In 2013, the world stopped in its tracks as it learned of the gruesome rape and murder of Anene Booysen in Bredasdorp. A momentary reflection on humanity’s capacity for evil, and life continued as normal for most people as they closed their newspapers. But for playwright Rachelle Greeff, the inner dialogue never stopped. After Anene’s murder, she spent considerable time in Bredasdorp, immersing herself in the community, giving birth to the story of Antjie Fortuin from Rondomskrik.
South African legend Shaleen Surtie-Richards plays Jasmien Jacobs, a teacher who moved from one small coloured community to the next, before winding up in the small town of Rondomskrik. Here she teaches students who grew up outside bottle stores cradled in the arms of alcoholic mothers and the shadow of abusive fathers. The youth of Rondomskrik seems set up for failure, but Jasmien passionately believes in their potential. She is one of the Uitkyk Anties (Lookout Aunties). Those who bring hope. The story of Antjie Fortuin though, is one of hope wrapped in dark despair.
Antjie’s fate is pronounced in the ominous opening moments. Director Hennie van Greunen has incorporated a simplistically beautiful idea onto the stage: flights of fancy represented by paper planes. A folded paper-strewn floor grows up into a mountain of paper planes on top of which a silent Antjie Fortuin (Crystal-Donna Roberts) stands in a white party gown. The story unfurls about her yet without her. Every paper plane becomes a symbol of a child who might lift out of their broken community in search of a better life. And even before Antjie’s white gown becomes blood stained, her innocent body crucified on a mountain of paper planes, Jasmien Jacobs warns us of her unthinkable fate: “The story of she who would fall before she could fly”.
Rondomskrik is as much the story of Jasmien as it is the story of Antjie Fortuin. When Antjie lands in Jasmien’s class at the impressionable age of 14, her mother is in jail for the murder of her own baby. Antjie and her stuttering little brother have been passed from home to home until they end up in the beer-soaked lap of Rose Mentoor who only keeps them around for government grants. After Antjie’s brutal death, her pantry and closet filled with political party sponsored gifts, Rose confesses: “If you have nothing, you work with the currency you have and Antjie was my credit card.” The dialogue is harsh and unsympathetic. As the violence escalates so do the insults and the hardness of the language.
Afrikaans is the language of these communities, and so too this play. Its beauty and explosive expression will hit straight to the heart of native speakers, leaving bruises. Newcomer Richard September has already won himself a Kanna-award for his 11 character performance ranging from Jasmien’s wise District 6 father to the skollie Doodskis. Shaleen Surtie-Richards infects us with her sadness. Her desperation rattles questions from our collective conscience: Why are these things happening in our communities? Who is to blame? When did it become acceptable? How do we change this? Rondomskrik does not pretend to offer answers but it does offer hope in the form of the Uitkyk Anties.
This play is a platform for us to live once again through Anene Booysen’s story and remember, while we rise in standing ovation and gush over the performances with a glass of Cabernet, there are people for whom these shocking stories are a daily reality.
Rondomskrik runs at the Baxter Theatre 5 to 22 November 2014.