Thursday, 18 February 2010

Thursday 11 February 2o1o:

Another monumental day in South African history. I feel very fortunate to be here on the 20th Anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela. But strangely, the country itself isn't nearly as excited as us foreigners are.
There is plenty of news coverage, stories and remembrances, but the young actors with whom I am working along with everyone else I meet, isn't terribly interested or excited. This sense of deflation is also evident in the devising of The Robben Island Bible.

There is a palpable sense of let-down within the community who voted in the ANC in 1994 & in each election since. Little has changed for those who live in townships & shacks around the country. Saths Coopers speaks eloquently about this let-down especially for young South Africans,

My two sons, the one is 20 and the other is 22 and my daughter is 16 and all of them know that if you want to get anywhere, if you want to get the lucrative contract, and tenders, the join X organization now so that you will take care of the future in a few years time. And that has, in a sense, developed a cynicism amongst youth that is dangerous because youth cannot afford to be cynical about anything. Sceptical yes, because you are questioning – you want to know what so and so is saying is correct or not. They want to challenge, but the cynicism that is developing is a legacy of leadership that has tended to look after itself, has tended to look after those who are close to them and then created a terrible model for youth to follow.

The State of the Nation address is this evening. President Jacob Zuma has chosen this date to address South Africans. Nelson Mandela is there as are other former freedom fighters (and several RIB signatories). Like other country's addresses, he is long on programmes, but short on the funding of these programmes. He rekindles the spirit of the Struggle at every available moment, but the audience is, as Saths says above, much more cynical than before.

'Passion,' one South African actor said to me recently, 'does not put food on the table.'

South Africans had the passion for change in 1994, but little has improved for the vast majority of them.

So the anniversary and State of the Nation address pass with little hoopla.

In the rehearsal room, we are continuing to develop scenes & characters. We carry on reading the transcripts & chosen texts. The actors are now looking specifically at the veterans. Their monologues go over very well & give Vice & I a lot to go on. They have found the most resonance passages of the transcripts for them & performed it.

Vice & I have a lively discussion with the actors regarding our thoughts on the framing and through line for the play. Generally, everyone is in line, though the seems to be a much more militarist view towards the interrogation by the younger generation of the older one. One that gets to ask, 'Why hasn't things changed more? Why did we compromise rather than liberate? When did self- aggrandizement become the norm of the political class & the well connected than the betterment of all? Again, Saths Cooper,

The politicians tend to collect the acoochama of power and whatever else goes with it as privilege and then justify it as 'entitlement.' They see it as something they have given a certain part of their lives for and, 'Sure enough, that is what I deserve.' And that is terrible thing. And it tends to corrode even the best of souls. So the politicians, going with that, will get fat, literally and otherwise.

This leads to a scene where a former freedom fighter (who vaguely sounds a bit like a former president), gets kidnapped and put on trial by young men who are asking these very questions. It is powerful, but frightening stuff. But this political heavyweight hasn't lost his touch and soon turns the tables on the young men in questioning their urgency and their commitment for change. He asks them, 'What are you contributing to your country? I spent 27 years imprisoned for you to have a vote and what have you done with that right?'

We leave the rehearsal room swirling with possibilities.