In an effort to keep alive the name of playwright John Moalusi Ledwaba, the Market Theatre has premiered his last play, My Hole My Home. Ledwaba, a respected actor and playwright, died in December 2017.
At a memorial service held at the Ramolao Makhene Theatre, the Market Theatre’s artistic director, James Ngcobo, said that the Market Theatre would produce Ledwaba’s last play.
Directed by Phala Oakeditse Phala and starring Mandla Gaduka and Seneliso Dladla, My Hole My Home is about two homeless men living on the streets of Johannesburg; and for whom the streets provide a sense of identity, security, and a sense of belonging.
Chatting to IOL, Phala said he had formed a kind of mentor-mentee relationship with Ledwaba a few years ago while directing Egoli at the theatre.
“I got the chance to engage with him in depth. He opened up to me as an elder in the industry and I learnt quite a few things from him. I think my luck with John was that he opened up to me not just as a theatre worker, but as a human being. I learnt about his way of thinking and thus working with him as an artist was easier. We had the same outlook in life one way or the other,” Phala said.
In-between eating the scones Ledwaba’s wife made for the pair on his visits, Phala added that some of Ledwaba’s admirable traits was his thinking capacity.
“He would take time to analyse, he really broke things down. He questioned, he wanted to understand things in depth... so all the time his concern was with the way humanity was developing itself. At the heart of this play, is that.”
Phala said they got to thinking about how South Africa had undergone a political revolution, but how, socially, this change didn’t seem to have taken root.
“The debate is then about whether we’ve found freedom, or a way out of apartheid. We wanted so much for the laws to go away that we did not see that the lived experience goes on, and instead of us having a conscious spiritual, cultural revolution, that didn’t happen. That is why then we sat with a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was prescriptive. The truth? Whose truth?” he said.
For Phala, it is these politics, particularly that of homelessness,that the play seeks to address.
“Homelessness has become a phenomenon in our country. It has become normalised because now it’s something we’ve accepted, just like we’ve accepted a man beating a woman on the street, a handbag being snatched, a hit-and-run accident or even seeing a missing child notice in the newspaper. So now, we’ve become desensitised to that extent.
"When we were doing the research with the actors, we asked ourselves if we’d ever imagined an alternative. An alternative city that has spaces with ablutions, a kitchen and a shared space for people to sleep. Would we then say people are homeless?” he asked.
In grappling with this question, it led them to seeing this play as speaking broadly to the conscience of people around this issue, and in the casting of Gaduka and Dladla, he found actors who would be able to bring these homeless men’s stories to life.
For Gaduka, this performance will be a homecoming after an extended absence. The role has, he said, stretched him as a performer.
“It’s a different style. Last night at 1.30am thinking about this. My Google search was: ‘Tips for when an actor is struggling”.
The play speaks about homelessness, it has no glitz about it, and understanding that has helped me switch in today,” he said.
Gaduka said this story was important because it speaks to how we’ve become desensitised. “The best we do, without working towards finding a better solution, is give homeless people blankets. The play asks us to ask ourselves these hard questions,” he said.
* My Hole My Home is on at the Market Theatre until June 3.