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Farm worker’s story goes to Broadway

South African playwright Athol Fugard so loved the story of a Mpumalanga farm labourer who devoted all his spare time to painting, that he’s written a play about it.

Called “The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek”, the play focuses on Nukain Mabuza’s struggles as an artist in apartheid South Africa, and will run at the prestigious Pershing Square Signature Centre in New York from April 21 to May 31.

“In 2009, I made an attempt to tell Nukain’s story, exploring the world of an artist with the focus on the individual. Without much faith in the final product I never released this play. Now, six years later, the environment of present-day South Africa made me realise the true potential of Nukain’s story,” said Fugard in a description of his play.

Mabuza died in October 1981 and was buried in a pauper’s grave in the Emjindini Cemetery near Barberton with just a reference number as a headstone.

John Clarke, the only person to have documented Mabuza’s life, said that Mabuza’s painted stone garden has been recognised as a highly unusual and important work of art since his death, but has fallen into a state of disrepair.

“For the past thirty years the Stone Garden has remained abandoned to the elements – apart from one attempt to repaint the stones – and little remains of it in its original state,” said Clarke.

Although photographs of Mabuza’s work have been featured in several international exhibitions around the world, Barberton Tourism project manager Astrid Christianson said it was tragic that his work has received very little attention locally.

“It is a tragedy that he has received no recognition, as his style has inspired a whole new generation of artists. His work is the inspiration behind everything from the Barberton Tourism logo, to motifs at the Mbombela Stadium and in the Mpumalanga government buildings,” said Christianson.

In a tribute to the artist, Christianson kick-started the development of the Barberton Gateways, stone gardens painted in Mabuza’s distinctive and vivid style, which welcome tourists to the town.

Christianson said she is ecstatic that Mabuza’s story is being brought to light by someone as highly-acclaimed as Fugard.

“I am delighted and very thankful that Nukain will get the exposure that he deserves and that his story will travel all the way to New York,” she said.

Fugard has written and directed plays for 50 years and in 2011 received the ultimate recognition for his work when he won the prestigious Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement.


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