Ulwembu Cover


Empatheatre and The Big Brotherhood

108 pages

October, 2018

ISBN: 9781776141951



Add to Cart Available: 9/1/2018

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Neil Coppen is an award-winning playwright who lives between the cities of Durban and Johannesburg where he works as a writer, director and designer. He won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Drama in 2011 and was nominated on the 2011 Mail & Guardian’s 200 most influential Young South Africans. His play Abnormal Loads won the 2012 Naledi Award for Best South African Script. Other works include Tree Boy, Sugar Daddies and Animal Farm.

Mpume Mthombeni is an award-winning performer and theatre-maker who has played roles in theatre, radio, film and television. In 2012 she took Tin Bucket Drum to New York in 2012 and received international acclaim for her performance.

Dylan McGarry has a transdisciplinary PhD in Environmental Education and Art (social sculpture). His work to date has mainly revolved around sustainable rural development, informal youth education in complex learning environments and social ecological learning in various contexts and cultures.

The Big Brotherhood is an award-winning theatre and production company based in KwaMashu, Durban. It was formed by Vumani Khumalo, Phumlani Ngubane, Ngcebo Cele, Sandile Nxumalo and Zenzo Msomi and creates productions about crime and jail life, which are performed in schools and theatres in KwaZulu-Natal.

Danger stalks the township of KwaMashu, near Durban. It comes in the form of whoonga (known as nyaope elsewhere), a toxic mix of B-grade heroin, rat poison and other chemical components that almost immediately sucks its users into a vortex of addiction and the crime, deception and personal tragedy that goes with it. Caught up in the web, the ulwembu of the title (spider’s web in isiZulu), presided over by the dealer, Bongani Mseleku, are Lieutenant Portia Mthembu, a police officer in the frontline of the fight against the scourge; her son Sipho; his friend, Andile Nxumalo, and Emmanuel Abreu, a Mozambique-born spaza shopkeeper. As it traces Sipho’s descent from talented scholar and aspirant poet and songwriter to suicidal addict, Ulwembu explores the effects of addiction not only on those who suffer from it but on communities, families and the police, both those who try to control the murderous trade and those who benefit from it. Using a process they have dubbed Empatheatre, The Big Brotherhood, Neil Coppen, Dylan McGarry and Mpume Mtombeni, aim to share ‘people’s real-life stories, with the intention to inspire and develop a greater empathy and kindness in spaces where there is conflict or injustice’. Ulwembu is the dramatic result of their efforts.


  • "Ulwembu powerfully reveals the root causes of substance abuse."

    —South African Police Service