Advocacy Theatre

Haunted by Matlakala

Mama I want the black that you are production image

MY beautiful child: Matlakala (Puleng Molebatse) with her mother, Anna (Boitumelo Mothabela). Photograph courtesy of the Market Theatre.

THE PLIGHT OF melanin-deficient people came under the medical marketing spotlight in South Africa through the month of September, which made the brief staging of Arthur Molepo’s contemplation on albinism Mama, I want the black that you are, particularly prescient. It’s a complicated work told with a hand that is often crude, and while it has a great deal of didactic value, it ultimately lacks a message of hope.

It’s a strange time in the life of the Market Theatre. Advocacy theatre in a range of manifestations seems to be finding its way to the iconic stages of this theatre complex, in a similar way that it did in the 1970s and the 1980s in the name of protest theatre, shining a light in the eye of apartheid and giving voice to the anti-apartheid struggle. Mama is no different. It aims to explore and explain the underbelly of bias against and horror perpetrated on people living with albinism.

Ultimately, however, the story is too complicated for its own good, and you find yourself yearning for a spot of idiosyncrasy and a touch of wit, which it lacks. Matlakala (Puleng Molebatsi) is 15. She lives with her mother and step father in an impoverished community, dominated by the need to get money quickly. She is also living with albinism. Ignorance is rife in the house where she lives, and there is the spectre of another child, also with albinism, lost violently to the bias at birth.

She has an angel (Anneline Mathiba) and a devil (Lesego Presca Motswatswa), roughly in her likeness, but with big unmanageable hair and a laugh (on the part of the devil) to chill you completely, who stand on her proverbial shoulders and give her courage and reprimand, occasionally digressing into mesmerising rhythms and a potent sense of juju. But alas, these magical moments are too sparse.

In a tale punctuated by the threat of murder – in many superstitions people with albinism are brutalised and dismembered in the name of a disabused notion relating to traditional African medicine – and that of rape. In the blending of these two issues something is lost.

While the production handles the horror of rape on stage very successfully, offering it as an unequivocal act of violence, it confuses the play’s bottom line. Ending in brutal murder, it is a work which strips the character of her basic humanity. ‘Matlakala’ means ‘rubbish’ in Sesotho, and in her desperation, the character is brought to an extremely low ebb, which makes you weep with horror, but doesn’t push the limits further.

You will be haunted by Matlakala with her unconventional beauty and her raw sense of outrage, but ultimately, you may feel disappointed with the punch of this potentially vital production.

  • Mama, I want the black that you are is written and directed by Arthur Molepo and produced by Mpho Molepo. It was performed by Alistair Dube, Anneline Mathiba, Puleng Molebatsi, Boitumelo Mothabela and Lesego Prisca Motswatswa, in a brief season at the Mannie Manim Theatre, Market Theatre complex in Newtown, which ended on 22 September.

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