Napo Masheane’s pen has made her a revered storyteller and now she is the living proof that there is life after the storm.
By: Thanduxolo “Thandz” Buti
Photos supplied by: Village Gossip productions
Napo has become a leading lady as a spoken word, playwright and theatre director in South Africa. Her theatre productions have immaculately put women’s stories under the magnifying glass. She is famously known for her cheeky, humorous and politically correct theatre production, “My Bum Is Genetic”. Many have hailed her as an important voice as a storyteller as she has performed around the world, garnered critical acclaim and bagging a couple of awards.
She recently received another golden milestone after Oscar nominated actor, Chiwetel Ejiofer – famous for his role in 12 Years A Slave-, performed one of her monologues “Mama The Storm Is Outside” at the recent Children’s monologues at the Royal Court Theatre, in London.
Napo will also make history as the female director to have her work featured at the Market Theatre main stage – The John Kani stage. She presented her new production, “A new Song”, which follows eight domestic workers juggling their struggles, their madams and motherhood. The piece is currently running at the State Theatre until 11 December.
However with such a glorious career, Napo has had to face the shadow of darkness. With a family that has a history of depression and suicide, she had to face the demons and break the chain.
On this interview she reflects on her life battle with depression and how she over-came the pain of the disease.
Can you tell me about your first encounter with the sword of suicide in your family?
Napo Masheane: There has always been depression in my family but we just never had a name for it. I think it’s only after my father committed suicide that I realised that I also was battling with depression during my upbringing and it sort of made sense why sometimes I felt suicidal. My first real moment with depression was when I failed my matric. Can you imagine being the head-girl who had always passed with flying colours fail their matric? I remember that writing was tough because I was shaving a lot of nervous break-downs. I had to be taken to a school councillor but I just thought it was fear because I had never failed in my life and so I couldn’t fail now.
A year later my father committed suicide it hit me real hard man. I went through therapy and that’s when I realised that I had been depressed for about three years. It amounted to a lot of things but mostly I think the ripple effect of failing matric really weighed down on me. I couldn’t study the courses I wanted to study and I ended up doing Marketing Management, which was never part of my plan because I was always a creative soul. I lived with it for a very long time after but I just found ways to help me go forward even during my darkest hours.
If you don’t get support from your family or friends then perhaps you should seek alternatives, like therapy.
Did you find that in the black community it was hard for you to be open about exactly what you were feeling, whether with friends or family?
Napo Masheane: It’s never easy to have those conversations in our community, even now. Manly because in black families depression is not something that is acknowledged. When you are depressed they tell you to get over it because there are bigger problems out there. It’s like snap out of it and then we move on to what they consider to be bigger and better things. I don’t think there is room for them to have that deep conversation so that they can help you go back to who you are. They never really ask how you are feeling and when they do, they expect a simple ‘I am Okay’. I think that’s why for me I have always found solace in therapy.
What was your first encounter with a therapist like?
Napo Masheane: It was through a friend that I had my first encounter with a therapist. She said ‘Hayi Joe, I can’t help you maybe you should see someone’. I asked around my circle and I managed to get a few numbers of really good therapists. I got one eventually and she has been my therapist ever-since. She has been like a friend who is therapist but there is still that line that mustn’t be crossed. In the midst of anything or whenever I am around the world I can still SMS her when I want to talk. I have grown fond of her and I think that’s because there is a strong trust between us. She has held my hand in some of my darkest times even during the most horrific break-up of my life.
I am not even ashamed to talk about it because I think that’s what every person should do. If you don’t get support from your family or friends then perhaps you should seek alternatives, like therapy. It’s very healing because when you speaking to a therapist it’s like you are having a loud conversation with yourself. A huge part of it is going through the emotions and leaving the sessions lighter than when you walked in. Sometimes you have to go back to those dark places and face them in order to feel light again. It’s funny because now it’s now gotten to a point that when I go to a session, both of us know when it’s time to leave. I think part of that is that I know when I feel connected to myself, the present and the future again.
My writing I say is my best therapy. Now I am doing it more on a professional level but I still find that poetry is the best medicine.
With such a history of depression, do you have any rituals now that help when you go astray?
Napo Masheane: The best ritual is the one I have always used since I was a child and that’s writing. My writing I say is my best therapy. Now I am doing it more on a professional level but I still find that poetry is the best medicine. That is why I always say that poetry is the chore of being. I never lie when I write because it always brings out the truth in me.
You have a very powerful poem from your anthology, Phat Songs For My girls, addressing depression and suicide in your family. What was it like penning such a poignant piece?
Napo Masheane: I have written so many poems about suicide and depression in my family. I think that’s the beauty of therapy because it makes things clearer for you and once you start writing you start dismantling the boundaries of depression. I was then bold enough to say ‘man in my family commit suicide, they use killing themselves as an easy way out’.
I had written so many versions of that so when I was writing this one for my last anthology I was able to take all the different versions and roll them into one poem. It documents the deep wound that we carry in our family and we refuse to talk about but it’s killing us. I had to write that poem to start that long overdue conversation in my family. I also wrote it for me so that I make sure that I break the chain. I wanted the future generation of my family to know that what they are going through is nothing new and so they must seek help.
I have realised that no matter what kind of pain, trauma or loneliness at the end of the day we all want someone to hear us, acknowledge our pain and give it a name.
What words do usually share with young people going through what you went through?
Napo Masheane: You are never alone even though you think you are at times. There is always someone who loves you and is willing to listen to you. It might not be your mother, father or friend, perhaps it’s a therapist. Sometimes you might have to step out in order to find healing. You need someone who can give you ear and also not use your pain against you. I have realised that no matter what kind of pain, trauma or loneliness at the end of the day we all want someone to hear us, acknowledge our pain and give it a name. Then you can own it and see it for exactly what it is. It’s okay to then cry about it and scream about it but also gather the pieces and mend them so that you can move on forward with your journey. That’s what I had to do in order to get back to the center again.
To seek professional help contact SADAG (The South African Group and Anxiety) on: 0800 567 567
24hr Helpline: 0800 12 13 14
SMS 31393 (and they will call you back)