A Partnership Between the Botsotso Ensemble and the International Labour Research and Information Group (ILRIG)
- To create dramatic and educational pieces that take as their main themes the key issues and concerns facing South Africa and global society in general, with an emphasis on working class lives and experiences;
- To organise the broadcast/performance of these works as a means to promote online (audio) and live discussion and debate which to lead to concrete interventions;
- To make these works available without charge to as wide a range of media outlets (particularly community radio stations in South Africa and in other countries) and other working class organizations (civics, trade unions, youth, student, cultural groups) for broadcast, performance and/or educational use.
This collaboration (between Botsotso and ILRIG began in 2019 with the organising of live performances in township venues for an audience of social activists of Taking Everything into Account. The play revolves around the work and experiences of the auditor-general’s office in combating waste, mismanagement and corruption in local government. With the onset of covid 19, the play was adapted for radio and is ready for broadcast on community stations.
Following the onset of the pandemic, four more plays were created for radio and have been broadcast on more than 25 community radio stations across the nine provinces. These, in order of broadcast, were: Plague in the Time of King Kapital and Queen Corona, No Money for Jam, To TINA or Not to TINA and Dop, Dope and Despots.
1. Plague in the Time of King Kapital and Queen Corona
Set at the onset and during the total lockdown of March 2020, the three episodes examine its impact on working class lives that were already precarious. A family and their friends and relatives interact, exposing different aspects of this draconian shutdown of ‘ordinary life’: police high-handedness, the curfew, the emerging black markets in alcohol and cigarettes, growing hunger, family pressures and gender violence, isolation. Underlying all the action, is the realization that people face twin viruses: the physiological (covid 19) and the virus of capitalist accumulation, alienation and inequality. The play utilises many chants and songs as well as a ’play within a play’.
The poor must eat!
The poor must eat!
“The radio play was broadcast on a total of 22 community radio stations across all nine of the country’s provinces covering an almost equal amount Neroli Price | Laura Garbes 66 Radio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Media of urban and rural populations speaking all eleven of South Africa’s official languages (see Appendix 2). Although there was a lot of diversity in many aspects of the audience, they intentionally targeted predominantly workingclass and Black communities (McKinley 2020). ILRIG’s Dale McKinley (2020) explained, ‘that was our target because that’s who we work with’. This is a clear way in which KKQC was an extension of ILRIG’s existing political education efforts. The audience is clearly reflected in the cast of characters, as well as the use of code switching to incorporate exclamations in multiple languages. In this way, KKQC is building an audience that is defined by their relative economic marginalization rather than on their ability to fund this or future productions. Indeed, often ILRIG and the Botsotso Ensemble had to pay the cash-strapped community radio stations to air the play (McKinley, personal correspondence, August 2020; Phaloane, personal correspondence, October 2020). Thus, community radio networks not only allowed KKQC to reach particular audiences, but also introduced a new iteration of radio drama, one with a working-class activist lens, to these existing airwaves
While the radio drama form was not their original plan, the creative use of sound enabled the collaborators to create a sense of both structural constraints of the pandemic and an imagined community of an idealized, feminist and multicultural working-class solidarity. Specifically, we find two elements of sound as tools for worldbuilding in the creation of KKQC. First, polyvocality, or the use of multiple voices as a means to show both divisions of power between authority and working class, and complexity and fullness within the working class itself. Second, the use of sonic markers sets the main plot within the domestic sphere. The dialogue, in foregrounding the personal as a space for political discussion, in which the matriarch is a central decision-maker, disrupts patriarchal dynamics.’’
Radio drama as a tool for activism in South Africa: The case of Plague in the Time of King Kapital and Queen Corona – Neroli Price and Laura Garbes
2. No Money for Jam
This play engages with the post ‘hard lockdown’ economic crisis during which one and a half million jobs were lost, and retained employees were faced with wage cuts, shorter working hours and increased casualization. It also examines the tensions caused by confinement that led to a marked increase in gender violence.
The context of the play is a series of shop steward meetings which engage with a company proposal to reduce worker income in the name of covering losses inflicted by the lockdown. A sub-plot is the sexual harassment of one of the female shop stewards by a male shop steward and the resulting divisions which this causes while the workers are on strike to protect their living standards and job security.
Muyahavho – Ike Muila POEM: ECONOMY: YOLISWA MOGALE
Last section: “In reality a slave is never free/she’s just a slave to their economy”
FADES INTO MUSIC: FIRST SECTION OF THE ANGLO-BOER WAR OVERLAID WITH DJEMBE SEBENZELE UBALA SONG CONTINUES IN THE BACKGROUND
Trueman: It is the third month after the great covid 19 lockdown was lifted. The country is reeling. Firstly, at the number of infections and deaths but even more at the social cost: almost three million people having lost their livelihoods; their means to pay the rent, pay the spaza, pay the school, pay the mashonisa.
Simphiwe: There was hunger. And when the news of corruption in the awarding of tenders for Personal Protection Equipment for the safety of health workers and patients, as well as in the distribution of food parcels for the hungry, was made known, there was great anger. Mzansi seethed with frustration.
Mzamo: And, as the first surge of the virus spent itself, bosses in the work place forgot the lesson of the pandemic – that we are all subject to far greater forces than ourselves, and must practice what we preach about solidarity.
Thandeka: The bosses began to cut down the rights of workers; the state’s actions to address the crisis wavered between the ruling party’s factions.
Yandisa: Mzansi was crying for leadership but only shadows appeared; only shadows stood at the door and watched as the land was struck with troubles.
ALL: SYSTEM FAILURE! SYSTEM FRACTURE! SYSTEM FAILURE! SYSTEM FRACTURE!
KNOCK ON DOOR
Patrick: Come in!
Simphiwe: Good morning, Mr Oberholzer. You asked to see us.
Patrick: Yes, that’s right, Simphiwe. Come in. How did the elections go?
Simphiwe: They went very well. We have a strong shop steward committee now.
Patrick: Ah, that’s good news. But I hope not too strong, hey? Can’t have too many fights, right?
Yandisa: (Mockingly) Don’t worry, sir – we won’t forget who Is the boss.
Patrick: Ah, Yandisa . . . so pleased to see some old faces.
Yandisa: I’m Sidwell’s alternate. He’s still off sick.
Patrick: OK, no problem. Welcome and please sit. There’s tea and coffee on the side table.
Simphiwe: Yo, I don’t mind if I do sit. My legs will be thankful for the rest.
Patrick: I can imagine – being on your feet the whole day isn’t a joke.
Simphiwe: Especially when you’re paid peanuts and you’re still expected to smile at the joke.
But before we start, let me ask the committee to introduce themselves. Ok, comrades?
3. To TINA or Not to TINA
To TINA (There Is No Alternative) or Not to TINA is a three-part audio drama about an existing political-economic alternative – the Rojava Revolution – to the current global neo-liberal capitalist system whose political form continues to be the centralised, ‘nation-state’.
While casualization/financialization/inequality in the global economy has accelerated because of covid 19, these tendencies had been manifesting since the 2008 crash. In tandem with this general immiseration and insecurity, there has been even greater concentration of wealth (via control of global financial flows and resources) by an oligarchy of billionaire individuals and corporations. They are ably assisted by various local comprador classes who ensure that unemployment, corruption, waste and mismanagement put massive pressure on both the working and middle classes as well as proving that the total commodification of human life has been achieved with all the expected results of increased alienation, violence and social demoralization. The recent Trump presidency was surely a striking example of ‘human failure’ though totalitarian regimes in other ‘super powers’ like China and Russia, as well as in smaller, highly tribalized societies (Syria, Iraq, Israel, Nigeria and Zimbabwe being good examples), are equally guilty of violating human rights and practising gross economic exploitation and ecological degradation. And then, of course, hanging over all these social crises are the unfolding consequences of global heating and damaged bio-diversity which will probably lead to planetary extinction.
This threat of a sixth extinction, and one caused by self-destructive human behaviour, is very real and yet short-term profit-making continues as fossil fuels remain the key source of global energy, and the concentration –and skewed distribution – of wealth continues to balloon. Following covid inspired economic lockdowns, more than two hundred and fifty million people in India have again dropped below the most basic poverty line. Many millions more in other parts of the world, including South Africa, have also been pushed out of the formal economies that define capitalist production/accumulation and are languishing in a nether world of subsistence. Moreover, the Earth’s general capacity for regeneration/fertility is being tested as extreme weather patterns and disasters (hurricanes, fires, drought, floods . . .) create havoc all over the globe.
Now with this background of dysfunctionality, scarcity and decadence, one would hope to find coherent, unified political forces that are building their strength and capacity to fight and find alternatives that can resolve these crises. And so it is, that from within the hell of war (the civil war in Syria), just such a movement has emerged in the form of the Rojava Revolution in which a previously Kurdish nationalist party (in the north-east of the country) has facilitated the emergence of local, democratic and gender-equal governing structures that grant equality and acess to all minority groups and religions. This often women-led awakening has had a profound influence on contemporary thinking and just recently in Chile we have seen the growth of a similar movement which will soon be redrafting the Chilean constitution on similar lines.
The play provides information and reflection on the capitalist crisis and on the Rojava revolution through short scenes set in different situations and involving various and often contradicting characters:
- a mother and son in a South African township who face hunger on a daily basis because the mother has been retrenched – and decide to save themselves by ‘shop lifting’;
- a rising black capitalist defends his desire for ‘quick bucks’ against the doubts of a woman friend;
- a Zimbabwean father and daughter cross the Limpopo to find work in Mzansi, but once they get to Jozi and are harried by police, they realise that the only long-lasting solution is to return home and fight the ruling party’s oppression;
- a depressed activist seeking relief for his anger and frustration visits a cynical psychologist who believes that ’human nature’ is such that There is No Alternative to the current dog-eats-dog reality;
- a young woman activist who has returned from Rojava informs them of the reality of the social revolution that has taken place and inspires them to learn about its policies and practices and apply/adapt them to local South African conditions.
The different scenes are inter-woven through the three episodes and show development of the characters and themes, though each episode is relatively self-explanatory and can be considered as a separate piece.
With the covid 19 pandemic prohibiting live performance indefinitely, the joint ILRIG/Botsotso program of providing civic and other working-class formations with socially engaged live theatre was suspended. In its place, we turned to community radio as the perfect temporary substitute, but also as a long-term opportunity to generally revive audio drama and use this creative medium to engage with listeners on issues of working-class interest. This engagement would take place during ‘post-broadcast’ discussions which could assist in building grassroots organization and lead ‘non-party political’ campaigns focussed on meeting local needs.
However, as we met with more and more stations, and offered them the plays and our assistance in broadcasting them (as tools for supporting transformation and delivery), we found that, like so many other areas with the potential to develop a genuinely ‘post-apartheid’ South Africa, almost all have been taken over by ‘bosses’’ (as opposed to being run by democratically elected local activists) who pursue personal commercial interests and promote capitalist consciousness. As a result, very few stations report on local needs or have programs that specifically provide local organizations/activists
and general listeners with platforms for discussion and planning. The network of community radio stations (there are over 170 such stations that have been licensed by ICASA) has long ceased to be a progressive force that should get maximum co-operation from working class organizations.
We also found that most stations do not create any original content (other than scheduling talk shows), largely play commercial music and try to maximise religious broadcasts because churches pay for airtime. As such, very few followed the broadcast of each episode of the drama with a discussion of the topics raised, and almost none provided us with an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the play. All the stations wanted was payment for broadcasting this free content!
In short, we found a critical resource for working-class consciousness-raising and organization building stuck in predictability, mediocrity and irrelevance. That this reflects the overall state of South African society is small comfort because as the crisis worsens, the building and defending of mass organizations like Abahalali baseMjondolo andother broad-based revolutionary organizationswill become a life-and-death issue, and community radio is an ideal mechanism for contributing to this rebirth of liberation politics.
4. Dop, Dope and Despots
The key topics of the series are indicated by the title, with each episode telling a ‘stand alone’ and very different story about forms and means of addiction; the first, being alcohol, the second, hard drugs, and the third, the psychological and ethical diseases of megalomania and kleptomania.
In this vein, Dop, is set in an anonymous workingclass area during the covid 19 lockdown and
Relates the confrontation between women black market sellers of alcohol and their reconciliation
at the hands of two progressive cops. Though starting off as seemingly aggressive law enforcers, the cops reveal their peace-making skills and political understanding, and engineer a mutually acceptable and very reasonable solution.
Dope examines the difference between the use and sale of dagga as opposed to that of hard drugs like nyaope and tik. It traces the lodging of an anonymous complaint against a local white activist who is accused of selling hard drugs to black school children, and thus besmirching his positive reputation as a provider of free drama and art classes to young people. The civic office bearers decide to test the allegation by visiting a nearby high school and gaining ’first hand’ information from the chairperson of the school governing board. The chairperson then introduces them to the anonymous complainant who turns out to be the white activist’s disgruntled black step-son. Bongi had been selling the dagga that the activist was wholesaling to young dealers for exclusive sale to adults, and the conflict between them is about the morality of his breaking this agreement by starting to also sell nyaope and tik to school kids.
Finally, Despots, is set in Zanzania, a mythical African country, where the president, Elijah Zamantunga, refuses to accept his defeat at an election, and contrives to keep power by using white mercenaries. They are paid to put down a popular uprising. But while the play unfolds, consisting of interactions with various members of his family and similarly corrupt ministers, the climax surprises by having Zamantunga’s children turn against him and their debauched mother, and joining the revolutionary forces who will purge the country of their oppressive parents.
EXTRACT FROM ‘DOP’
BUNTU: I don’t like silly jokes. Now tell me the truth – how long you been selling alcohol? You know it’s against lockdown regulations. You people are making trouble for the whole community. You encourage drunkenness that brings fights and car accidents, and fights and accidents take up hospital beds when we don’t have enough for covid patients.
NTOMBI: I swear I didn’t buy this beer from sis Joyce. I got it in town, near Noord St. there was this guy selling in the street. He moves around.
BANTU: Yes, I’m sure he does. So every idiot can tell us a story and walk away.
MXOLISI: But officer, she didn’t buy alcohol here. You heard her. It’s a coincidence that has nothing to do with her coming to us for food.
BUNTU: Alright. Then prove it. Open your gate. We are coming in to check your fridges and your storeroom, and then we’ll go through the house.
JOYCE: Ag, don’t be silly, officer. What’s wrong with providing abantu with a service they want. These are hard times. We all need to unwind. Our president wasn’t thinking about our mental health.
BANTU: But you’re a killer, lady. With your profiteering you are taking the little the poor have and for what? A few hours of forgetting how bad their lives are?
RONALD: You being a bit harsh, officer. Not all of us drink to blow our minds.
JOYCE: Exactly, I’m just trying to make a living. My husband and I are both unemployed.
BANTU: That doesn’t mean you can break the law. (Shouts) Hey, sisi, where you going? Come back! We haven’t finished with you.
NTOMBI: Mamela, I have to go home now. My children are waiting.
BUNTU: Yes, I’m sure the kiddies are waiting for their bedtime drink. Each gets one glass of beer, Half an aloma.
BANTU: Give me that bag. This time I’m not just going to just take a look. This time it stays with me.
NTOMBI: Ah, but officer, what have I done wrong? It’s not a crime to drink? It’s not like I’m . . .
BUNTU: Selling? That’s true. You are not the main criminal here.
JOYCE: Hau, don’t say criminal! We don’t want to do this business, but the law isn’t feeding us, so what must we do?
MXOLISI: Believe me, officer, we don’t encourage people to drink too much.
JOYCE: We only sell two packets of aloma to each customer so they can’t get too drunk.
BANTU: (Laughs mockingly) You ration your customers? You really take us for fools and that makes me angry.
RONALD: It’s actually true, officer. They don’t let things get out of hand. They know the bad apples and the rotten potatoes in the neighbourhood.
BUNTU: Open the gate. We are coming in and taking you and your stock down to the station.
MXOLISI: Is this an arrest?
BANTU: No, it’s an invitation to my birthday party. Only thing is, she will celebrate it in jail.
NTOMBI: You can’t arrest her, my brother. Joyce is my sister. We go back a long way. We women are all struggling.
BUNTU: So you want to protect her?
NTOMBI: It’s only now that she sells alcohol. It’s only with this lockdown.
RONALD: Ja, that’s the truth, officer. She’s a good person to us. We need Joyce.
BANTU: What’s with you people?! You say you drink because you are stressed. But the more you drink, the more stressed you become – never mind the cost.
5. Taking Everything into Account
The stage play was adapted for radio when the onset of the corona epidemic made live performance impossible. It premiered at POPart, Maboneng, Johannesburg in September 2019.
Review by Andries Nel (3 Oct 2019)
Taking Everything into Account. Written by Allan Kolski Horwitz. Performed by the Botsotso Ensemble: Thandeka Shangase, Yandisa Khwakhwa, Katlego Letsholonyana, Simphiwe Dladla and Malusi Mkhonza.
Taking Everything into Account is excellent engaged – and engaging – theatre. Many in the audience came out of solidarity (not expecting much) and left overwhelmed, entertained, angered, educated, and inspired to mobilise and organise.
The drama is set in Kopanong, a medium sized municipality – matching the profile of the bottom third of our municipalities that are distressed and dysfunctional – and often captured.
In a hauntingly accurate portrayal of local state capture the mayor, Victor Mabaso, and his right-hand woman, Gugu Dhlamini, conspire with a network of tenderpreneurs and (literally) drain the town dry.
When the municipality comes under scrutiny from the Auditor General the contradictions in the criminal capture cartel are exacerbated to the point of rupture.
Faith Hlatswayo, the once servile financial manager, cracks in a crisis of conscience. Mabaso and Dhlamini are driven from subterfuge to open thuggery. A realistically absurd situation develops and reaches its climax.
Actual political assassinations in municipalities, the latest being in Mogalakwena where the chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee was gunned down, are spectres so real that they almost join the cast.
However, this is not an ensemble of clichés, a one-dimensional reduction of complex reality to a simplistic juxtaposition of goodies and baddies.
The author, veteran activist and poet, Allan Kolski Horwitz, is a masterful dialectician and dramatist, who in a highly entertaining manner brings to life all the relevant complexities, interrelationships, contradictions and developments: Public and private sector, the personal and the political, race, gender and class.
The title – “taking everything into account” – suggests both the need to demand and ensure accountability for the (mis-) management of financial accounts in our municipalities, as well as the need to develop a holistic understanding of the factors responsible for this state of affairs, in order to change it.
The Botsotso Ensemble gave a superb performance. Thandeka Shangase, Yandisa Khwakhwa, Katlego Letsholonyana, Simphiwe Dladla and Malusi Mkhonza all demonstrated subtlety, versatility and masterful command of roles and subject matter.
After the performance Horwitz engaged the audience in a lively discussion that ranged from the relationship between public and private corruption, gender based violence and the need to mobilise society against corruption and state capture – amongst others through art and culture.
Many in the audience lamented the lack of attention and resources given to, especially, community arts.
As Bertold Brecht remarked, “We need a type of theatre which not only releases the feelings, insights and impulses possible within the particular historical field of human relations in which the action takes place, but employs and encourages those thoughts and feelings which help transform the field itself.”
Unions, civic organisations and ANC branches were encouraged to host performances.
MABASO enters. He sits down at a desk, ruffles through papers.
MABASO: (Makes a phone call) Gugu, is everything ready? He should be here any moment. (Slight pause) You sure? I don’t want any mess ups, you hear me? (Slight pause) Good, that’s my girl. He puts the phone down) Ah, right on time.
MABASO: Mr Ndlovu! You’re looking younger than ever! And me? I’m good, sir. Yes, very good, sir. We have achieved so much this year. Everything for the people!
QHAWE: Of course – Mr Delivery himself . . . let’s have two pizzas for lunch. Well, we’re back, Mr Mabaso. It’s that time of year.
MABASO: Too true. Rules will be rules.
QHAWE: And you wouldn’t be mayor without knowing the rules, right? And how to apply them.
MABASO: Exactly. That’s why I won the election by a landslide.
QHAWE: And let me tell you something else – I hope you will improve my mood. I’ve just come from your neighbours. Things are bad on that side.
MABASO: Ag, Comrade, between you and me, Gumede doesn’t know how to run a municipality never mind their soccer team. We beat them hands down this season.
QHAWE: Not surprising, Mr Mayor – no organization, no forward movement. And so . . . backlogs and own goals. But anyway, let me start mowing the grass on this side of the fence. Is your head of finance still that lady . . . what was her name? Faith? Faith Hlatswayo!
MABASO: What a memory! Yes, it’s still our dear Mrs Hlatswayo. Ms Finance Management herself! A gem. She’s our rock.
QHAWE: Well, let’s hope she’s stayed steady and hasn’t rocked the boat.
MABASO: Hau, don’t expect tsunamis here, comrade! Everything will be plain sailing. I’ve been working very closely with her to make sure that’s the case.
QHAWE: Excellent! Then let me go and find her. We start the audit tomorrow.
MABASO: Not a moment too soon.
QHAWE: I’ll need a few spare offices for my team and maybe some cups and a kettle. We drink a lot of coffee on the job.
MABASO: I’m sure you do. Maximum alert, right? Yes, sir, you’ll have it all. Everything for you and your team. Such bright youngsters, a credit to the nation.
QHAWE: Yes, they are a good bunch. And I’m sure this is going to be a season of fruitful inspection. The people of Kopanong are anxious to get our report. We’re all hoping for an improvement on last year. Anyway, let me leave you to all the important work you’re doing. Till tomorrow! (Exits)
MABASO: Yo, this boy looks hungry. (Shaking his head) But what’s there to worry about? The party is behind me. And I know so much about so many people.
6. Kill The Tender
Kill the Tender!
Insource, Outsource – We all want Insource!
The play examines the consequences of the tender system and how it has caused corruption, poor quality work and exposed state mismanagement as political and business elites manipulate local government funds for their own profit.
It is well known that service delivery problems are largely caused by a terrible lack of government capacity. Government does not employ enough technical and financial experts to carry out the projects that need to be implemented to meet the demand for working class housing and other necessary basic infrastructure and social services. Instead, all the planning and implementation is sub-contracted, supposedly to qualified black owned companies but, in reality, to inexperienced and incompetent ‘shelf’ companies that cut costs and do not deliver quality results – or simply run off with the money.
The play shows how the sub-contract for a school-feeding scheme in a medium sized town is hijacked by an entrepreneur who has never run such schemes, but who wins the tender because of his connections with officials in the department of education and a local councillor.
When workers at the company that has been running the feeding scheme, learn that a new company is going to take over the contract, they first side with their bosses to fight this. They join their bosses in challenging the corrupt Department of Education official and the local councillor and pledge to mobilise the schools and their community to stop this new company from taking over.
However, when the workers who have been employed by the new company realise that the fixed term contracts they are signing, grant them starvation wages and no benefits, they approach the workers who are losing their jobs, and propose an alliance.
This alliance – between workers, their local civics and a new democratic and militant trade union – leads to the occupation of Department of Education offices. The central demand is that the feeding scheme be run by a worker-managed co-operative which will provide permanent jobs and a living wage. They also demand that the feeding scheme be expanded (to include more schools) and that many more vegetable gardens be established to supply enough food for the learners – thus creating more local jobs.
In short, workers realise that it is the system as a whole which needs to be changed and not merely a particular tender award which must be reversed.
The play ends with the corrupt official resigning but agreeing that a special committee of all stakeholders, including the civics and trade union, be established to assess the whole practice of outsourcing and implement the necessary changes.