By DAVID MACGREGOR
Last year’s xenophobic attacks in Grahamstown have inspired an award-winning National Arts Festival collaboration between an acclaimed township theatre company and a university master’s student.
Using unemployed local actors from the Uyabona Ke company, Falling Off the Horn makes use of visual storytelling and masks to explore experiences of xenophobia in modern-day South Africa.
Rhodes University drama student Sam Pennington, who is doing his masters in directing, said instead of seeking inspiration from afar, they drew on local experiences that many had witnessed firsthand.
“It was a very traumatic event, we were all shocked by what happened,” the 23-year-old explained.
He said going out into the community after the looting and speaking to foreign shopkeepers who were driven out of the township from their homes and shops, their South African neighbours and looters had provided invaluable insights into the struggles they faced.
The physical theatre collaboration with Pennington follows on the success of the acclaimed Waterline production on local residents’ experiences when taps ran dry which won the company and then director Rob Murray an acclaimed Standard Bank Ovation award at last year’s festival.
Instead of repeating Waterline, Pennington told the Dispatch the cast had decided to tackle something new and relevant that they had also experienced up close.
Issues tackled in the powerful piece include the myth that foreigners “steal” local women and jobs.
The Grahamstown looting and violence was sparked last year hours after taxi operators took to the streets claiming there was a foreigner of Pakistani origin killing and mutilating locals for their body parts in townships.
More than 200 shops were looted, 500 people displaced and goods worth millions stolen.
The decision to tackle another big issue this time round paid off again when they were given another Ovation award.
Pennington said the award was the cherry on top for a small local company competing on the big stage with the best the country had to offer.
Falling Off the Horn tells the story of one man’s journey from Somalia to South Africa and the hardships he faces trying to survive.
Arriving with no money and speaking a foreign language, Shazaart Djiango opens a shop and falls in love with a local girl.
Although he has many friends and often helps his neighbours during lean times, it all amounts to nothing when rumours and lies turn them on him as they scramble to grab all he owns.
Joza Location actor Khaya Kondile, 25, said he was shocked and heartbroken to see how a nearby Somali shopkeeper, Musa, had been robbed and chased from his home and business.
“He used to give people things for free but those same people smashed his door in and stole everything he had.
“He left in a hurry and never came back.”
Besides playing at the National Arts Festival, the production will also be taken to local schools in the months
to come to try and raise awareness about xenophobia. — firstname.lastname@example.org