Writing black sisters : interrogating the construction by selected black female playwrights of performed black female identities in contemporary post-apartheid South African theatre.
Theatre is a political space which often reflects the social, political and personal conditions and consciousness of our society. It is also a place that allows for the speaking of private stories; a space that proffers the construction, re-construction, articulation and re-articulation of identities. Coloured, Indian and Bantu (1) identities were all defined ‘black’ within the simplistic categorisation of the complex, problematic apartheid (2) system that perceived individuals as either ‘black' (3) or ‘white’. As much as the apartheid system is one wherein the notion of ‘black’ shifted, it remained a system in which ‘black’ was often constructed as a homogeneous category of identity. In its zenith during the late 1940s, apartheid’s ‘blacks’ referred to the Bantu populace. Coloured and Indian identities were therein recognised as not ‘white’, and so were inadvertently considered ‘black’; perhaps just not ‘black enough’. Coloured and Indian identities were therefore located as vague and marginalised identities in a system that while on the one hand did not impose the same fierce oppression as inflicted on the Bantu, was also one which on the other hand excluded these groups from enjoying the benefits of being privileged whites. Then came the 1980s which saw a shift in the make-up of black/ness where apartheid ideology was concerned. With the birth of the invidious tricameral system which came to govern South African society until the emergence of a democratic nation in 1994, ‘black’ was now broken down and defined into its constituent parts: Bantu, Coloured and Indian. Although this system seemingly regarded each of these race groups, in that each was now named and thus acknowledged as opposed to simply being defined as the homogeneous category of ‘black’, it was nonetheless a system that separated and consequently gave rise to unequal power relations not only between ‘black’ and ‘white’, but now also within these three distinct black/nesses existing within ‘black’. Navigating the most historically marginalised of identities – the black female – this dissertation examines the construction of black South African female identities in the respective post-1994-produced play texts by six black South African female playwrights: Motshabi Tyelele’s Shwele Bawo (In Homann, 2009), Bongi Ndaba’s unpublished play text Shaken (see appendix A), Lueen Conning-Ndlovu’s A Coloured Place (In Perkins, 1999), Rehane Abrahams’ What the water gave me (In Fourie, 2006), Krijay Govender’s Women in Brown (In Chetty, 2002) and Muthal Naidoo’s Flight from the Mahabarath (In Perkins, 1999). This dissertation will in part engage character analyses of Bantu, Coloured and Indian female identities as articulated across the six play texts. Each category of black/ness will be explored in its own chapter, where the characters relevant to that particular black/ness shall be examined. This separation of chapters into these categories is by way of highlighting that endless differences in black/ness exist within the label ‘black’. While this particular separation of chapters is a perpetuation of apartheid discourse, as was the reality within South Africa’s history, and particularly from the emergence of the tricameral system onwards, the final chapter of this dissertation will be an attempt to dissolve these racial categories of black/ness as implemented by and within the legislation of the apartheid legacy. In a post-apartheid South Africa, it is not only Bantu women who are ‘black’, as Coloured and Indian women now claim ‘black’. This dissertation highlights the need to look at difference within similarity and multiplicity in the myriad black South African female identities that comprise the landscape of our contemporary, current and critical post-1994 theatre context, rather than to speak of a ‘typical’ black South African female identity. (1) This term will be italicised throughout this dissertation, by way of acknowledging its dual meaning. Within South Africa‟s historical context, „Bantu‟ was used as a derogatory term. The land set apart for black Africans during apartheid, known as Bantustans, affirms the disparaging nature of this term. Similarly, the belittling connotations of the term are noted in the system of Bantu education; a system specifically designed to fit the black African populace for their marginal role within apartheid society. For the purposes of this dissertation, the term „Bantu‟ will be used firstly, as a way to distinguish between the three categories of black/ness under exploration, where the term will be used to refer to black African South African identity, and secondly and most importantly, the term will be used as a reclaiming of black African South African identity from its historical derisive connotations. It is also important to note here, that within the isiZulu language, the term simply means „people‟. (2) During apartheid, there was a simplification of the term „black‟. This dissertation recognises that the apartheid stratifications of Bantu, Coloured and Indian, under the „logic‟ of grouping „like‟ together (that is, apartheid‟s „black‟ group), was in itself a false logic, because it did not acknowledge that there exists within each specific racial stratification, different cultural groupings and languages. For example, this dissertation could have expanded the discussion on Bantu identity by examining Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho etc identities, the discussion on Coloured identities could have included analyses of Javanese, Malay, Cape etc identities and the discussion on Indian identity could have explored different cultural groupings within Hindu, Muslim, Tamil etc. It is understood that in a post-apartheid context, there exists endless differences and multiplicities within the black identities of Bantu, Coloured and Indian. This dissertation therefore offers a terrain in which these myriad black/nesses are explored as fluid and contested. (3) Throughout this dissertation, the racial categorisations of „black‟ and „white‟ are in lower case „B‟ and „W‟ respectively, for the political demotion of these terms in a post-apartheid context. This is by way of politically challenging the essentialist thinking that underpinned the racial segregation and inequality primarily embodied by these terms during apartheid. The terms „Bantu‟, „Coloured‟ and „Indian‟ shall be in capital „B‟, „C‟ and „I‟ respectively. This is for the purpose of drawing attention to the categories of black/ness in a post-1994 context, whereby each is acknowledged and visible individually, as opposed to being articulated as part of the false logic of a homogeneous black/ness.