Life and theatre post-apartheid

White Australia has a lot to learn from South Africa about reconciliation between its black and white peoples. While black playwrights in Australia create works that pave the way to understanding, their white peers largely write of other things. In my younger years, South African Athol Fugard was an inspiring and courageous writer-director-performer. In the 70s he brought black performers with him to Australia to perform Sizwe Banzi is Dead and The Island; the actors’ presence, their craft and their power were revelatory. Now one of those actors, John Kani, returns to Australia with his own play, an intense domestic drama, Nothing But the Truth, about his murdered activist brother. For Kani, the journey to reconciliation is a long way from over.

As Christopher Breyer has written, “The mere existence of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1996-2001), much like the peaceful end of apartheid itself, is so miraculous that we tend not so much to overestimate as misapprehend the commission and gloss over its complications, compromises and limitations as well as its true purpose…The TRC in no way attempted a comprehensive portrait of apartheid–its focus was gross human rights violations (murder, attempted murder, torture, assault) committed between 1960 and 1994; it did not explore the structural, endemic oppressions and exploitation of the apartheid system. It did however create an overwhelming public record of the worst horrors of four decades” (Performances Magazine, 2001. SOH press release, Feb 23, 2005).

Kani himself writes, “In 2000 I began to long for my favourite pastime, storytelling. I decided to write a little story as a tribute to my younger brother who was a poet of the struggle against apartheid, and was shot by police in 1985 while reciting one of his poems at the funeral of a 9 year old girl who was killed during the so-called riots…” This telling became a play, Nothing But the Truth, “a story of 2 brothers, of sibling rivalry, of family secrets, of truth and reconciliation , of exile and the perplexities of our freedoms and democracy.”

Nothing But the Truth, won the 2002 Fleur du Cap Award (South Africa) for Best New Indigenous Script, Best Actor and Best Director. It has had sell-out seasons in South Africa and North America. Now it comes to Brisbane and Sydney.

John Kani, Nothing But The Truth, Brisbane Powerhouse, April 14-23; The Playhouse, Sydney Opera House, April- 28 May 21.

RealTime issue #66 April-May 2005 pg. 46

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2005