Before he stars in the revolution-turned-play The Fall  for Art Centre Melbourne’s Big World, Up Close series next week, we sat down with artist and actor Sihle Mnqwazanza to get some insights on why this production is not one to be missed.


How would you describe The Fall to people unfamiliar with the production?

The Fall is a play about seven students who in the moment of 2015 brought down the statue – or rather mobilised students and workers on the campus of the University of Cape Town to bring down the statue of Cecil John Rhodes – an imperialist and colonialist – which then acted as a catalyst for bringing down many other things that the statue represented such as patriarchy, sexism, queerphobia, issues with fees and accessibility to the university especially for people of colour.


How are those themes shown in The Fall?

We’ve got seven characters and those seven characters represent different parts of the movement and different ideologies. In a way they embody the experiences, so it is lived experiences that they come with and converge in the moment where the statue is being mobilised and taken down. We’ve got your patriarchal, black, radical male activists and we’ve got your black, radical, feminists on the other end with patriarchy and sexism being put into question. We’ve also got a girl who is questioning, someone who is not sure of where the movement is going or what they are mobilising for but wants to participate and is interested in knowing what black pain is and what has been spoken about. We’ve got a Muslim, queer character in the play too who is a leader, a fierce leader and one who is an intellectual. We’ve got a non-binary character who doesn’t identify with any of the gender binaries. So all these characters meet in one space and they represent different parts of the movement as the movement progresses from the start to 2016.


How did you find the response in South Africa to all these different characters when you first showed the play?

At first, we were very nervous, I must admit, because we didn’t want to be seen as appropriating our struggle and representing it in a way that was not truthful but also at the same time we had to take into account that we were also artists and didn’t necessarily want to push propaganda with the show because we wanted to represent a side.


So, our way of getting into it was basically representing the human side, the human story that wasn’t there in the media when the movements were portrayed.


By tapping into that and then opening the show to mostly students who were members of the movement in the beginning most of them related since they could see themselves through the characters on stage. That came as a great surprise to most of us, that they were supporting us and talking to us about the accuracy of the depictions. From there onwards knowing we had the backing of the people who were part of the movement – as we were too – we then were like ‘we can now take the story further’ so that we amplify the voice of the students on campus who were seemingly suppressed by the management and also sometimes the media. We then wanted to take the story to the people and get people to experience the humanness and a lot of people have connected with that.

How was it for you going through the movement itself, especially being an artist and having that impact your work?

I was with the movement from the beginning to the end. I was one of the people who was removing students from classes to bring them to some of the transformation talks that we had out on campus. I was swept with the movement because everyone was going with the wave of ‘let’s bring down the statues’ even though I didn’t quite understand it fully in the beginning. It took me some time, being in the movement, to realise that it was taking a toll on me. I was becoming stressed, I was worried about my studies, [thinking] am I going to pass? So I started reflecting while in the movement and then realised now I must take a seat back and listen more instead of being active on the forefront. I had to listen more to find myself within the narrative that was being pushed and find what it was that I could contribute. In doing that [I thought] ‘well I’m an artist, let me rather observe and if ever there is a moment where we need to share this on a bigger platform (because we were getting so much backlash from the media and the management) then it is through my creativity’. At the same time on campus as the movement was happening we were performing in a play called ‘Black Dog Inj’emnyama’ which is about the student movement in 1976. We had a lot of backlash with the students but also a lot of breakthroughs with that so as I was thinking through the moment of performing ‘Black Dog’ that ‘well how about we depict those talks about the story of what is happening on campus currently instead of talking about a story from 1976’ as so many of the things they were fighting for in 1976 could correlate with what we were fighting for in 2015. I then situated myself as an artist and ended up speaking with the CEO of the Baxter who was also thinking along the same lines.


How do you think that the story is going to correlate with the social, political, and cultural environment of Australia?

It’s funny because we had our first international audience in Scotland at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and we had some Aboriginal Australians that were also performing at the time who came to see our show and who were visibly moved as they felt connected to the experiences that we were depicting, of the marginalised voices of native people. They felt connected to that and they were calling [saying] ‘we want people in our own country to see this so that we open up this discussion even more because these are some of the things that we are dealing with in Australia’. What we hope with bringing it to Australia is to open up dialogue and have these conversations to talk about how we can move forward by looking at our history.


We found ourselves saying with everything that is happening globally, it’s becoming a very universal topic that is no longer rooted within the people who are going through the pain of it but also the people who are observing it and are allies.



Are you working on anything at the moment?

I’m shooting a film called ‘The Lifesaver’ about a prisoner who gets reformed over time and I’m playing a prisoner who is a gangster. That’s what I am passionate about, reformation, changing people’s perceptions of someone who is put on the outskirts of life and who is neglected because they are gangster. People do not understand the internal pain that they are going through and that beyond everything we see on face value someone can be changed.


Sihle Mnqwazanza can be seen at the Arts Centre Melbourne in The Fall from August 28 – September 2.

Bookings: and 1300 182 183