Wednesday evening saw the opening of Itsoseng at the Barney Simon Theatre at the Market Theatre complex. The play is set in Itsoseng township in the North-West Province of South Africa, against the backdrop of the history of this township surrounded only by small rural villages. Itsoseng was during apartheid South Africa a part of what was the “independent homeland” or Bantustan of Bophuthatswana. The play tells the story of the residents of this township, who in protest against the leaders, particularly Lucas Mangope then president of the independent homeland, burnt and looted the shopping centre that was the economic lifeblood of the township. Now in the post-apartheid democratic South Africa, this township has been all but neglected.
This play set in and around the ruins of the shopping centre, tells of the residents whose hopes of freedom and prosperity in the new South Africa have been dashed by the neglect and failed service delivery by sequential mayors and provincial leaders. Itsoseng is a love story, a love doomed to fail by the context in which it is set.
Itsoseng is a moving piece of theatre, a tragic story with comic elements to lighten what would otherwise be overwhelming. Alfred Motlhapi, who was born in Itsoseng, provides much of this comic relief, and relief it truly is, in the character of a drunkard who reveals many deep truths about life in Itsoseng in his ‘insane’ mumbling and occasional outbursts. Thabiso Rammala is the lead in the love story, that plays out in this cruel context, and brings a sober balance to the story. Ramalla wrote and directed Tau, one of my favourite works from the Market Theatre stage last year. Another notable performance came from Katlego Letsholonyana. He plays a firebrand activist, instrumental in the petrol bombing of the shopping centre, who continues fighting for his community into the democratic South Africa.
I really enjoyed this play, despite its harsh reminder of the realities faced not only by the people of Itsoseng, but by the thousands of similar townships scattered across our country whose people’s dreams of a bright future in the new South Africa have been dashed by politicians who make promises that they don’t have the will to see through. The story is heart-breaking, and leaves one with a sense of hopelessness, which is sadly appropriate looking at the community of Itsoseng today, a community only known to many South Africans from the news reports after the community burnt down their mayor’s house.