This shy young girl of eleven or twelve was already practicing her dance alone when I was invited into the gloomy, bare building where every late afternoon excited youngsters of all ages arrived to practice their traditional dance routines. She seemed lost in the moment and seemed to be dancing for her life.  She was a scrap of a thing with the physical signs of a poor diet and not a regular attender at school. In Soweto, if you don’t have a school uniform, you don’t go to school. But she danced with such energy and enjoyment – breath-taking. The bars at the doors and windows were like a cage and she, like a delicate bird, reached for the light.

I never forgot this nameless girl. On visiting Kliptown again, more than two years later, I met a group of girls working in the SKY yard with a dance teacher from a Johannesburg theatre. I had used the image of the girl on one of my business cards and on enquiring if they knew the girl there was a chorus of ‘It’s Nokuthula!’ They called to a girl watching the dance teacher’s every move.



Thanks to the work of Soweto Kliptown Youth, Nokuthula was starting to flourish; attending school – and, at the time of taking, was still dancing. But life is fragile in Kliptown…

Robben Island

Robben Island, just seven miles from Cape Town, has a long and dark history as a place of imprisonment and exclusion but is now a museum, recording the  incarceration of the political prisoners of South Africa’s Apartheid era, most notably Nelson Mandela.  However, it is more than a museum. It has become a place of pilgrimage and celebration of one man’s struggle for freedom. Former prisoners and warders live in harmony side by side on the island. The former prisoners act as guides, imbuing the story with authenticity and passion, telling their story over and over again, pacing the floors of the cells and reliving the past.



‘I was assigned a cell at the head of a corridor. It overlooked the courtyard and had a small eye-level window. I could walk the length of my cell in three paces. When I lay down, I could feel the wall with my feet and my head grazed the concrete at the other side. The width was about six feet, and the walls were at least two feet thick. Each cell had a white card posted outside it with our name and our prison service number. Mine read, ‘N. Mandela 466/64’, which meant I was the 446th prisoner admitted to the island in 1964. I was forty-six years old, a political prisoner with a life sentence, and the small cramped space was to be my home for I knew not how long.’

THE LONG WALK TO FREEDOM The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela – pp.369-70


‘The lime quarry looked like an enormous white crater cut into a rocky hillside. The cliffs and the base of the hillside were blindingly white. At the top of the quarry were grass and palm trees, and at the base was a clearing with a few metal sheds…Mining lime is not a simple task…Despite blistered and bleeding hands we were invigorated.’

I much preferred being outside in nature, being able to see grass and trees, to observe birds flitting overhead, to feel the wind blowing in from the sea. It felt good to use all one’s muscles, with the sun at one’s back, and there was simple gratification in building up mounds of stone and lime.’

THE LONG WALK TO FREEDOM The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela – pp.390-391


‘…we were on board the ferry headed for Cape Town. I looked back at the island as the light was fading, not knowing whether I would ever see it again. A man can get used to anything, and I had grown used to Robben Island. I had been there for almost two decades and while it was never a home – my home was in Johannesburg – it had become a place where I felt comfortable. I have always found change difficult, and leaving Robben Island, however grim it had been at the time, was no exception. I had no idea what to look forward to.’

 THE LONG WALK TO FREEDOM The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela – pp.497




Crossing The Tracks

Across the tracks

I took the first image from a bridge above the track the girl in her immaculate school uniform – no uniform means no school – and the woman in traditional Sowetan dress crossing the railway line that divides their lives between the opportunities open to the few and the shackland that is Kliptown.  The next two follow the girl as she makes her way alongsidethe track and thelifethat is enacted there every day. She then suddenly disappears from view. I saw her later in the day coming out of a shack,  wearing a faded tracksuit and carrying the precious uniform on a hanger protected by a dry-cleaner’s plastic cover.


Acknowledgement: the photographs were first published in A JAR OF STICKLEBACKS

True and Immortal Sister

TRUE AND IMMORTAL SISTER was one of four plays showcasing the work of young emerging writers produced by ACTION TRANSPORT THEATRE. This is the story of the development of the play but also the story of the writer.

The play, written by seventeen-year-old Maisie Linford, tells the story of two young girls who have fled Afghanistan to a new life in England. The elder girl, having seemingly settled into a different culture, is joined by her young sister and the play charts their journey of love, hope and identity.

Maisie wrote the first draft and was mentored through subsequent drafts by director Nina Hajiyianni.

Already an accomplished actor from an early age with ATT, Maisie was confident in joining the young company of actors for the first read-through.

The writer’s youngest sister, twelve-year-old Stephanie was cast in the role of Afsana and Jasmin Parsons as her older sister, Erina. Jack, Erina’s boygfriend was played by Joel Andreson. Maisie and her sister, Lucy, acted in supporting roles, Mercedes and Megan.  Rachel Allen doubled as Megan and Laura Walker played Lakita.

The play tells the story of the younger sister’s arrival and her attempts to ‘fit in.’ She wears the school uniform and tries to keep a low profile.

 Her older sister has already abandoned her way of dress, found a job and acquired a non-Muslim boyfriend.

The younger girl decides to wear the hijab with the consequence that she is further bullied at school.  Although very young, she knows who she is and is determined to stand up for her beliefs.

Her sister gradually realises that she, too, cannot deny her own true self.


‘Linford gives us a stunning debut play. Here we have a writer who shows real promise, with a thoughtful and un-patronising script that presents a real social awareness which is beautifully underscored with a sensitivity beyond her years.’


Maisie is reading English and Comparative Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Jasmin is reading Drama, Applied Theatre and Education at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, London.


Kliptown is the oldest of twenty-five townships that comprise Soweto (an abbreviation for South West Townships), now part of Johannesburg. It was first laid out in 1893 and from 1903 was home to ‘informal settlements’ – squatter camps or shacklands.

In 1955 the Congress of the People – organised by the African National Congress, the South African Indian Congress, the South African Congress of Democrats and the Coloured People’s Congress – took place in Kliptown on what came to be known as Freedom Square (now Walter Sisulu Square) across the railway tracks from the informal settlements. The Congress saw the declaration and adoption of the Freedom Charter, which set out the aims and aspirations of the opponents of Apartheid.

There is now a mixture of permanent housing and a large number of shacks and other informal homes. Kliptown’s present population is officially estimated at between 38,000 and 45,000.

Since my first visit in 2002, there has been little change in Kliptown. There is electricity in some quarters. Earth lavatories have been replaced by chemical toilets but are shared by as many as thirty people and there are still open drains.

Amid appalling deprivation, aspirations run high. A vibrant community is hungry to move out of poverty and alongside images of squalor there are pockets of hope: the girl in her precious school uniform, a requisite to be allowed to attend school, and the woman in traditional Sowetan dress crossing the railway line that divides their lives between opportunities open to the few and the shacklands; the young people who dance every day at the space provided by former street child, Bob Nameng, at SKY (Soweto Kliptown Youth); the enthusiastic response to a poetry project – stringing recycled rubbish to make improvised poetry lanterns organised by volunteers and actors from a theatre across the tracks.

There’s Only One Of You


Making Theatre From The Thoughts of Children

The world of the child is one that is inquisitive, excited, and hungry for answers to an infinite number of questions; questions that are sometimes simple, demanding simple answers, but are frequently complex. The story of this piece of theatre has its roots in questions – and sometimes answers – from young children in workshops led by the writer Kevin Dyer, and young people’s theatre director Nina Hajiyianni. The first workshops held at The Brindley  provided children with the opportunity, for many the first, of experiencing theatre as performers – exploring lighting, sound, space, and making stories to share with an audience.

Subsequent workshops were led by Kevin Dyer in Action Transport Theatre’s studio theatre. Sometimes the themes were inspired by artefacts and the children’s own ideas about how they might be used in a story. These were later developed to bring together groups to combine parts of stories where the dramatic convention of ‘still image’ led to a deepening feeling and intensity.

Further workshops took place in a number of primary schools over a year and involved hundreds of children. Question and answer sessions led to interviews of the children by each other, lively discussions and acting-out of possible scenarios.

Much of the children’s work was recorded and found to have a number of pearls of wisdom. ‘From the Mouths of Babes’ was adopted as a likely title for a piece of theatre devised by the joint efforts of the actors Michael Lattin-Rawstrone, Simone Lewis and Rebecca Rogers, dramaturg Kevin Dyer, director Nina Hajiyianni, designer Kate Unwin, and composer Patrick Dineen. Matt Bennett designed atmospheric light and sound.

‘There’s Only One of You’ – the title a contribution from one of the children – provided the key to a play about individuality. It was wordless except for Patrick Dineen’s imaginative soundtrack incorporating the voices of children and their wisdom.

By the second tour, FROM THE MOUTHS OF BABES was re-named STATik