In the best traditions of deeply political South African theatre in which entertainment and the social milieu intertwine without the interference of didactic message-making, there is Khongolose Khommanding Khomissars.
Written by J.Bobs Tshabalala about 12 years ago, this highly-contemporary and much-needed satire has been published, but never been properly staged – until now.
The Standard Bank Young Artist for theatre, Theatre Duo Billy Langa and Mahlatsi Mokgonyana, are directing the premier of this scathing, riotus show at the National Arts Festival tomorrow, Friday 30 June, at 6.30pm.
That we get the chance to see this play produced properly with the resources that come on the back of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, is, without understating it, fantastic.
But why, when Joburg-based theatremakers and performers Langa and Mokgonyana could stage almost any play, including one they devised themselves as they have done with great success in the past, did they choose to stage a play that only a minority of the minority of theatre goers know of?
Partly because it has never been seen, explain the duo. And also because their collaboration with J.Bobs stretches back years. And also – and here’s the crux – this is the right time for the work.
Langa and Mokgonyana speak as one, and when they say the right time for the work, they mean next year’s crucial general elections.
Khongolose Khommanding Khomissars was written at the rise of the tenderpreneur, when corruption was taking root within the state. Together with J.Bobs, the duo have tweaked the text in places to pierce the heart of the current darkness. That the play is even more relevant a decade later is a shocking indictment on our politics and our society.
J.Bobs, name Jefferson, who is also a Standard Bank Young Artist winner, which led to the eviscerating Seen Pha Kwa J.B presented virtually during lockdown, is a poet, a Hip-Hop master, a word-spitting AK47.
“An interesting feature in the piece (Khongolose Khommanding Khomissars) is the way J.Bobs uses language and humour, how it can deceive,” says Langa.
And this is the beauty of the play: the heart of darkness is hilarious. Humour seduces us into the basement, the horror sinks in later, when our own synapses connect the pieces and the light flicks on.
The word play, the puns, the metaphors, the loops of language used make for a play that keeps us riveted as links fall into place, but this also makes it tricky to stage.
“It’s not a safe text,” say the duo. It demands timing and the correct stresses. “You’re forced to get it right at a textual level.”
With support from Market Theatre, Standard Bank, and the National Arts Festival, the Theatre Duo that is Langa and Mokgonyana have taken the opportunity to get it right and present a play that puts the venal, money-grubbing, greedy, crafty, brutal, and ultimately evil manipulations of our political elite – those who scurried away from the Zondo commission like cockroaches when you flick the light on at midnight – on display.
There is little doubt the Theatre Duo, who have nothing but praise in their trail, having created and performed the sublime Tswalo, as being lauded for their staging of Eugène Ionesco’s avante-garde, absurdist Rhinoceros, will do justice to Khongolose Khommanding Khomissars.
With the reference to the pseudo-cadres and politically connected businessmen right in the title, the figures responsible for the sewage running down our streets, the cholera in our drinking water, the complete lack of drinking water, the potholes, the loadshedding, the mind-boggling unemployment rate, the breakdown at critical hospitals, the plethora of unnecessary human suffering caused by callous self-serving negligence, will be hauled to the court of public view – the stage. Justice is about to be served.
Get your tickets to the National Arts Festival highlight here.
Produced by: The Market Theatre*
Writer: J Bobs Tshabalala
Co-Directors: Billy Langa & Mahlatsi Mokgonyana
Assistant Director: Ketsia Velaphi
Lighting and Set Design: Denis Hutchinson
Costume Designer: Lethabo Bereng
Projection Design: Nikki Pilkington
Sound Design: Jannous Aukema
Movement Direction: Ernest ‘Ginger’ Baleni
Lebohang Masimola as QINISO NXUMALO
Anelisa Phewa as SQALO HOKO
Tshireletso Nkoane as TSEBO RAPOO
Xolile Benjamin Gama as RONALD MULAUDZI
Moagi Benjamin Kai as MXOLISI MTHEMBU
Photography by Lulu Ezra.
* This production is made possible through generous funding from the Eyesizwe Mining Development Trust.
— This preview is paid for by the theatremakers.