Maverick Citizen


The struggle sets the stage – Thokozani Ndaba’s activism is animated by her love of theatre

The struggle sets the stage – Thokozani Ndaba’s activism is animated by her love of theatre
Thokozani Ndaba. (Photo: Thom Pierce, The Actionists)

Growing up in a township outside Pietermaritzburg, a young Thokozani Ndaba used theatre ‘as a shield’, and as a tool for healing and growth.

Thokozani Ndaba found the theatre at a very young age. 

During apartheid, theatre performances were often used as a cover for community meetings so that people could come together to discuss the liberation struggle. 

“At the time, it was illegal for more than five people to gather together, except at formal events, so we were forced to get creative.”

Growing up in a township outside Pietermaritzburg, a love for theatre quickly materialised and set the foundations for a lifetime of passionate activism, using theatre techniques as facilitation tools for dialogue and change. 

“As a young person who faced challenges at a young age I used the theatre as a shield. I knew that it was imperative for me to bring drama and theatre to my work as a tool for healing and growth.” 

Thokozani went on to obtain a master’s degree from New York University, focusing on implementing theatre in communities, and has travelled extensively using drama for transformation and education.

In 2017, Thokozani founded the Ntethelelo Foundation in the informal settlement of Setswetla, neighbouring Alexandra Township. The foundation was initially designed as a place for young girls in the community to talk about their lives in a non-judgemental, safe space. 

We strongly believe that self-love and self-respect build individuals and communities.

Every Monday to Saturday during the school term and holidays, young men and women from the community now come together to attend classes at the foundation that deal with issues ranging from gender-based violence to HIV, toxic masculinity and gender norms.

“In isiZulu we say ‘Zibanjwa Zisemaphuphu’, meaning it’s better to catch them while they are young, especially when it comes to self-development education. It is much harder to change the mindset of an adult that is already set in its ways.”

Using theatre techniques as a communication tool, they facilitate discussions and conduct workshops alongside reading clubs and yoga programmes. They also develop performances that can be taken into the local communities to raise awareness of gender-based violence. The foundation aims to create change-makers who can be an example to the community. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Let’s fix SA by getting our hands dirty and doing something that actively makes a difference

“We strongly believe that self-love and self-respect build individuals and communities.”

Since 2021 the foundation has had its own dedicated space, working out of repurposed containers with three flush toilets, a shower and a kitchen, a counselling room and a library. 

This year they need the help of accounting, maths and life sciences teachers. If you, or someone you know, could volunteer time or sponsor a teaching programme at the school, get in touch with us at [email protected] and we will put you in touch with Thokozani. DM

It’s Women’s Month in South Africa and so, throughout August, The Actionists will exclusively be featuring stories of inspiring women who are working to make a positive change in the world around them.

The Actionists was launched in early 2023 by photographer Thom Pierce. It consists of on-the-ground problem solvers, community activists, climate campaigners and human rights defenders who engage in direct action. They are people anyone can turn to in difficult circumstances: a growing community of people who care about the future of South Africa. Through a series of photographic stories, Pierce profiles these people. Through a website, discussion forum and social media, the aim is to provide ways for people to get involved.

Nominate Actionists in your circle at or email [email protected]


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