Conversations around the thousands of African migrants who reside in South Africa normally take a turn for the worst because, more often than not, they are blamed for a myriad of social ills.
From crime to “stealing of jobs”, foreign nationals bare the brunt of the ills of the society, but have you ever stopped to question who these “bogeymen” (and women) really are?
Aiming to answer this question is a production, Frontiéres, that will be staged at the Market Theatre from this week. Penned by Bobby Rodwell, the production is a collection of testimonies of people from other African countries who are now living in South Africa.
The testimonies, collected by Rodwell, will see actors participate in verbatim theatre speaking the words of the migrants from Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia, among others.
Under the direction of first-timer Mmabatho Montsho, the play features Busisiwe Lurayi, Charly Azade, Khathu Ramabulana, Lindiwe Ndlovu and Tonderai Chiyindiko.
Montsho said she came to work on the production as a result of years of conversation between herself and Market Theatre artistic director James Ngcobo.
“I got a call from James (Ngcobo) about this production. We’d been speaking for a while about me coming to the theatre to work on something.
He told me about Frontières, introduced me to the writer, and that was my first interaction with the production,” she said.
She explained that for her the production was a vehicle to bring into public the discourse around the xenophobic violence that has rocked the country in recent history.
“I think it speaks to how we relate to each other as Africans in South Africa. It’s a subject that deserves a lot of exploration, a lot of debate, a lot of discussions… just to have Africans engaging on how we can come together. We know we have a problem relating to xenophobia, and I think a lot of misconceptions about how people come to South Africa… there was also a lot that I didn’t know, so as I read this material, I was just stunned by the number of things we don’t know,” she said.
Montsho added that working on the production revealed how there has been a lack of political will to educate South Africans about the plight of migrants.
“There is also no real political will to document the people, and that is why so many people live undocumented in the country. There is no concerted effort to help us live better with one another,” she said.
Montsho said the production would provide a platform for audiences to hear, first hand, the stories of migrants: “The most important thing is you’re going to hear the stories of people that have been forced into migration, refugees, in their own words. It’s authentic, truthful and you will hear a lot of things that you probably didn’t know about the continent, about how we live and how we protest. I think, it will change your mind.”
Frontières runs at the Market Theatre until July 7 as a part of the theatre’s continental season. For details, see the theatre’s website.