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The best of South African literature
In SA racketeering, robberies, and corruption aren’t newsworthy any more.
But throw a semi-famous dead body into the mix and you’ll grab the public’s attention.
Examples in recent years included the murder of Teazers boss Lolly Jackson, former national police commissioner Bheki Cele’s corrupt dealings, and Brett Kebble – shot dead in 2005 “by unknown assailants”. On a lighter note, we’ve also been treated to the rise (and fall) of Julius Malema, the sushi-eating habits of Kenny Kunene, and some very expensive Mauritius weddings.
Mike van Graan, one of SA’s most important contemporary playwrights, addressed many of these issues in his 2006 play, Hostile Takeover. Taking a funny, provocative and uncompromising look at the unscrupulous self-enrichment and greed in post-1994 SA, the script in 2005 won the PANSA Festival of Reading of New Writing competition.
But so much has happened since then that he has reworked, updated and renamed the piece Just Business.
This dark comedy enjoyed a successful world premiere at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. Audiences loved it and it was awarded a Standard Bank Ovation Award. Van Graan was also presented with the Standing Ovation Award for his sustained and ongoing contribution to the National Arts Festival Fringe, both as writer and as an activist.
It is said that cockroaches can survive anything from a nuclear explosion to the apocalypse: the lead character in Just Business, Hannes van Wyk (Andre Jacobs), appears to be just such a weasel.
During the previous NP government he worked at the Department of Foreign Affairs. After the elections in 1994 he was given a retrenchment package with which he bought a strip club, calling it African Delights.
He dresses in a flashy style – and if he was a lawyer he’d be the sort that gets guilty clients acquitted for crimes they have committed, while helping them sue for the emotional damage they’ve “suffered in the process”.
This is a perfect example of the calibre of Van Graan’s writing: a simple piece of information such as this creates the personality type of a character in the audience’s mind. Combine this with Jacobs’s spot-on acting, and the audience buys into the story.
In order to comply with black economic empowerment policies, Van Wyk employs Johnie Mabusa from Mabuso and Associates.
The company specialises in providing gentlemen’s clubs staffed with Asian ladies. But other than using Johnie to perform dirty jobs for him, Hannes has no intention of going into partnership with him. The title of Van Graan’s first draft of the play, Hostile Takeover, is a good way of describing what is about to happen to African Delights.
At the beginning of the play the audience finds Hannes literally having to dig his own grave. When the job is done, a hired hitman (Kurt Egelhof) is supposed to take care of the rest. According to the contract killer, the time has arrived for Hannes to pay for his sins. But Egelhof’s character is not your typical assassin. A man of modern technology, he also provides services to the people he is about to kill. These include special last-minute video messages to loved ones, delivered after your passing for a nominal fee of R5 000.
True to his nature, Hannes smells an opportunity to bribe his way out of the situation. And so the two begin to negotiate, using terms neither of their corrupt personalities can ever be capable of fulfilling honourably.
Mabuso, in the meantime, engages in business of his own – so funny it would be a sin to reveal any of it.
Grootboom is one of South Africa’s most versatile actors and, as always, it is good to see his talent being well-used in a Van Graan production.
Just Business is a fast-paced, punch line-loaded play poking fun at the cowboys of the criminal underworld. For those who followed the stories in the newspapers over the past couple of years, added pleasure is provided in the recognition of hidden references throughout the dialogue.
It has the potential to be updated every couple of years, with more than enough new crimes being committed and Van Graan ready to comment on them.
lJust Business runs at the Artscape Arena until July 28. Visit www.artscape.co.za.