Goodbye Cecil John Rhodes46

Goodbye Cecil John Rhodes46

Image by Tony Carr

Daniel Nelson

I wanted to speak my mind, too - but I couldn't find my voice at the point, it was still only a squeak,” says Chwaita, early on in The Fall.

The play is about how thousands of South African students ramped up their unheard squeaks into a thunderous, rolling roar that finally brought Cape Town University's statue of Cecil Rhodes crashing to the ground. (“..the world stopped. History was suspended in the air and continued to wash over us, like a salty, healing wave.”)

There are only seven actors and three tables on stage, animating the words created by eight former Cape Town uni students, but they conjure up the fervour, the confusion, the rage of the thousands of protesters who demonstrated in 2015 and 2016 against the statue and the continuing effects of colonisation, and then morphed into the #FeesMustFall movement.

It's thrilling, joyous, moving. If you don't feel like toyi-toying onto the stage you're on the wrong side of history.

It's one-sided, but not one-dimensional. The seven are people, not stereotypes. Their views partly stem from their backgrounds, their experiences, their gender. They have prejudices and personal interests. They are emboldened by group action but feel fear. Arguments are tossed up and smashed down. What's the real aim? What are the best tactics?

And when Rhodes finally falls and the seven – and the thousands they represent – had basked in the victory of the moment, a victory that was not just about a statue but about South Africa's post-apartheid transformation, an old snake left over from the freedom struggle uncoils itself: gender.

The snake strikes in Scene six: the Patriarchal 'Plenary'. It's harsh truth-telling time, no holds barred. The tension shoots up again. No toyi-toying here.

Yes, of course, decolonisation and racism can't be captured and sorted in 80 minutes, nor can a movement like #RhodesMustFall. But terse writing, fervent acting and unquenchable energy can capture the essence of moments and movements.


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