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KERTRICE Maitisa (pictured) may have an uncommon name, but it’s fitting as nothing about the young actress is run of the mill. Named after the daughter of a singer her father liked, Maitisa stars alongside Jennifer Steyn and Mbulelo Grootboom in Mike van Graan’s new production, Rainbow Scars.
In this play, directed by Lara Bye, Maitisa plays an interesting character called Lindiwe Robinson. Set in 1994, it sees young Robinson being orphaned in the new South Africa and adopted by Ellen Robinson (Steyn).
But it’s not all rainbow nations and butterflies when, in 2012, Lindiwe’s world is rocked to its foundations by a situation that forces her and her adoptive mother to face the realities of life as a born-free. Will the situation create a divide between mother and child, or will they survive it?
Race relations weren’t the first thing that popped into Maitisa’s mind when she received the Rainbow Scars script.
“I read two pages of the script,” says the 19-year-old Afda Cape Town student, “and I thought this girl sounds cool and quirky. I knew she was adopted, but I didn’t know she didn’t even know how to speak vernac.
“I’ve never played a character that was so similar to yet so different from me.
“Lindiwe is 17 and goes to a girls’ high school. She’s feisty and fiercely independent. She also doesn’t speak any vernacular languages, so she’s fully ‘coconut’.”
Maitisa, who loves theatre more than television and film – in both of which she has also worked – sounds empathetic.
In 2000, after her father got a job offer, her family moved from South Africa to Germany and lived there for four years. Her sister, now 10, was born there.
“I’m Sotho, so I know how to speak it,” Maitisa says, “but I went to Model C schools and attended school overseas, so there are moments when Lindiwe is called a ‘coconut’ that I can relate to.
“In Germany, the school I went to taught an American curriculum, which meant they didn’t even teach us about Hitler in history. I didn’t really know about Afrikaans or much about apartheid. I knew about Nelson Mandela, but my parents didn’t really talk about apartheid. It was only much later, in high school, that I started to learn about apartheid.
“I was so oblivious to a person not being able to speak proper English that there were always people trying to make you feel bad. But you can’t throw abuse back at someone who is throwing abuse at you. Then you stoop to their level.
“The way I grew up is the way I’ve always known. I can’t say I wish it was different because I don’t know what I missed out on.”
What Maitisa does know is how to research a character. She reached out to Siphokuhle Mathe, on whom Lindiwe’s character is based.
“I asked her what it was like – if she ever felt excluded because she lived with a white family.
“I’m in touch with my Pretoria family a lot and I grew up in the township, so I know what that’s like, but Lindiwe doesn’t.”
Through this play, Maitisa hopes older people will understand Lindiwe’s issues and younger ones will be able to relate to her if they are called coconuts.
“Lara (Bye) is a cool, chilled-out director, and she’s open to doing things in an unconventional way. The relationship all of us in the play have has become close, so the play is different, even in the way we’ve stylised it and the way we choose to play it.”