Secret weapons


I believe in angels: Swedish pop group Abba which gave South African army boys the courage to be, under apartheid.

IF YOU WERE conscious in South Africa between the 1960s and 1990s, when the apartheid army held sway over South Africa’s male youth, the premises of Korporaal Lemmer en die Rowers, this week’s Afrikaans-language radio drama on Radio Sonder Grense will bring swarms of goosebumps, blending army humiliation with Abba songs, the horror of pettiness with the hopelessness of boys forced into this harsh terrain, which will possibly leave them in army terms, “Fubar” (Fucked up beyond any recognition).

Written by Bun Booyens and Hélène Booyens, the work focuses on the hapless rookie “Jaws” (André Terblanche), who suffers a chronic stutter as it details the minuscule rules and harsh punishments. And in this way, like Christiaan Olwagen’s film Kanarie, Korporaal Lemmer lends muscular, unrelenting insight into the traumatic complexities which make an army and one which gives grotesque bullies and basic psychopaths sanction and jobs.

Like South African artist Johann van der Schijff’s recent exhibition State of Emergency, the work touches on the games that people in power can play with those the system bends and breaks. The language and actuality of the piece is harsh and articulate, spiteful and cruel.

But it is the moment when “Jaws” gets pushed in a direction that the bullies in the system don’t understand that this work turns into gold. You will shiver with the recognition of the ‘types’ of boys in this army scene, but weep with gladness at the ultimate sense of internal victory it evokes, while you continue to shed tears for all the real boys broken and bowed by this system over the years. And it’s nothing you could have imagined.

  • Korporaal Lemmer en die Rowers (Corporal Lemmer and the Rookies) is written by Bun Booyens and Hélène Booyens. Directed by Johan Rademan, and featuring technical input by Cassi Lowers, it is performed by Jacques Bessinger, Anrich Herbst, DeKlerk Oelofse, Wessel Pretorius, André Terblanche and Conradie van Heerden, and broadcasts on RSG on November 28 at 8pm. It is rebroadcast on the station’s all night programme, Deurnag at 1am on Monday December 2 and is also available on podcast:

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