Satirical take on do-gooders

Frances Sholto Douglas, Katlego Lebogang and Daniel Barney Newton in Delela. PICTURE: Mark Wessels

Tiisetso Mashifane wa Noni writes and directs Delela, a new South African play on “do-gooders behaving badly”, to be staged at the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio, from Wednesday September 6 to Saturday September 16, at 8pm, with Saturday matinees, at 3pm.

Delela is a word of Nguni origin and means to be disrespectful, cheeky, rude and out of line.

The play follows the story of The Strauss-Smith Foundation, one of South Africa’s oldest and wealthiest private charitable foundations, as they embark on an ambitious “transformation and diversity” project. The transformation project, which is managed by the heirs to the Strauss-Smith family fortune (played by Daniel Barney Newton and Frances Sholto-Douglas), proves tumultuous when a new diversity hire (played by Katlego Lebogang) challenges the family’s sense of responsibility towards the project and a public relations disaster ensues.

“In a world where being perceived as a good person is the ultimate social currency, I thought it would be interesting to explore the image-washing that giving back/charity work does, especially in a country like South Africa, with its history and the socio-economic legacy it has left behind,” says Mashifane wa Noni.

“Charity and aid initiatives do back-breaking work in martyring the effects of horrific legacies and ideologies. On a large scale, look at what image-washing has done for the British royal family (because one can ignore the legacies of colonisation and slavery when you’re the patron of hundreds of charities?). On a smaller, more personal scale, if you put in your 67 minutes on Mandela Day, what more do people expect you to do?”

Initially about gender-based violence, Delela was first developed with a performed reading that was supported by the Baxter theatre in 2021 and after mulling over the feedback from the reading, Mashifane wa Noni decided to re-write the play with a focus on vanity philanthropy after watching an episode of Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act titled, Why Billionaires Won’t Save Us. In that episode, the stand-up comedian dissects how the ultra-wealthy use philanthropy to distract from the injustices on which they build their fortunes. This new subject matter allowed Mashifane wa Noni to shift the form and genre of the play from a linear play performed as a drama to a satire that is performed in a twisty loop.

Tickets cost from R120 to R180 through Webtickets or Pick n Pay stores.