The Fall tries to explain what happened on South African campuses in 2015
In 2015, South Africa's campuses burst into flames. Riots, vandalism, barricaded buildings and burning pyres. Surely this couldn't be happening again in the Rainbow Nation? But with the arrival of the riot squads, the tear gas and the heavy-handed security services it all began to look as if the old dark days of apartheid were back.
Viewers around the world must have watched in disbelief. After all, the universities in South Africa had had open access for decades, there was an extensive financial aid programme for township students. Degree courses had transformed to finally acknowledge geographical and demographic realities. It was Africa, and not Europe.
But change is a slow thing – too slow for many. And as poverty and unemployment increase, as the economy tanks and the ANC government has morphed from a party of idealistic freedom fighters to one of blatant and cynical corruption, frustration and anger grows.
The future for young black people in South Africa has always been bleak but now, despite all the promises of a brave new world, it has become even bleaker. But how to change this? Who is there left to protest against? The democratically elected politicians are silent, while the university authorities batten down the hatches as they become the scapegoats for thousands of furious young people fighting for survival.
The show can be seen at The Assembly
It is easy to look at the riots and criticise. Why destroy the only thing that could possibly give you a future? This excellent production and the seven post-graduate students who perform it attempt to explain what is happening and why. There are no excuses here, just their own experiences, where the realities of the personal becoming political are revealed.
On the stunningly beautiful campus of the University of Cape Town, the statue of Cecil John Rhodes became the catalyst of the movement. Rhodes, the brilliant and flawed man, is largely forgotten. He may have given huge sums of money to education in South Africa and, unusually for a man of his time, offered opportunities to Africans that had been lacking before. But all he is now is a symbol of the British Empire, of colonialism, of all that stands between the youth of today taking control of their own country to make it truly African and not a forgotten remnant of Victorian British imperialism.
So, yes, it is decided – Rhodes Must Fall. But setting up a few protests and a hashtag are the easy parts. As the student plenary meetings continue, the cadres – for so they call themselves – begin to realise that their views are not united.
Decolonialise the curriculum – but how? Stop students sitting their final exams – but if they are medical students already working in the townships, who will really suffer from this? It doesn't take long for other ugly issues to raise themselves. The horrific "rape culture" throughout the country is a result of the patriarchal structures not of white but of black society. But will black men ever acknowledge this? And what about gender issues, when gay men and women are routinely murdered and no one seems to care much about it? The seven brilliant performers – Ameera Conrad, Oarabile Ditsele, Zandile Madliwa, Thando Mangcu, Sizwesandile Mnisi, Sihle Mnqwazana, and Cleo Raatus – look into the tangled heart of all these weighty issues with searing honesty. And, with fast-moving wit and song and dance, they convey the problems in all their complexities without the performance once becoming preachy or ponderous.
Rhodes has now fallen. Nothing has changed. Highly recommended.