The life and times of slain Irish nun Sister Aidan Quinlan, who was killed in 1952 by a mob in Duncan Village, was relived at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown at the weekend.
A group of young actors based at the Duncan Village’s Gompo Arts Centre, staged a play titled The Elite of the ’50s in Duncan Village.
The play was not only about Sister Aidan, but also the hardships and humiliation black people in the township suffered during the ’50s.
The 45-minute-long play starts with a pastor conducting a prayer service which is disrupted by apartheid police just a few minutes after it started.
As the congregants disperse, Sister Aidan remains in the church with the pastor seeking spiritual guidance on how to deal with everything that is happening in the township, especially the death of children.
After a prayer, Sister Aidan smiles and says, “ I feel revived and courageous”.
A few minutes later, a young couple brings their gravely ill baby to Sister Aidan.
She examines the child and tells the parents she cannot feel the pulse and then prays for them.
The mother of the baby picks up what she thinks is a dead baby, but is happy to realise that actually her baby is not dead.
Director and writer of the play, Buyile Geza, said this was just some of the work that the nun, who was loved and adored by the community of Duncan Village, did.
“She was a humble and caring person. She would bring clothes and food for the people of Duncan Village,” he said.
Geza said he wanted to tell the history of Duncan Village, “but one does not talk about the history of the township without mentioning the story of Sister Aidan. She was one of them, she was them.”
The scene where Sister Aidan is killed, is not depicted in the play.
Geza said that during his research and visit at her memorial centre in Duncan Village, it was decided they do not show the scene.
She was confronted by a frenzied mob who stoned her car and brutally murdered her, burning her car with her body inside. Sister Aiden’s body was burnt beyond recognition.
She had driven into Duncan Village, where there was a confrontation between police and angry youths as part of ongoing anti-apartheid protests in most townships.
All that remained recognisable was part of her hand firmly holding onto a rosary, which for many signified that she had been praying at the time of her death.
A memorial centre in her honour was opened officially in February last year.
The Sister Aidan Memorial Centre is located on the grounds of the St Peters Claver’s Church in Duncan Village, the same church the nun was heading for to do her missionary work when she was accosted by a mob and killed.
The play made its debut at the festival last year.
“We returned with the play to the festival because when we first brought it here, we were not really ready, but this time we mastered everything,” Geza said.
He said he was pleased with the way the audience received the play.
“It is a huge motivation to me and my cast to work hard and put more effort into future plays for the festival,” he said.
Nonkosi Gaveni, 25, who played the character of Sister Aidan, said she was happy to be part of the play.
“I felt honoured that I was chosen to play the role of Sister Aidan. It was very emotional, but I tried my best,” she said.
Gaveni said there was a lot of improvement in playing the character comparing to last year.
“Last year was my first time being on a big stage like this in my acting career, but this year I managed to rectify some of the minor mistakes I made last year.”
Other disturbing scenes in the play were those of the apartheid police ill-treating black people in their own homes.
The play ends with “the people of Duncan Village” apologising to the family of the slain nun for their role in her brutal killing.