Torchbearers began with letters, written but never sent by the two protagonists: Gerwyn – an aspiring Welsh actor who lands a dream part in the iconic film Zulu (starring Stanley Baker and Michael Caine) and Thembesile – a young Zulu dancer who is also in the film. Both in their late teens, they meet on the film set in 1964, oblivious to the brutal laws of apartheid they fall in love, but are torn apart. The play follows their story over the next 40 odd years through their letters and their children and children’s children – “Fear will never keep us apart”
It is now one year since I last saw you. It is our hot season so I think it must be very cold in your country. I know you don’t like the cold but I know how you didn’t like hot in your big clothes. I am back home now but all things are very different. They did not keep me long in the prison, only two weeks I think, they did not treat me bad but cold tea and mealie is not good every day. They would not let me go back to the camp but our friend Mandla, he tell me about the big trouble and how they send you home in aeroplane. I feel so bad I give you all this big trouble and know it is my fault. I am hoping the trouble ends now you are home and your family will be good to you but I do not know your country and your people.
The man I told you about who will change things, the man they call Madiba, is in prison also. They say he will be in prison for very long time but I know one day he will be free and make things better and I will do what I have promised. I hope you remember what I have promised?
I also have to tell you that you are always close to me because I have to tell you that you now have a son. I cannot tell you that he looks like you because I know he does not but with his funny smile and thick black hair I know that he is our son. His name is Zaziwe which means hope and he is already singing just like you and it sounds just like the welsh songs you taught me. One day I will teach him the real words because they are still with me
I will finish writing now but I do not know how to send it. I do not want to get you into more trouble. Perhaps I will keep it for the day when I can give it to you. I will not break my promise.
I am sending all my loving
Young Thembesile & young Gerwyn
I am sorry for waiting so long to write to you but I was so afraid of making things worse for you. Every minute I see them taking you away and wish it was me. I hope they treated you well but have a terrible feeling they didn’t. I can hardly bear to think about it. There are some terrible people in your country. While I was waiting to leave I asked one of those security people what would happen to you. He said they would sentence you to a month in prison. I could not believe it. I still can’t. What did we do wrong?
Things are not so good here at home. I think my career is finished and even some of my family don’t talk to me. It seems some people are just as bad in my country as they are in yours. I have now got a job in the mines, not mining diamonds though, just coal. I hate it. But I am still singing and have joined a choir. Perhaps one day I shall teach them the song you taught me. For now I sing it to myself.
They tell me I will never be able to return to your country for what I have done but I still don’t understand what I have done wrong. I don’t believe them and I know one day I will return to find you. Perhaps that man you told me about will change things soon. Perhaps I will write to him.
I don’t know how to send this letter to you as I only have the name of your village and you might not be there. Also I’m afraid of people opening it and getting you iinto bigger trouble. I am so sorry for all this and hope you can forgive me but I will make it right. One day I will make it all right. And don’t worry about your promise, I will not keep you to it. But I will never forget you and I will see you again. Somehow. Somewhere.
Your dearest love
I cannot tell you what a terrible and happy day this is for me. Sometimes things get better but mostly things get worse. But I do not know if my country can do any more worse things. Now they have started killing our children. Our son Ziziwe is twelve now and is a good boy and goes to school. He went to school five days ago and stayed away for five days. He likes school and loves to learn but this day the students did not go to school. They did not like the way they were being taught in a language they didn’t understand so went on a big march so people would know what they felt. They were only children. And they were only marching. The policemen fired their guns at them. Fired their guns and killed them. Many children. I do not know how many but some people say hundreds. Parents and brothers and sisters carried the children home in their arms even though they knew they were dead. Ziziwe did not come home and I could not find him. Not until today, when he walks into my kitchen. But he is not like my Ziziwe, he is not smiling and singing he is frightened and angry. He was frightened to come home in case they came looking for him and did something to me as well. I give him such a big hug but he does not hug me like he used to. Not like the little baby he is. Not like the child he is. They have taken something out of him and put something else there. I don’t know if it’s good or bad.
Do they tell you these things in your country? I hope so. The man they call Madiba is still in prison. I don’t think they will ever let him out. I think about you every day and tell Ziziwe all bout his welsh father. Remember what I have promised.
All my dearest loving
Today is my birthday. It would be so good to receive a card from you but I don’t think I told you when it was so how could you. And where would you send it. I am spending the day by myself as my son and daughters are with their mothers. Yes I have been married twice but things don’t seem to work out for me. I think I am always looking for someone like you or perhaps I am just looking for you.
I am still in Wales and still working in the mines but things don’t look very good. Mines are closing and there is talk of a big strike and I fear that will make things worse. Sometimes I think of packing it all in and leaving and coming to look for you. I know I can’t and I imagine unlike me you are now happily married and have forgotten all about me.
The choir I have joined are next year going on a trip to your country I cannot believe it and I also cannot believe I still cannot go. After all this time. My son, who thinks a lot says I should not go anyway and support the boycott. My head says he’s right but my heart longs for one chance to see you again. Just to see you and talk to you. After all these years I still miss you and think about you every day.
I see they man you call Madiba is still in prison. I think your country likes to imprison people for doing nothing wrong. I think it must be now nearly twenty years. Perhaps we were lucky. Perhaps when they release him we will be able to be together. If just for a moment. Just a moment.
Your dear Welsh friend