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Asinamali ("We have no money") is a workshopped play by Mbongeni Ngema (1955-2023) and cast.

The original text

The play tells the story of five black prisoners who tell the stories of their lives and their road to prison under the apartheid regime. It was inspired by events that surrounded the 1983 rent strike in the Lamontville township, led by the martyred activist Msizi Dube, in which the rallying cry was Asinamali! (isiZulu for "We have no money!").

Improvised by the original cast of Bongani Hlope, Bheki Mqadi, Solomzi Bhisholo, Boy Ngema and Thami Cele, led and directed by Mbongeni Ngema. A simply staged but powerful and enormously energetic piece of wonderfully synchronized improvisational theatre, utilizing sounds, narrative, mime and physical action in exciting ways to explore the backgrounds of the various characters and their experiences of life under apartheid. What made the disturbing play particularly intriguing is the creators' balanced portrayal of each character and his reasons for being in prison.

The text was first published in Woza Afrika: An Anthology of South African Plays (edited by Duma Ndlovu and publshed by George Braziller in 1986). Later also published in The Best of Mbongeni Ngema (Skotaville, 1995).

It won numerous awards for both as text and for the superb ensemble acting, including the Vita Award for acting in 1985.

Performance history

1985: First performed by Committed Artists in The Laager at the Market Theatre in May, directed by Mbongeni Ngema with Bongani Hlope, Bheki Mqadi, Solomzi Bhisholo, Boy Ngema, Thami Cele. It then went going on a world tour and returned to the Market Theatre for a second run in December.

1986: The same cast played at the Baxter Theatre in 1986,

1988: The play was performed at the National Arts Festival.

2002: Directed: Mbongeni Ngema at the Market Theatre. Cast : Thami Cele, Bhoyi Ngema, Ntusi Gordon Ngema, Bongani Hlophe, Bheki Mqadi.

2013: Performed at the Grahamstown Festival in Grahamstown in July, then the Barney Simon Theatre at the Market Theatre from 16 July to 18 August. This version directed by Prince Lamla, with Mncedisi Baldwin Shabangu - Solomzi Menzi Biyela, Tshallo Sputla Chokwe, Xolile Gama, and Lungi Pinda - Bheki. Musical Direction by Boy Ngema, Lighting Design by Nomvula Molepo, Set and Costume design by Karabo Legoabe and Stage Management by Bongani Motsepe

Film versions

BBC documentary (1985)

A BBC film was made of the British production and shown in England (but banned on the SABC).

Asinamali. Music Set Them Free (2017)

In 2017 Ngema's play Asinamali was adapted as a film musical, billed as Asinamali. Music Set Them Free (or simply as Asinamali on occasion)[1]. First shown at the Durban International Film Festival on 23 July, 2017(), going on general release in South Africa on 3 August, 2018.

Produced for Kwazi Mojo Media by Darryl Roodt and Christianne Bennetto, directed by Mbongeni Ngema to a script by Ngema and Dylan Ben-Israel. Unlike the stage version, the expanded film version has a large cast that includes Mbongeni Ngema, Danica De La Rey, Boitumelo Shisana, Luzuko Nqeto, Tertius Meintjes, Sbu Ngema, Gérard Rudolf, Dikeledi Letebele, Sibusiso Kotelo ... Hammerman Bhekithemba Zwane Bhekithemba Zwane ... Thami Moses Mahlungu Moses Mahlungu ... Moonlight Jwara Congo Radebe Congo Radebe ... Shoe Shine (as Congo Hadebe) Kere Nwayo Kere Nwayo ... Bra Tony Rest of cast listed alphabetically: Ataliyah Chana Ataliyah Chana ... Mrs. van Niekerk Jakkie Groenewald Jakkie Groenewald ... Foreman Mfana 'Jones' Hlope Mfana 'Jones' Hlope ... Msizi Dube (as Mfana Hlophe) Bongani Hlophe Bongani Hlophe ... Sgt. Khumalo Nompumelelo Mncube Nompumelelo Mncube ... Choreographer (as Nompumelelo Gumede) Lucia Mthiyane Lucia Mthiyane ... Salamina Lindiwe Ndlovu Lindiwe Ndlovu ... Shebeen Queen Jonathan Taylor Jonathan Taylor ... Barney Simon Altus Theart Altus Theart ... Johan van Niekerk Cobus Visser Cobus Visser ... Store Owner Kevin White Kevin White ... KGB Officer

Music by Chris Letcher Cinematography by Dino Benedetti ... director of photographyEditing by Lucian Barnard Production Design by Samantha Lotter


Market Theatre programme for Asinamali, 1985. (Copy held in the ESAT Archives)

Ruphin Coudyzer. 2023. Annotated list of his photographs of Market Theatre productions. (Provided by Coudyzer) []

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