapped in her dementia, the stillness punctured with occasional outbursts.

The still form is Aunty Kaasheifah Momsen, played by Ibtisaam Florence, being cared for by Lameez Momsen, played by Sharfa du Plessis. Lameez is the quintessential dutiful daughter who sacrifices her life to take care of her mother who worked hard to take care of the family.

The pragmatic son Latief Momsen, played by Jethro Dylan Thomas casts an unsympathetic figure out to cash in on the gentrification of the historical and prime real estate Bo-Kaap. First inhabited by the Cape Malay slaves centuries ago and to this day by their descendants, Bo-Kaap remained culturally unaffected and unmoved during the apartheid era.

Slightly hysterical Lameez stone-walled by her mother’s silence, on the brink of caving under the weight of responsibility and not having a life of her own.

In a finely balanced script of blues and only glimmers of light, Constable Godana, played by Vuyokazi Vulu, is a loud burst of light.

Constable Godana out to provoke her quarry to spill the beans, with an unlikely partner playing the part of the good cop.

Mercy and Aunty Kaasheifah Momsen struggle with their demons of memory and forgetting.

Latief’s mask slips, revealing just an inkling of his pain.

Latief on his knees talking to Allah. Not only is the play a balance of light and shade, dealing with the complexities of care for the elderly, serious mental health conditions and the family conflict that inevitably occurs, it is a beautiful expression of the languages of the Cape. The Muslim Kaaps of the elderly, the haunting sounds of Arabic in prayer flows effortlessly into modern day English with a few flashes of Xhosa.

Mercy triggered by the sight of Aunty Kaasheifah Momsen in repose, plunging her into the depths of her own past with the ghosts of a hereditary.mental disease looming large,

Mercy and Aunty Kaasheifah Momsen with the tension line of life and times about to break.

Constable Godana and Mercy with the unexpected twist in the tale. In Mercy, nothing is as it seems.

Photographer Erik Marthinusen is in Grade 12 at SACS High School, Newlands. Playwright Zubayr Charles is his English teacher.

Captions: JGF News

Cover photo: JGF News

Caption: Zubayr Charles (Red Shirt) with his English Home Language SACS High School learners and his colleague, Huroennisa Mahomed.

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Zubayr Charles grew up in the picture-postcard neighbourhood of the Bo-Kaap. He teaches English First Language at the Good Hope Seminary High School and coordinates the school's drama club. At the same time, he is busy with his master's degree in creative writing at UCT. 'I write short stories, but I also consider myself a poet and playwright. In 2019 I showcased my first play dealing with gender-based violence The Battered Housewives' Club.' Zubayr is in the process of self-publishing an anthology of poems on the topic of the gentrification of the Bo-Kaap. Zubayr was hesitant about submitting his work to the Kommadagga panel. 'I have learnt that reading is subjective and people can either really like or dislike one's writing. So, I wasn't sure how the panellists would respond to my submission. When I received the good news, it was humbling because, although I have grown more confident in my writing, I wasn't sure about the reaction I would receive.' The short story he submitted deals with many of the taboos that millennials in Cape Town struggle with and that older and more conservative generations may not necessarily warm towards. 'I feel extremely honoured to be part of this programme and I hope to improve my writing in order to continue sharing the stories of the marginalised in the Cape Town of today.'

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