CROSSING THE DIVIDE: Noma Dumezweni and Matthew Marsh.


PLAYWRIGHT: Nicholas Wright based on a book Pumla Gobodo-Madikzela

DIRECTOR: Jonathan Munby

CAST: Noma Dumezweni, Matthew Marsh, Gantane Kusch

UNTIL: April 6

RATING: ****

It is universally understood, as psychoanalyst Melanie Klein preached, that no matter how awful the hate, you have to forgive because without forgiveness, reparation cannot happen. And without reparation, there is no love to heal.

This powerful play is provocatively held in its haunting title which pulls you in and then holds you on the edge of the seat as it fills with meaning of many kinds and finally just wipes you out – but with wings.

It is the kind of story South Africans should hear over and over again – lest we forget how far we’ve come. It’s the kind of conversation we should be having constantly with ourselves and others of every persuasion. Only by airing these nightmarish tales can we repent and forgive one another.

Why were the wives of the Motherwell killings prepared to meet with Prime Evil, Eugene de Kock? It’s simple, says Pumla, who served on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), they want to cleanse themselves from clinging to victimhood. Forgiving him, gave them that chance.

Forgiveness in the face of trauma is what drives this play and in this country with Mandela as the prime example, it’s been one of the astonishing by-products of our democracy. People have opened their hearts to their oppressors in a way that boggles the mind. Watching this performance, it takes us back into a dark place, a war fought in the shadows where those who were not getting their hands dirty were never confronted with the horrific truth because of the censorship and the controlled lives of all this country’s people.

A Human Being Died that Night shines a stark light, doesn’t allow anyone to turn away, asks the questions and demands the answers. Should one man be punished for a nation’s sins?

“The white people needed a scapegoat and the black people wanted a culprit,” says De Kock who was sentenced even before the TRC hearings began. Someone wanted him behind bars and silenced before he could start talking because he seemingly was the one who understood the need to confess.

The words spoken by De Kock are partly from Pumla’s book, partly from recordings she made of the interviews and partly from the records of the TRC hearings.

The play is masterfully constructed as Pumla asking all the questions. Marsh’s portrayal is almost a frenetic one and works only if you cast the visuals and voice of De Kock aside. For many, because of all the attention at the time of his court case, he is etched on our minds. Pumla slips in much more easily. It is about what and who these two people represent that takes over and allows you to engage.

This is restorative theatre with universal truths yet aimed at South Africans specifically. It underlines the miracle that is our country.