by Susan Mansfield
August 7, 2008
When apartheid was finally overthrown in South Africa, life got better for many black people, but not for the population of Itsoseng. It was one of the forgotten townships, left without support or amenities, existing on the unfulfilled promises of politicians and all the while sinking further into poverty.
Actor and writer Omphile Molusi, a 24-year-old from Itsoseng, was the first recipient of a Royal Shakespeare Company bursary for South African actors. His self-penned one-man play, directed by Tina Johnson, bears the fruits of that training, while remaining firmly rooted in the culture where he grew up.
Mawilla, a young man from the township, addresses us from the site of the former shopping mall, destroyed in anti-apartheid riots in 1994. It was a symbol of the town's potential, just as the fact that no-one has rebuilt it in 14 years is a symbol of its decline. Standing in a scatter of rubbish (which he uses variously as props) he introduces us to the locals: drunks, prostitutes and radicals disappointed because change never came.
But the dramatic heart of the play is a love story. Mawilla's childhood sweetheart, Dolly, became a prostitute because it was the only way to make money. Mawilla, who had no job and no money to woo her, could only watch her sad decline, never losing hope that one day he would rescue her.
If that all sounds downbeat, the show is not. Molusi unfolds his story with such pace and vigour, weaving in snatches of song and flickers of humour, that although it is dark, it is never dull. And for all his frenzied energy, his control is immaculate, moving from angry to funny to poignant in the turn of a phrase.
Itsoseng is the story of a township, told through the eyes of a man who is trying hard not to lose hope. But 14 years of democracy and freedom in South Africa have bred only anger in Itsoseng and other places like it, hatching, perhaps, the seeds of "another Burundi, Somalia, Zimbabwe". It's an important story that needs to be told about the forgotten corners of the rainbow nation.
Explore Itsoseng and learn more about the production.