Take a bewitching ride to utopian Gwadana


Take a bewitching ride to utopian Gwadana

This world of beautiful outcasts collapses the everyday and the outlandish into one scene

Chris Thurman

We had to tell ourselves that 2021 would be better, because that was the only way of getting through 2020. But inevitably, the grim weirdness of last year has bled into the early weeks of this year — a bleak segue. Yes, Joe Biden will soon be US president, and yes, we’ll eventually get vaccinated against Covid-19, and yes, SA’s economy will emerge from recession, but it remains to be seen how deeply the local and global dystopian seeds have been planted.

If you are in need of a utopian boost, make a booking to see Simphiwe Ndzube’s exhibition The Fantastic Ride to Gwadana at Stevenson in Johannesburg, or visit the gallery’s online viewing room. Be warned: Ndzube’s utopianism is not an escape from poverty or ill health or environmental degradation. Rather, his fictionalised Gwadana, populated by those he calls the “Mine Moon” people, is a place where those who have been ostracised and persecuted make their own society in which they are “finally celebrated as equals”.

The real Gwadana, in the Eastern Cape, is popularly associated with witchcraft — an association fuelled by tabloid sensationalism and gossip but driven most powerfully, Ndzube reminds us, by a history of privation and oppression (this could be traced back, if one wished, to the “frontier wars” of the 19th century; the largely forgotten Battle of Gwadana presents a very different set of associations). Accusations of witchcraft, directed mostly at elderly women, make sense in a context “where poverty leads to strained social relations” and violence is displaced onto the most vulnerable...

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