I had a crush once on an Adelaide school girl (it was a long time ago) who went on a scholarship trip to South Africa. She came back saying that although the apartheid system was no good thing, it was hard to see how the country could work with any alternative. Well-meaning people like her used to say the same thing about the once distant idea of gay marriages and families.
South African theatre makers though soon became an international voice for the injustices and black suffering caused by apartheid. Since it was dismantled and South Africa moved onto the future in the spirit of reconciliation, a new generation of theatre-makers has returned to the past to dig up the stories, the little stories, of how ordinary people feel robbed of their childhood. Five energetic actors tell their own such stories in Amajuba -“ Like Doves We Rise.
These are childhoods punctuated by random beatings at school; rape and stabbings by street gangs in Soweto; lynchings by police; violent funerals; and, most of all, the pain of hunger. Dreaming of ice cream and escape into soccer stardom was small compensation. The miracle of this highly physical theatre is that such dark childhoods are re-lived with such compensating humour and energy, and without the saccharine sentimentality common in adult actors being cute as children. The stage is sparse, marked out only by blankets and a ring of large enamel wash bowls. Water is finally splashed to wash off the dust of their old unresolved memories.
In a country where your worth was defined by your skin colour, the most poignant and tragic part of these youngsters was their internalised racism, their black self-hatred and self-destruction. And yet these youngsters and now adult actors are survivors. We may not have suffered quite the level of emotional shrapnel that they have, but the message of Amajuba, the director and company founder Yael Farber says, is that all of us have a right to childhood, a right to reclaim the stories of our past.
Farber keeps the focus firmly on the voices and perspective of the kids. The politics of apartheid is only an ugly background which is a welcome shift, given the near overload of so many plays seen in Australia about apartheid. The quick stories of Amajuba are at first slow to engage but by the end we are all transported by their healing.
The Company B production of Amajuba runs at the Seymour Centre until 27 November.