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Cover to Original Cast RecordingSarafina

A Musical in 2 Acts. (Book) Written by Mbongeni Ngema. Music and lyrics by Mbongeni Ngema. Additional songs by Hugh Masekela. Musical arrangements by Mbongeni Ngema and Hugh Masekela.

Cort Theatre, Broadway. Opened 28th January, 1988; closed 2nd July, 1989 after (597 performances.)


Sarafina! takes place at Morris Isaacson High School in Soweto, where, in 1976, about 200,000 black students assembled to protest against government decree that imposed the "official" language of Afrikaans as the new medium of instruction in their classes, instead of their own language, Zulu. The police and army came to break up the crowd, and many children were injured or killed. The uprising marked the beginning of a period of violent unrest that continues even today. The students' focus has grown beyond the issue of Afrikaans to encompass every aspect of the black political struggle.

Through story and song, Sarafina! follows the activities of a fictional classat today's Morris Isaacson and, in particular, one girl named Sarafina who inspires her classmates with her commitment to the struggle against the government. In the musical's explosive finale the students present a class play about the symbolic Day of Liberation they all dream of—when their hero, Nelson Mandela is released after more than 20 years in prison.


Act I begins as the students introduce themselves in song.

One student named Colgate (known for his dazzling smile, "which is a killer for women") acts as narrator and explains that his school is popular because of its reputation for political activism. It was here at Morris Isaacson, in 1976, that student leaders like Tsietsi Mashinini and Khotso first organised protests against the government. Colgate also gives the who's who in his school today. There are a lot of "interesting characters", like Teaspoon, the school gossip; Stimela Sasezola, the school trendsetter, whose love for trains earned him the nickname "Express to Soweto", and their teacher, Mistress It's a Pity, so named because she uses that phrase at random, for any and all occasions.

And then there is one girl, Sarafina, whom the whole school loves for a number of different reasons.

The students' school day begins with a musical rendition of The Lord's Prayer. English class follows with a recitation of Wordsworth's poem "Westminster Bridge". When Sarafina asks, "Why do we have to learn about beautiful cities in England which have nothing to do with us?" Mistress responds, "It's a pity!" Next, algebra lessons and then, history class. As Sarafina explains, Mistress teaches them "the history that is not in the books," about the black leaders who have led the war of resistance. Sarafina herself leads the class in a chant: "Nelson Mandela is a hero. We know the government is shit."

Time passes. Sarafina has been put in jail for stirring up trouble. At recess in the schoolyard, Stimela, Teaspoon and some others discuss what must be happening to Sarafina. Two months later, when she returns to school, Sarafina shows them the scars from when she was beaten in prison. Yet, as Colgate remarks, Sarafina has come back "with more commitment, stronger than ever," and she insists that classes go on as before. And they do, with a lesson on the oil producing countries. Mistress asks the students to name the countries: Angola, Nigeria, Venezuela, Algeria, Texas, Iraq, Saudi Arabia.

When a student mentions Libya, a policeman who has been patrolling the school corridor enters the classroom, waving his rifle in front of the students. "What you say?" he asks. "Libya...that's where Khaddafi stays;' answer the students. "Communist! You teaching Communism?" the policeman spits at the teacher, slapping her to the ground.
"How can you teach about Khaddafi in Soweto? Don't you know it's against the law?" he asks. "But she's teaching us about the oil-producing countries and Libya is one of them;' Sarafina argues. The policeman aims to fire, and the students run away, throwing anything they can find at him. He begins shooting and some of the students fall dead in a heap.

At the funeral for their dead classmates the students sing a dirge. A priest delivers a eulogy: "God has given...and the police, they have taken. What has happened to these children is not the unusual." Stimela leads the others in a protest chant. And as they lower the coffins into graves, the students cry out, "Afunani Amaphoyisa eSoweto" ("What are the police doing in Soweto?"): —and a declaration of their determination to make a change.

After an exhuberant entr'acte by the band, Act II opens with an announcement that the students are organising a protest against the declaration of a State of Emergency Like their predecessors in 1976, these children are prepared to battle for their rights.
At school the next day, Mistress asks the students what they want to present at the annual end-of-school-year show. They decide to do a musical production, which will end with a song about Nelson Mandela coming home from prison, meeting people on the Day of Liberation. Of course, all of the students want to play Mandela, but in the end Sarafina wins the part, as she has proven her commitment to the struggle against apartheid more than anyone else in the class. Sarafina tells them about her childhood idol, Victoria Mxenge, a black lawyer and activist. (Mxenge's story, like many of the stories in Sarafina!, is not fictional.) Sarafina tells how Mxenge won a court case for a black woman who had been raped by a white man. Normally, the white man might have been acquitted, but Mxenge cleverly won the case by pointing out that South Africa's Immorality Act prohibits a white man from making love to a black woman. Sarafina acts out the rape scene as the other students echo the voice of the white man who scornfully demands of the black woman, "Why do you turn me down, girl, when you are so emaciated that you're not worth looking at?"

Mxenge's final case was a treason trial; one night, when she was returning from the courthouse, while her children watched helplessly from inside the house, she was murdered outside her home by four white men bearing axes, a bush knife and a gun. Remembering Mxenge's brutal death, Sarafina screams out in horror—"Mama, Mama, Mama...". The others try to console her
Days later, some students gather on the street to gossip about the latest arrests. Policemen approach and chase the students, beating them with clubs and throwing them on a police van with other students who have been picked up for detention.
In prison the children cry, "The black nation is being killed, the African nation is dying. Won't somebody please intercede on our behalf to stop this killing?" Colgate reflects that those days "went down bitter and sore in the presence of the army and the police, not only in our schoolyard but right inside our classrooms. Those were the days of anger, of panic and fear, the days when our brothers and sisters disappeared into the police cells. Others came back and others never came back."

Finally, it is the end of the school year. At the school show, Mistress appears onstage to introduce her students' concert, but first she has a few words of her own.
The next song addresses the issue that started all the student protests in 1976. They sing, "There is no subject in the world that is as impossible for a black child to learn as the language of Afrikaans. Not history, not biology, it's Afrikaans." The show ends with a celebration of the day the children all dream of, when their beloved leader is released from prison.
Sarafina, playing the part of Mandela, delivers the speech that she imagines Mandela will give upon his release:"My people, today I am free. We were released from prison, because you never forgot us. You constantly demanded our release and carried on the struggle. We are here today not to revenge or destroy but to build the future ... where all of us, black and white, can come together and forget the past and work to liberate our land. We should remember that it is only when South Africa is free that all of Africa can be free!"

Cheers and screams break out, and the students sing, stronger than ever, a reprise of Freedom Is Coming Tomorrow!


  • Colgate  
  • Teaspoon        
  • Crocodile         
  • Silence   
  • Stimela Sasezola     
  • Mistress It's a Pity
  • S'Ginci
  • Police Lieutenant
  • Sarafina 
  • Thandekile      
  • Thandi   
  • Lindiwe  
  • Bhoboza
  • Siboniso 
  • Magundane    
  • Kipizane 
  • China      
  • Scabha   
  • Timba, Policeman    
  • Thandani
  • Priest
  • Mubi
  • Police Sergeant
  • Dumadu 
  • Harry     
  • Vanessa 
  • Nandi     

Musical Numbers

  1. Zibuuylle Emasisweni (It's Finally Happening) - Company
  2. Niyayibona Lento Engiyibonayo (Do You See What I See) - Company
  3. Sarafina (Music and Lyrics by Hugh Masekela.) - S'Ginci, Stimela
  4. The Lord's Prayer - Mistress It's A Pity, Company
  5. Yes! Mistress It's a Pity (Music and Lyrics by Hugh Masekela and Mbongeni Ngema.) - Mistress It's A Pity, Company
  6. Give Us Power - Priest, Magundane, Mistress It's A Pity, Company
  7. Afunani Amaphoyisa eSoweto (What Is the Army Doing in Soweto?) - Company
  8. Nkosi Sikeleli/Afrika - Company
  9. Freedom Is Coming Tomorrow - Company
  10. Entr'acte: Excuse Me Baby Please, Please If You Don't Mind Baby, Thank You (Music and Lyrics by Hugh Masekela.) - Band
  11. Meeting Tonight (Music and Lyrics by Hugh Masekela.) - Thandekile, Company
  12. We Are Guerillas - Thandekile, Company
  13. Uyamemeza Ungoma - Thandi, Students
  14. We Will Fight for Our Land - Thandani, Thandi, Magundane, Company
  15. Mama - Magundane, Thandekile, Mistress It's A Pity, Company
  16. Sechaba (Music and Lyrics by Hugh Masekela.) - Company
  17. Isizwe (The Nation Is Dying) - Thandekile
  18. Goodbye (Music and Lyrics by Hugh Masekela.) - Mistress It's A Pity
  19. Kilimanjaro - Company
  20. Africa Burning in the Sun (Music and Lyrics by Hugh Masekela.) - Company
  21. Stimela Sasezola - Stimela, Company
  22. Olayithi (It's All Right) - Company
  23. Bring Back Nelson Mandela (Music and Lyrics by Hugh Masekela.) - Serafina, Company
  24. Wololo! - Company

Scenes and Settings

The action takes place at Morris Isaacson High School in Soweto, South Africa in 1976.


Keyboards, Trumpets I and II, Horn, Lead Guitar, Drums, Bass. Saxophone