Thursday, January 2, 2014


As far as I know black people have been coming to Europe long before I even thought I would be able to travel to Switzerland; never have I considered I could be a “sight”. I am generally very sensitive to being looked at intensely unless I am performing on stage. I normally have the ability to blend in really quickly in places I travel to; perhaps it has something to do with growing up in South Africa, I consider myself street wise, I am aware of people staring, because in my experience it normally means trouble.

James Baldwin wrote an essay, “Stranger in the Village”, where he recognizes history as a nightmare during a trip to Switzerland in 1951. When I read this in 2010, I felt a certain disappointment in history and my relation to the world; as it for me illustrates that not much has changed. 
I happen to travel to the same town he wrote about and have never felt so lonely in my life.
I took it for granted that travelling to this town would be similar to anything I have experienced before. I travelled to a literature festival where my current partner had been invited as a poet and author. My first impression was that the hotel staff must have seen black people before because she asked several times if my partner and I are sharing a room and she would not pronounce my name; which is reasonable 'NT' are not the easiest letters put together with no vowel. I ignored the strange looks because I have learned that Swiss people in general stare with no shame, where as in other countries this is rude; inviting a confrontation. In my discussion with other people their conclusion is, the looking is harmless and really friendly, it is a matter of curiosity.

I spent the week in between the festival locations and my hotel room avoiding public places as much as possible. On the last day we decided to visit the famous hot springs of the region as I have never experienced anything like it before.

Firstly, the town is now a huge tourist attraction in winter, with insane decor of wooden chic. I ate dinner one night at a place that looked like the inside of a sail boat; with exaggerated table cloths, expensive food and an overwhelming smell of tacky but expensive. The Spas and the pools are also in this taste of exaggerated exuberance; but too far away from the city to know what the difference is between modern and just plain ugly. I saw a lot of this when I was growing up, when someone who lived in the rural areas wanted their own house to have a bit of feng shui.

The hot springs have been turned into a modern building with the glaring eye of the mountains over you; while you are in the pool or you looking up at the mountains straining to hear the water as it travels through the valleys to reach the pool. I am not someone who likes wearing a swimming costume without anything covering my enormous backside but that’s the rule. You come in and leave your flip flops and towel at the entrance where you shower then proceed to the pools.

I have never been looked at with such intent and even during one of my performances I think the audience tends to find other things to look at. I was the “sight” in the pool, even the children could not close their gaping mouths; a fly could have landed and made home. Their parent’s eyes bore right through me in search of my core; even I have never been able to locate it, they stared on.
 At some point I could not move an inch as my partner freely crossed the pool to try out different massage points around the pool at different temperatures. I know these people did not mean to be unkind but after an hour of swimming and changing to different pools I fell apart and sobbed like a lost child in mall.
 It was a mystery to me at the time, because no one had called me neger yet; touched my hair and skin or even tried to talk to me. Just the same, there are days when the gaze gets to me; I find myself hoping that I meet the onlookers’ standard of scrutiny. Am I a living wonder?

 In Holland where I studied towards a Master of Theater they celebrate Christmas with Swarte Piet: a black fellow who arrives together with Sinterklaas and might trick the children if they have been naughty. He has a black face, red lips and a black afro. According to myths dating to the beginning of the 19th century, Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) operated by himself or in the companionship of a devil. Having triumphed over evil, it was said that on Saint Nicholas Eve, the devil was shackled and made his slave. A devil as a helper of the Saint can also still be found in Austrian Saint Nicholas tradition in the character of Krampus. *direct quote from wikipedea*

 In December there are Zwarte Piet dolls in every store, newspaper, television adverts, cookie packets and white men and women dress up on the eve of 6 December. My first reaction was of bewilderment; I could not imagine that this is possible in a country as developed in so called “tolerance”. I got home and started researching the origin of this custom; I even asked my Dutch friends who said that this is an old tradition done for the children, friendly and harmless in its origin they all grow up with it. So why do I feel offended? I cannot pause and smile when children run away from me during this time. “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them”. Am I hung up on an inferiority complex that started with my ancestors? Is it possible that I will never be free of the complexities of prejudice?

In South Africa I grew up among white people, so I try to not reserve a special place for white authority. I pretend that we are equal; as the first means I am the same as my grandmother who was domestic worker. When I started attending school with white people, my grandmother insisted I smile, keep my self clean, as the whites adhere to strict rules of cleanliness and good behavior. In her time, the white man was salvation.
 I grew up in a time that sold black men as rapists, thugs; I as an unbeliever and accomplice. Baldwin writes about white people: “ these people cannot be, from the point of view of power, strangers anywhere in the world; they have made the modern world, in effect, even if they do not know it.” I am controlled by western culture whether I like it or not. I also have unconsciously inherited a rage that he refers to of the “disesteemed”. A kind of rage that is easily discounted, too emotional and not worth arguing about. I marvel at how naive my so called white European friends can be, I sometimes think it must be their inherited right, they feel entitled. 
 I have grown to understand that some people born in privileged societies like Netherlands, Sweden or Switzerland know they are born in a better position in the world, but do not want to be hated for it. I will not free my friend from the realization/reflecting on the actions of our forefathers. As I also have conditions from my history that occasionally change the rhythm in my step. I do not blame her for the actions of those before her, yet I am living some of the consequences of our past whether I decide to ignore them or not.
I operate in a world that makes me cringe at the word Bantu; as in my education it meant something negative, backwards and something to be left behind, so I can be a better human being. So much so that I think whiteness is still a standard some of my South African brothers and sisters aspire to. I come from a history where Hendrik Verwoerd stated, that “There is no place for [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour ... What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice? That is quite absurd. Education must train people in accordance with their opportunities in life, according to the sphere in which they live.”
 I am a stranger today because my story was told a long time ago before I even set foot in this continent. When I attempt to assert myself as a human being just like my European counterparts, I appear as something really cute, with complicated hair, flat nose and such beautiful fat lips. There are others brave enough to say “Why don’t you go back to Africa”?
 I cannot blame the crazy girl in a bus in Basel who shouted “Neger” when it was time for her to get off, the woman who found me with my socked feet on the chair of the train, started shouting about “my people’s disregard for hygiene”, referring to me as “you people”, the German woman who started gesturing at the size of my lips with her hands, saying “you are beautiful”.

I am stranger today because some conversations recall the past, a spectacle where Blacks were only servants, subhuman and needed to be supervised by superior races. As a South African I find myself always challenging the gaze, judgment, struggling to maintain my current identity. “Europe’s black possessions remained and do remain in Europe’s colonies, at which remove they represented no threat whatever to European identity”. This was written in the fifties.  I am not a European possession, although influenced by their past. There are currently a lot of Africans flocking into Europe; I myself am a part of this movement. There is evidence in politics of national identities being threatened by this movement; thus forcing people to fear their unfamiliar neighbor. In Switzerland there are political parties claiming Blacks as thieves with guns, a Swiss passport tucked in their back pocket depicted in cartoon drawings. Netherlands politics dictates they close their borders as the purity of nations is threatened.

I started writing this text in the hope to deal with my own ever changing identity at the same time naming the dark spaces for what they are in my eyes. As far as I remember I have always had a notebook and pen where I could jot down the unsaid. As I have got older the story seems to get more difficult to tell, it gets a bit serious somehow. It almost feels as if I need to exorcise some demons that have lived in the memory of my body and thoughts. There is still a lot of light to be let in so through these words life goes on and night turns to day.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Graduation Speech

Looking back in the way I know how.
I pay homage to the meetings.
In shared silence sitting in a circle, under the moonlight.
I looked up in one moment and realized we all live under the same sky.
Waking up in the dark to sit in silence and observe, ourselves, myself I am nothing without the breath, hands of others. 

The moments were transformed to treasure associated with fresh fruits, late night swimming under the skylight and the rumblings of a world that might end, enjoy now as life is too short and art is cultural.
Looking for energies, searching to uplift the artistic soul, the road leads to a place similar to an artistic Mecca.

This place that I have called my home for the past two and half years. 
These walls when days were dark they became darker whispering anxiety, self doubt and spitting at my insecurities. 
These walls that hold untold secretes whispered in the frustration of creativity and intense observation of learning by looking, doing and teaching.
In the halls I discovered my voice.
In the windows I avoided my true reflection, I abandoned the old in search of the new.
In the door frames and wooden doors I knocked, scratched and banged my head at the same time enjoying the pain and the wood splinters in my fore head.

Searching for an identity is nothing to be made fun of.
I remember wailing, I remember crying so much that it turned into laughter.
I remember talking, talking, talking. 
I remember the warmth laughter and I escaping to the arms of advisers and staff. Smoke breaks, walks in the park, crazy ideas  and crying out.

 Once I wrote:
Dear Reader
I don’t even know where to begin.
I’m sitting here and actually hand writing to you, it feels so old school. but it is the way it has to be. So let’s call this…A Journey towards Home.

 It is difficult to pinpoint one person and a certain event that has transformed, informed, morphed, performed in my search for home.
I know that it is from a lot of patience, administration, admiration and warm-natured belief of others in my work that I have ended up here. 
So I say ngiyabonga, ngiyabonga, ngiyabonga not only to you but also to myself.
No it doesn't work…
 It’s the rhythm and the pose, then catch, drop fall.
No, No try again the same way.
It’s the rhythm in the pose the catch drop fall.
Dum da dudum duda.

Ok, jiggle, wiggle move your package, don’t sit on a chair.
 Dum da dudum duda.

Keep it simple, keep it clean…

My pen rages and barks caught like cables run wild,
As usual I see red, red everywhere. Wanting to appear full circle at 360 degrees.
I’m looking at the world from all angles carrying suitcases of possibilities, formalities… Oops… accidents do happen so draw the curtains,
sms a friend the worlds gone blind

“I’m doing research in Zimbabwe, the children are always so happy there “

Ok, ok, I’ll keep it down.

Sooo what do you do?

I have demons, visions of a new world order, where food,resources are shared, spared all around the universe.

Ok, ok I’ll keep it light. Why am I surprised it’s the way of the world.
Push your own agenda, light a cigarette, the train is 5 minutes late hyperventilate …and the beat goes on… dum da dumdum duda…
 I guess ngifuna ukuba umuntu ongcono,
 obona izinto nagamehlo engqondo.
 Ngifuna ukukhuluma ngento ekhona;
bekhona abanye bethi bayakhululuma kodwa bayadavuza nje.

Jump, jump before u think.
The hip-hops heavy so follow your own rhythm.
Keep it light keep it simple, move with ease.

Sun rays light up my eyes as the dew drops squeeze their way pas the grass.
The air damp with a new day sings a fresh song making the leaves slow dance to the morning fog.
The birds sing in tune with the new morning, blocking out sounds of construction work and numbness of everyday.
The sun hums in out of the clouds like a coy mistress she’s in and out of focus, yet her song is heard all through out the land.
Even the busy bumble bee knows today will be a good day the sun cant hide it in her eyes.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Face Off 


fringe theatre rating fringe theatre rating fringe theatre rating fringe theatre rating fringe theatre rating 

In essence, this is a pretty simple show. A performance artist sings a bit of Schubert, does a character piece in stand-up mode, has some badinage with her pianist, then changes back in front of VT, pulls faces in front the audience, then does the same in front of VT, sings a song in X'hosa and does a rap about the borders of artistic liberty when you yourself are a performer 'of colour'.

Reviewed by Jorik Mol 5 September 2012

Website :

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


My travels, like any other, developed out of a necessity - the need to develop myself as a maker and a performer. Along this journey I have often felt the need to be acknowledged by others, and to feel worthy as an artist and as a person. At DasArts, I questioned what makes me unique as an artist. What is it, exactly, that I do? What makes me different from the talented maid who washes the dirty laundry while humming a lullaby that sends shivers down the spine, the garbage man who makes figurines as a hobby, or the waiter who is also a jazz musician by night? Once I realised there is nothing special about what I do, I felt, for the most part, as though I was digging in mud and getting nowhere. Finding my own truth has been central component of my two-year quest.

As a theatre maker, I am interested in making work that contributes to the world I live in. To do that, I need to go deeper and find my signature as a maker, to investigate form and style and my specific approach to creating performance. Again, this process involved several questions. Why do I feel the need to abandon conventional methods in theatre? How do I approach the spectators in such a way that they listen and feel? Indeed, why should they? What do I expect from the spectator?
Ironically, putting myself out there as the subject, insecurities and all, has been the key to finding a truthful and deeply personal expression that touches on universal issues. As soon as I stopped trying to match other people’s expectations, I found myself.

Face Off represents a preoccupation with my own skin. I am a South African whose life experience has been formed and dominated by race. Coming to Europe has made me confront these issues outside of racially prescribed South African society. At times, it is uncomfortable and feels claustrophobic. As a stranger in a strange land, I wonder whether these feelings are caused by how others perceive me, or whether I project these feelings onto others.
In Face Off, I hope to ask questions about the roles we play, the roles we are put into and masks we choose to wear.

The process forced me into a place where I stopped taking myself so seriously. I can laugh at myself, and do not feel the need to present concrete answers but, instead, to keep on asking questions. Once I started to ask questions, the wool began to unravel. Through this performance-based response I contextualised where I come from, what informs my immediate thought processes and how I respond to the world in general. At the very heart of the matter is my desire to make a socially engaging performance, to find my own voice and my own way, and to give form to this.

I would say that one of the most important lessons learned during this period has been that I do not need to try and gain acceptance from others. Instead, I engage with my art in a way that it is not only a fulfilling experience for my audience but one that also feeds my soul. Just like me, my art is constantly evolving and it cannot be fixed in one place anymore. It is from here that I will proceed, and continue to work, create, love and live.

Concept and Performance: Ntando Cele
Music: Simon Ho
Script: Raphael Urweider
Advisors: Catherine Henegan, Petra Aardai
Thanks to Dasarts-

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Once walked, twice talked...

Once walked, twice talked…

When walking as opposed to running one of the feet is always in contact with the ground”.

As Ntando Cele I associate the ground with images of despair, desperation, grief and the potential for horizontal madness. I have the choice to walk over, along or in the ground. The performance;

Once walked, twice talked is an invitation to you the observer to take off your shoes and experience the ground, this is a story of two strangers; through sound and actions compete in the game of grief.

Thank you to Dasarts and Hetveem Theater September 2010

Mourner 1

Cat Smits

Mourner 2

Yinka Adesina