HOW DO YOU represent sexual violence on stage? It cannot be sexy. It cannot be comical. It cannot be beautiful. It cannot be explicit. It also cannot be abstract. Your audience has to go away from the spectacle shattered with an understanding of the horror, the irrevocable violation that has occurred. Seasoned playwright and director Phyllis Klotz, cofounder of Benoni-based Sibikwa, has crafted a searing play in Chapter 2 Section 9 that touches all of these bases, and has the potency of becoming the torch song for black South African lesbians.
Premised on the equality clause of the Constitution, the work, performed in a heady amalgamation of South African languages is an assemblage of different interviews with women who have experienced the private loopholes in this clause. Women who have been rejected by their parents, their children or the police. Women who have been brutally – and sometimes lethally – raped by men intent on ‘curing’ them of their homosexuality. Women who have borne the brunt of being shamed for being different from the rest of their community. Women who have had to reconstruct and justify the most private intimate aspects of their lives to strangers. Because they’re gay. It is performed with a fresh and magnetic sense of authenticity by a very young but extremely articulate cast.
In many respects, like Murray Nossel and Paul Browde’s important performance initiative, Two Men Talking, the piece is premised on words rather than graphic depictions of violence. The curious thing with a work like this, is if you read the newspapers and watch TV, if you look at photographic exhibitions and speak to people, the horrendous concept of so-called corrective rape perpetrated on black lesbians in the townships of South Africa is something you should have heard of.
The dreadful anecdotes of gang rape and murder that black lesbians have suffered in the name of their being different from society are stories with horrible endings that have tragically become predictable in the trajectory which has been told over and over again. Only the victims’ names and faces differ. And yet, the tales in this play are told with a burning bluntness and a frankness that is utterly electric, and at no point in this 90 minute show can you pull your attention from this work.
The set features a bleak yet potent set which comprises bare white trees with photographs of victims of corrective rape hanging on their branches like fallow fruit. It has the words of the equality clause written boldly across the stage. And it is brought to life with intense orange hues, but also with the haunting a capello singing of the cast, at times supported by Isaac Molelekoa on keyboard and violin, at times in tune with the mournful energies of their stories.
Teasing apart the complication of sexual identity, from how one’s parents, grandparents, siblings and children respond to it, to grappling with church values, the work explores the question ‘what is a lesbian?’ in the same way that it puts the question of ‘what is an African?’ under the loupe. Can a lesbian not be allowed to want to have children? Why is homosexuality considered unAfrican? And while the cast rarely interface with one another, leaving the stories as stories being recounted rather than narratives re-enacted, each of them led by Tsholofelo Ross who holds your eye and your heart even when she is sitting quietly, embraces the piece with an authenticity that is raw, a sense of self that is credible.
- Chapter 2 Section 9 is written and directed by Phyllis Klotz based on research by Collen Mfazwe and Janneke Strijdonk-Xulu. It is designed by Isaac Molelekoa (music composition), Sarah Roberts (costume and set) and Stan Knight (lighting) and is performed by Ayanda Rose Fali, Khanyisa Nanase, Tsholofelo Ross and Ayanda Sibisi, in the Amphitheatre, Wits Theatre Braamfontein. It is part of the Wits969 Festival and performs again on July 16 at 6pm. wits.ac.za/witstheatre/whats-on/969-festival/969-festival-programme-information/ It also performs at Pop Arts Centre in Maboneng, downtown Johannesburg on August 6 and 7 and as part of Vavasati, International Women’s Festival on August 18 and 19 at the Arena, State Theatre in Pretoria.