Ameera Conrad, Assembly Hall, Baxter Theatre Centre, Cecil Rhodes, Cleo Raatus, Edinburgh Fringe, Imperialism, Kgomotso Khunoane, Oarabile Ditsele, Postcolonialism, Racism, Rhodes Must Fall, Sihle Mnqwazana, Sizwesandile Mnisi, South Africa, Tankiso Mamabolo, Thando Mangcu, The Fall, The University of Cape Town, Theatre Review
[Seven actors from the University of Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre Centre enter. They march, dance, and sing.]
Cleo Raatus: I finally realise the truth. Africa is all that I have. Europe is not an option for me.
Sihle Mnqwazana: It is time to decolonise our blackness.
Raatus: So everybody out! Let us leave this Assembly Hall with its white pictures and its white privilege.
[An openly masochistic, almost entirely white audience get to their feet and vacate the theatre. Outside, they convene again in the courtyard.]
Audience member [nervously]: Is this still too white? Maybe we should go over there and stand on the grass?
Tankiso Mamabolo [suspiciously]: What is that statue? The one opposite the bar.
Moderator of the Kirk of Scotland: Oh, that’s just John Knox… don’t mind him.
Thando Mangcu: Is he Othering me?
Moderator: Goodness, no. He’s quite friendly!
Sizwesandile Mnisi: He doesn’t look very respectful.
Moderator: He’s as sweet as a lamb…
Oarabile Ditsele: Hey, I’ve just googled him. Wikipedia says that he wrote a pamphlet called, “The first blast of the trumpet against the monstruous regiment of women.”
Moderator: I assure you! In the sixteenth century that was a perfectly reputable work of academic feminism…
Ameera Conrad: How can we stand here whilst this arrogant patriarchal oppressor delegitimises our bodies and dehumanises our lived experience?
Raatus: I’m going to throw a poo at him.
Moderator: But, er… this is John Knox!
Cast: Knox must fall! Down with Knox!
Audience members: Down with Knox!… Gosh, this is exhilarating… I hope they use handcuffs… Whip me, I’m worthless…
As loathe as I am to grow serious, grow serious I must, for Kgomotso Khunoane et al’s “The Fall” eventually dispenses with its identity-politics wrangle over the removal of a statue of the super-imperialist Cecil Rhodes and it grows serious itself. The setting is the University of Cape Town, where a collective of students and staff had protested in 2015 for Rhodes to fall. A UK audience might have low expectations of these students since our own country’s equivalent movement, which had tried to topple a Rhodes in Oxford, had become increasingly clownish and hypocritical. Leaders were exposed in the media for accepting lucrative Rhodes scholarships. Yet “The Fall” presents a frank, eye-opening documentary account of the injustices on a South African campus.
The white students are even today a majority and poor blacks from the townships cannot afford to eat under the university’s roof. “The Fall” eventually puts aside committee disputes over the proper recognition that is owed to bi-gendered identities and moves on to a bald demand for more money. “Our poverty is not normal,” one campaigner rages. The same cry now runs rings around the world from Trump voters in the Rust Belt to the millions of unemployed youngsters across southern Europe. In the South African context, these victims of the neoliberal malaise are only revolutionary when they scrape away their diversity and fight as one.
The storytelling is urgent and the sometimes beautiful singing and toyi-toying do nothing to slow down the momentum. I had previously thought that the students were making a mountain of their own vulnerability; I could not see how this generation of black activists was equipping itself to produce a James Baldwin or even a Malcolm X. The story narrated in “The Fall” reassures you that they shouldn’t be written off quite yet.