national Arts Festival Banner

Monday, August 12, 2013


(Sivani Chinappan, Rajesh Gopie and Lihle Dhlomo with, seated, Jayshree Parasuramen and Kumseela Naidoo)

Expert use of language and gentle humour celebrates the life of a forgotten South African hero. (Review by Keith Millar)

Written and directed by Ronnie Govender Botoo is an important new work which premiered at the South African Woman’s Art Festival in the Playhouse Loft last week.

Inspired by Dr Devi Rajab's book Woman: South Africans of Indian Origin, the play is based on the story of feminist and political activist, Dr Kesaveloo Gonum. It focuses on an interview Govender conducted with her when he was a young writer.

Dr Gonum was an intriguing person. She was the first Indian woman in South Africa to qualify as a Doctor. A feisty, strong-willed person who did not suffer fools gladly she fought passionately for woman’s rights in a chauvinistic society. She was also a political visionary and fearless freedom fighter and played leadership roles in both the Natal Indian Congress and the Passive Resistance Movement. She was imprisoned no less than 18 times by the apartheid government and eventually was forced to flee the country and go into exile.

In her private life Dr Gonum never married, but was a mother of three. She drank and smoked, and was not adverse to the use of strong language. In her medical practice she was known to offer abortions to desperate woman. Yet she still wore a dot (the botoo of the title) on her forehead because it was her tradition.

This is the amazing character that Ronnie Govender has skilfully brought to life in his absorbing drama. Through expert use of language and a fair amount of gentle humour he shows that this spirited go-getter was also a person of great compassion. He has created a work which not only celebrates the life of a forgotten South African hero but also highlights the role played by so many strong woman in the development of the country.

Kumseela Naidoo is extremely impressive in the role of Dr Gonum. She understands her character perfectly and is commanding in its translation. Also of particular note is a delightful cameo performance by Lihle Dlomo of the Nurse who assists Dr. Gonum and cares deeply for her well-being. Others in this very competent cast are Rajesh Gopie and Jayshree Parasuraman.

The detailed and functional sets were designed by Sarah Roberts. These certainly enhanced the action and were very effective, apart from a badly creaking door. I suspect that liberal use would have been made of an oil can before the next performance. The production also features music by Guy Buttery and choreography and dance by Sivani Chinappan.

Botoo makes a significant contribution to the Playhouse Company’s South African Woman’s Arts Festival. It sends out a strong message to a society still plagued by so many gender issues.

Performances of Botoo will take place at the Playhouse Loft Theatre on August 15, 16 and 17 at 20h00 with a matinee performance on August 17 at 15h00. Tickets R100 (R35 students) are available from the Playhouse Company Box office at 031 369 9540 and 031 369 9596 or through Computicket.  – Keith Millar