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Brent Meersman

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Itsoseng and For the Right Reasons by Omphile Molusi

Junket Press 2008

I first saw Itsoseng North West Province playwright Omphile Molusi as a work in progress on the National Arts Festival Fringe in 2006. Molusi who performs his text, was the first recipient of the Brett Goldin Bursary Award and spent time working with the Royal Shakespeare Company last year. He has this month completed a critically acclaimed run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (he won the Scotsman’s Fringe First award) and transferred to the Soho Theatre in London. The play has been read overseas as highlighting the crossroads South Africa faces today.

Originally, the young playwright simply wanted to bring to the nation’s attention the plight of his hometown, Itsoseng, an impoverished and forgotten township near Lichtenburg. On the rare occasions Itsoseng makes the national news, it’s for all the wrong reasons: homicide, high rape statistics, and then there was the case of the mortuary failing to cope with a stockpile of unclaimed decomposing corpses.

Back in 2006, the play was billed in the programme as ‘a scathing indictment against the government’s indifference, cynicism and incompetence’. Molusi told me hope was ebbing away and patience running at an end. “You can’t eat politics,” he said.

When the people of Itsoseng shrugged off Bophutatswana, they burned down the shopping mall with its library and cinema. Molusi was then a toy-toying 14-year-old. He has changed, but life in his hometown has hardly progressed.

Molusi tells the story, which is partly autobiographical, of Mawilla, a man who loses the love of his life, a pretty girl called Dolly, to prostitution. Mawilla rejects her; then helplessly watches Dolly’s steady dissipation, which ends in her death. Their relationship could not withstand the social collapse caused by a dysfunctional political system. The play is narrated from her graveside.

The despair of the township, “that dryness within”, is quenched by alcohol. As Mawilla says in the play, “Friday tavern. . . Saturday funeral . . .Friday tavern. . . Saturday funeral. . .”

Molusi shies away from calling this protest theatre. But it remains an overwhelmingly political work – a cry for help. Itsoseng deals with an issue of crucial national importance that has not yet found sufficient expression in our theatres: a sense of helplessness inculcated by several generations of systemic pauperisation. Frustration stems from a complete loss of agency amongst the poorest. It is no surprise that in this climate we are seeing a national resurgence of calls for the national democratic revolution to be completed. – Brent Meersman(This article appeared in Die Burger)


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