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Testament to Women’s Strength

Anton Krueger reviews Wathint’ Abafazi Wathint’ Imbokodo (You Strike a Woman You Strike a Rock)

Wathint’ Abafazi Wathint’ Imbokodo
Now showing at the State Theatre until 12 August, when it travels to Johannesburg.

Wathint’ Abafazi Wathint’ Imbokodo remembers the historic women’s march to the Union Buildings in 1956. The act of marching is, perhaps, similar to the act of performing: both require a collaborative effort and a central resolve; both require action; both are acts which establish a sense of communitas.

I doubt that this play could be referred to as universal, since it’s so specifically rooted in a particular reality, replicating responses to the conditions of black women living in the townships in the mid-eighties. It sets out to create a sense of solidarity, in terms of being black and being a woman. This sense is based largely on opposition, as identity is forged here in terms of resistance to apartheid legislation, and in an over-archingly negative portrayal of (particularly black) men as being mostly lascivious drunks.

In the course of the production we meet three very different women. Mampompo (Connie Chiume) is the dominant matriarch who reminds the others of their responsibilities to their husbands and children. Sdudukla (Poppy Tsira, who was also in the original production) is a cheerful fruit vendor who claims that her oranges can get you to heaven. And Mambhele (Busi Zokufa) is a feisty, independent woman who needs more than one man in her life. Although each of these performances is strong, Zokufa’s energy and impeccable timing, in particular, are outstanding.

The play consists of a series of sketches of the daily lives of these three vendors, and their imaginative – and sometimes heated – exchanges while they sell their wares. We also encounter them in various everyday situations. Although they’re distinctly different, their shared strength lies in their refusal to despair in the face of hardships. Instead, their struggles unite them.

The most astonishing thing about these performers is their voices. From the beginning, rich, resonant sounds fill the space of the theatre as three formidable actors create a variety of sound effects – trains, helicopters, buses, chickens, babies, windows and rusty bed springs. In true “township theatre” style, they evoke a world away from the white cities. And then, there’s also the magnificent singing.

The play arises from the purest form of protest theatre in the most literal sense of the word. There’s no resolution to the narrative and the play simply ends with a cry of protest against the system, concluding with the communist slogan that one day “the sun will rise for all the working women of the world”.

Although the play is centred on historical events, even without these references it would probably still remain coherent today, if only in terms of the struggle against poverty and against molestation by men. But one wonders whether there might not be a more profitable means of establishing identity than in terms of opposition. Nevertheless, the revival of this seminal work is valuable as a historical document, and also as a moving testament to the fortitude of women.

(This review was first published by Cue on Tuesday, 4 July 2006. Used with permission.)

LitNet: 07 August 2006

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boontoe / to the top

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