27 January 2014

South Africa: Playland - Fugard's Excavation of the Mass Graves of Our Psyche Still Makes for Provocative Theatre


It is New Year's Eve, 1989. Two men, one white, one black, both cast adrift on the violent tides of South African history, meet at a rickety country fairground. There's a showdown of course and, in the end, reconciliation.

Playwright Athol Fugard imagined this confrontation long before Julius Malema emerged to irrevocably alter the tone of the discourse between black and white South Africans. But is the play still relevant?

In 2005, a mass grave was unearthed at a building site in Namibia. The grave, which contained human remains and ammunition, was discovered a few hundred metres from what used to be the South African Defence force Eenhana military base between 1984 and 1989.

After the discovery, an unnamed soldier came forward and confessed that he knew of at least five other mass burial sites and that he himself had been tasked, at the time, with disposing of the bodies of SWAPO (South West African People's Liberation Organisation) soldiers killed in a fierce nine-day battle with retreating SADF troops. Many of the casualties were children.

The mostly white South African conscripts were tasked with disposing of the bodies, layering the graves with wood before setting the corpses...

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