Post Apartheid Drama
Donald M. Morales
In Esiaba Irobi play, Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh ( 1989), the Nigerian playwright turns the long-standing debate on Wole Soyinka's linguistic complexity into high comedy. The setting is an African Writer's convention at Ibadan's University Staff Club where Soyinka is on trial for "crimes" of "private obscurantism," and "gratuitous conundrums" (25). To underscore these charges, Irobi gives Soyinka, "Ogun" in the play, an interpreter to paraphrase his remarks for an attending audience of writers and scholars. 1 However, in the midst of this comic debate, a South African woman proffers a sobering thought, "Do you think all this howling about elitist and traditional literature would arise if you were in South Africa? If you were suffering the abject negation of man" (44).
Such a literary debate and satiric play would seem improbable in South Africa--at least in the South Africa of apartheid. Apartheid has etched such an indelible mark over South African life that it serves as a palimpsest over which writers try to fashion new ideas. Athol Fugard drama, A Road to Mecca, for example, contrasts two Afrikaner women who stand on opposite poles of social conformity and rebellion, yet apartheid's presence is never absent. One brief meeting of a dispossessed black woman 2 and child in the Karoo desert reinforces the ideas of desolation and moral censorship placed on the Afrikaner women.
Writing in South Africa has not been able to escape the assumption of politics. Fugard observed "if you're a black person in South Africa, and an opportunity comes up to tell a story on stage, any real separation of arts and politics is impossible. The black person's sense of silence, of not having had a voice, is colossal" ( Engstrom22). Thus, without a means of redress through the political process, the South African artist becomes, willingly or unwillingly, the artist/politician. "Culture is," playwright Matsemela Manaka comments,