February 15 - 23, 2013

Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare

World Premiere of a new play
by Omphile Molusi
directed by Omphile Molusi
incollaboration with Rick Boynton

A Conversation With Omphile Molusi

CST visiting scholar Bea Bosco “met” with Omphile Molusi over Skype in December 2012, to discuss his upcoming play at CST—and the history that led to his writing of Cadre.

Bea Bosco: How did you first get involved with theater?

Omphile Molusi: I was born in a village called Bodibe in South Africa, in the North West Province, where I was raised by my grandmother. When I was eighteen I went to live with my mother in Itsoseng, the township where she lived. I went to school to study electrical engineering, but didn’t like it. I was first introduced to theater at university and got involved in a community theater group there. I fell in love with it, and decided that this is what I want to do. I dropped out of university and went into drama at the Market Theatre Laboratory. After graduation, I started writing my own plays and acting them out. I was given the chance to go to the Royal Shakespeare Company to study acting Shakespeare with Cicely Berry and John Barton. Ever since then I’ve been writing and acting for theater.

BB: How did you first get into writing?

OM: In middle school I started writing a lot. I was a very quiet child. I didn’t talk a lot with people. I couldn’t express things, and so I found myself just writing how I felt. I had lots of books where I just wrote down my feelings. That’s where my writing really began.

BB: Is there a “type” of story that appeals to you, that you want to tell now?

OM: Most of the stories that I write now focus on similar themes. I write for adults and for children, and both kinds have themes of power, and politics, and love. I write about personal stories mostly. My first play was more about my life and things that happened around the community that I come from. Writing about things that are close to me, I feel they come out stronger. Cadre is a story about my uncle. My uncle used to be an APLA soldier. The Azanian People’s Liberation Army was a guerilla movement set up during apartheid by a liberation movement called PAC, the Pan Africanist Congress. The military wing was APLA, and my uncle was part of that. One day I told my uncle I would like to write his story, which was powerful and moving, and could teach us about what we could be in this country. It is a universal story about the past. And in the past, we can learn a lot about how to take care of the present in order for us to have a better future.

BB: The story takes place during a very difficult time in the history of your country, but on a personal level, it’s a harrowing story.

OM: The earlier drafts were political rhetoric more than anything else, and nowadays that makes people tend to shut down. Cadre starts with the personal, so people access the personal in order to get to the politics. Most of the story is inspired by my uncle’s life, but I changed events for dramatic purposes. The relationship between Sasa and Gregory is the personal story I created, to give access into the world. I use love stories as a metaphor.

In 1994 when we got democracy, Mandela is voted the first president. The ANC came into power, and many people were excited. But there were other liberation parties who were not happy about the deal that the ANC made with the white government, the National Party. Before the election, a lot of parties involved in the struggle were involved in the negotiations. They didn’t want a merger between black people and white people to run the government. They wanted black people to run the government and for white people to bow down to the fact that this country is for Africans, that it will be led by Africans. The other liberation movements felt like the ANC sold the people out.

I took the story of Sasa and Gregory and made it a love story around the idea that a lot of people felt that the struggle for freedom was aborted. When they were about to go and fight with arms, Mandela said, “Drop your arms. Do not fight.” People felt like the fight was aborted, and that now it’s not the kind of freedom they want. Hence, the love story between the comrades, who had so much love and passion for this country, and who wanted their own kind of freedom.

BB: How have you come to understand the difficult choices that people had to make?

OM: Whatever people did during that time, they were fighting to be treated as humans. They were fighting to have a rightful place. When most people think “politics,” they think government, laws, and policies. I want people to see this as a personal story about people who acted like this because they want to feel like they belong to this place—and have a right to do so. They are standing up for what is not right in their lives.

BB: You have a character named Botha, who is called “the crocodile.” That was President Botha’s nickname, wasn’t it?

OM: Botha was called “groot krokodil,” which means “big crocodile.” He came into power when a lot of liberation movements were banned, like the ANC and the PAC, and people felt he was the big obstacle. I just took the idea of this big obstacle, the “groot krokodil,” and I put it in this character.

BB: The Botha character in your play makes the distinction between the Boers, the Afrikaners, and the English. What point is he trying to make?

OM: The Dutch settled in Cape Town, and were called Boers and later Afrikaners. After the British settlers came, and after a lot of battles won by the British, they separated the Afrikaners. Some stayed in the Cape Colony and some moved to Orange Free State, where they became farmers. The word “boer” literally means a farmer. They believe that they are descended from the original farmers in the Dutch regions. Those who are now called Afrikaners are those who started working for the British. After the National Party came into power, there was always that battle between Afrikaners and the Boers, who believed they needed to preserve the Boer nation and traditions by working only among themselves.

BB: What has your process been in creating this play?

OM: I started writing it in 2009, just me and a laptop. I’d send it to friends, who would give me notes. My producer Richard Jordan approached Chicago Shakespeare, and in 2010 when I was there with my one-man show, Itsoseng, we did a reading, which was followed by more notes and another draft. I was back at the Theater this past November and, with more actors this time, we had time to direct the reading to give an idea of how the play would be staged. I could hear the rhythm, I could hear the themes, I could see the vision, how it would come to life. Now we are on that eleventh draft.

BB: It’s been almost twenty years since the end of apartheid. There’s a new generation coming up that never experienced it. How does a story like this affect different generations in South Africa?

OM: At the moment in South Africa, we have a big issue around telling stories of the past. People don’t really want to hear these stories. They just want to move on, to forget about it. Because the ANC government is still ruling the country, it’s like no one else was fighting in this struggle.

We’re hiding the complete history. When I decided to tell this story, I wondered whether a modern audience would connect if I tell a story about the PAC. That is another reason the play is not just a political story. It is a human story. Then we start getting the bigger picture—understanding that we cannot just hide the past. The past sets the present. I wish people could walk out of this play saying, “We do have a past and that past, as hard as it has been for us, teaches us to take care of the present so that we do not go back there, so that we can have a better future in the world.”

Back to Cadre

Additional Pages