The school hall is packed as the learners watch the different talent show acts and cheer for the performers. The panel of judges sits in the front row.

BOY 1: Wow! Jeff’s rap was amazing. He’s going to win this talent show for sure.

BOY 2: Definitely. Jeff for the win.

MC: All right, settle down, everyone. It’s clear who everyone’s favourite is. But it’s up to the judges now. Judges, now that all the contestants have performed in front of everyone at school, we will give you 10 minutes to decide and–

S’BU: (standing up) Wait! My name is S’bu and I want to make a last-minute entry.

MC: I’m sorry, S’bu, but the competition is over. It’s too late!

NKOSI: (shouts from the crowd) Give him a chance!

Everyone chatters again. There is a lot of noise as no one knows what to do. S’bu stumbles onto the stage and the hall falls silent.

S’BU: (nervous) Hi, everyone – Sawubona. As I’ve said, name is S … S’bu.

BOY 1: You suck! We want Jeff!

MC: Be quiet, everyone!

S’bu starts to take off his clothes: starting with his blazer, then his shirt, and then his trousers. The learners go wild and cheer. Underneath he is wearing traditional Zulu dress. S’bu nods to Nkosi who comes up onto the stage with a drum and starts drumming as S’bu dances. The audience goes wild. Pretty sways onto the stage from the wings, also dressed in traditional Zulu dress, and joins in the dancing. She is followed by two friends, one wearing traditional punjabi dress and the other in a hijab. Nkosi stops drumming and S’bu cues the DJ. As the backing track begins to play, Siyanda comes on stage and starts to sing a version of John Lennon’s “Imagine”. Everyone knows the words and Siyanda’s voice is melodic. The audience is spellbound.

SIYANDA: (singing)
Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can.
No need for greed or hunger. A brotherhood of man.
Imagine all the people sharing all the world, you …
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

The whole hall erupts in clapping at the end of the song. The MC comes back onto the stage and has to wait five minutes before he is able to contain the crowd.

MC: Wow, that was … unexpected. I’m not sure we can consider it for the competition though – it wasn’t on the programme.

JEFF: (screaming from the crowd) Yes, they were unfair! And what a primitive performance!

MC: Quieten down, everyone. We need to respect the judges. Let them have a moment to decide.

S’BU: While we wait, can I just say something?

S’bu clear his throat.

S’BU: I need to thank everyone who helped me here today. Even if we can’t win, we are still winners. When Pretty and I first decided to do this we called a bunch of people to see if they would join us. A lot didn’t want to do it and I can understand that. They were frightened of what the reaction would be. But the brave ones stood up. Sometimes people just need some encouragement. I was afraid, too. But my brother, Nkosi, and my friend, Pretty, showed me the light. I lost my way for some time but I think I’ve found it now.

A group of learners cheers from the audience.

MC: Thank you, S’bu, for reminding us that we should all be proud of who we are and where we come from and that this school should reflect the diversity of our learners and their backgrounds more.

JEFF: (shouts) What a load of crap! That “performance”, as they called it, was an outrage. It was chaotic. People were just wearing those dirty weird clothes and singing with that sissy boy. That was nothing to commend!

MC: I think we can all agree that that was a very worthy performance, even if it’s not eligible to win.

JEFF: That was not worthy of anything!

There are gasps from the audience.

PRETTY: (shouts) Thula, Jeff.

JEFF: I should have known you were behind this, Pretty.

NKOSI: Don’t talk to her like that – she’s your sister.

JEFF: Oh, ho. Superman come to save the day? Go back to your little dump, little backward village boy.

The audience gasps once more.

S’BU: You are mean, Jeff, and sometimes cruel. And it’s time people knew it so they can stop being frightened of you. Usually you hide it and teachers don’t see. Now everyone has heard you.

JEFF: (surprised, as if he has just realised all eyes are on him) I … I didn’t mean that–

PRINCIPAL: (from the audience) That’s enough, Jeff! Come to my office this instant. Your parents will be hearing of this.

JEFF: I’m sorry, sir. I wasn’t thinking before I spoke!

MC: The judges have given me their result. Unfortunately, the last act is not eligible, as it was not entered for the competition. The winner was Jeff. However, with his current behaviour … (he looks at the principal)

PRINCIPAL: The prize will be awarded later in the week. Right now Jeff and I are going to my office.

Some learners in the audience laugh. Jeff looks hurt and embarrassed as he walks off the stage. Pretty hugs S’bu and Nkosi.

PRETTY: We did it, guys!

S’BU: You both did it. Hopefully now the students won’t be ashamed of their culture and religion, even though we didn’t win.

NKOSI: Ngiyaziqhenya ngawe, S’bu. I’m so proud of you. I’m lucky to have a big brother like you.

S’BU: It’s all thanks to you, Nkosi. You showed me the way and now I refuse to let anyone define who I am. I will be myself. And the world better look out for us in the next talent show!

Tell us: How did this story make you feel? Which character do you relate to the most?