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Monday, March 16, 2015


Given the theatrics at the recent State of the Nation Address, there seems no better time to be staging Love, Crime and Johannesburg; a highly relevant and topical investigation of our ‘new’ democratic South Africa.

So believes the drama department at the Theatre – St Anne’s College which will stage this production by the acclaimed Junction Avenue Theatre Company this week.

Created through workshopping at the Market Theatre in 1999, the cast worked with the real life stories of three high profile South Africans: firstly, the people’s poet, Mzwakhe Mbuli, who was arrested in 1997, accused of robbing a bank. It seemed ridiculous to everyone. He had been a powerful and hypnotic figure who performed poetry at mass rallies and funerals throughout the bitter 1980s in front of tens and thousands of people.

This story was compounded when Robert McBride, a controversial soldier of the struggle, death row prisoner and then a member of parliament in South Africa’s first democratic government, was arrested, accused of gunrunning, and held in a Mozambican jail for six months without trial. How was this possible? Some claimed he had joined the ranks of criminals running guns into KwaZulu Natal. Others said he had infiltrated the operations on behalf of the secret service. Or was there a secret secret service in the ‘new’ democratic South Africa to spy on the old secret service? The media was full of such speculations.

Then when Colin Chauke, former Umkhonto We Sizwe commander, was arrested and accused of masterminding the bank heists that were plaguing Johannesburg, speculation was that members of MK, the former guerrilla army of the struggle, were now putting their skills to work robbing banks and organizing crime. Chauke, a high profile prisoner, managed to escape a high security prison, and while on the run from the law, lived a glamorous lifestyle partying with cabinet ministers and moving freely in and out the country. Yet when he was finally arrested, his girlfriend did not even have the money to pay the rent on her small Benoni flat. Where was all the money?

These three real-life stories fuelled the imagination of the workshop players. Could these extraordinary events be interpreted into characters to tell a story so central to the tensions and contradictions of post-apartheid South Africa and its ‘new’ democratic government?

The workshop players created the play in true Epic Style by injecting songs and commentary into the action. As political theatre for social change, there was a strong desire to portray the complexity of the issues at hand while simultaneously allowing the audience to reflect on its meaning. Love, Crime and Johannesburg will be staged true to Brechtian style with songs, audio-visual scene titles and projections contrasting contemporary media to the events and characters of the play, and with a strong ensemble cast.

Performances of Love, Crime and Johannesburg will take place from March 16 to 20 at 19h30 at The Theatre – St Anne’s College in Hilton. Tickets R60 (R40 concessions) booked on 031 343 6100.