“Bang bang what?”
“‘Wo’ ‘Bang bang wo’. It means ‘help’ in Mandarin,” I explained as we searched desperately for parking in the streets of Maboneng. Statuesque and in all white, the sight of Nelisiwe Xaba at the door steadied our hurried pace before entering The Centre for the Less Good Idea. The room hushed when Xaba stepped onto the podium she shared with stacks of clear rectangular plastic bags containing various seeds and grains. With a playful candour, Xaba began constructing a coordinated vertical structure. The making of Xaba’s lecture performance was calculated and neatly built on local and global understandings of help and her interrogatory monologue was jam-packed with more than just seeds and grains.
The lecture performance starts with a scene in Xaba’s childhood kitchen, where she laboured with her mother to prepare a seven colour Sunday lunch. Xaba then mentions how technological innovation has colonised kitchens and aided laziness. She places emphasise on how nobody is truly trying to get their hands dirty, suggestively like the South Africans who “elevate” unemployment by employing domestic workers.
The 40 minute long performance meandered through the screams for help at the traffic lights, the traditional subservient role of Zulu women, Clicktivism, corruption, Black tax and abruptly ends during the exploration of the business side of help, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), which essentially thrive on aiding the remnants of colonial rule.
As victims of the colonial era, Africans are helped, Africans are looking for help and it is this dependency that creates an inferiority complex. This power play essentially incapacitates the helped because how do you even begin to scrutinise the help? You are supposed to be grateful. Just take, be happy and wait until the next time someone decided to balance their social media feed with a post about how much they help.
Xaba made maneuvering through this dense topic look easy. Her flow into each subject was enthralling, which is testament to her well written script. Being a celebrated dancer and choreographer, Xaba was challenged by constructing a piece that relied on well constructed sentences. Even though she attributed the making of this piece to “bullshitting” and “fucking around”, there is great complexity in how she locates the helper and the helped, and agitates their privilege or misfortune.