There’s a saying that goes something along the lines of “Never judge a person unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”.
If there’s one issue that created massive debate and controversy in the country it was when students rocked university campuses from around March 2015 to March 2016 in a clarion call to decolonise education.
In a bid to unpack some preconceptions about the student revolution, seven UCT post-graduate students conceived a play about what went on behind the headlines.
After performing to sell-out audiences last year at The Baxter, it returns fittingly during Youth Month.
Ameera Conrad and Thando Mangcu are two members of the ensemble and they admit that much of its success was due to the fact that what has been termed a searing drama, offers viewers “a look through the keyhole at what the press couldn’t get to behind closed doors”.
Speaking about their own involvement in the student campaign they say, ”when we speak in the play we speak personally of our own experiences”.
“There were students of all backgrounds who were demonstrating across the board from the student collective of the PAC to the SRC to other factions. With seven of us performing, we try to get as broad a perspective as possible in much the same way our group represents those from diverse backgrounds,” says Thando.
Ameera adds, “What made the play so successful is because it had such a broad base. We needed to have a safe space to share our opinions and this was also our own form of healing the trauma we all indivually went through at the time. By the same token it also gives the audience space to go through their own healing and weigh up their own convictions.”
The play was recently performed at the Wordfees in Stellenbosch and Thando relates, “some of the students who came to see it were sobbing afterwards. It gave them the opportunity to reflect on what and how they went through it all.”
From the students’ bid to get free education to do away with institutional racism, the pair say the play documents the birth of the post apartheid student movement allowing each of the characters to reflect their personal feelings.
“Yes, it’s a catharsis and even students who were opposed to the revolution who saw the play were able to reconsider their views,” says Ameera, adding even a woman in her sixties who saw the play told them she was converted.
“The play mirrors institutions all around in post-apartheid South Africa. Different races suffer different legacies. It’s a conversation about economic backgrounds; about gender, about sexuality,” says Thando. She plays the role of an “upper middle class” woman, much like own background, she explains, adding she grew up in Sandton, Johannesburg, went to school at St Stithians and moved to Cape Town to study at UCT.
Her father is a professor at UCT and she says he was politicised in his youth, which filtered down at home.
Ameera from Lansdowne, says she was influenced by her mother, who lived near Heathfield, and was a struggle activist in the 80s who penned plays to voice her opinions.
Both say their backgrounds are largely representative of their peers. “It must be very difficult to be part of the born-free generation and not to have politicised parents,” says Ameera.
“There’s so much contention surrounding the #Fees Must Fall movement – many students feel ‘why must I put my education at risk’. But coming to watch The Fall you can see what all these issues are about,” urges Thando.
* The Fall opens at the Golden Arrow Studio, The Baxter Theatre tomorrow Thursday June 8 and runs until June 24.