DR E V Rapiti, Kenwyn
Athol Fugard’s play, Painted Rocks, playing at The Fugard Theatre is an outstanding play that makes him a raconteur, par excellence.
The play deals with the very sensitive contemporary issue of racial anger, resentment and even hate in a very delicate and, at times, forthright manner, like only Fugard knows how to. The play should be compulsory viewing for all South Africans of all colours and persuasions.
The story revolves around the relationship between a childless Afrikaner couple and their black worker and his little grandchild.
The elderly black worker resented his subservient dependence on his white “baas” but relied on them for his sustenance.
He worked on the farm which produced all types of vegetables, fruits and even tended to his “madam’s” flower garden.
The white madam, a very devout Christian, felt that she was doing her black servant a favour by giving him a job and a dilapidated shack while she lived in a mansion with just her husband.
The old man cursed having to carry a dompas in the land of his origin, but his madam felt otherwise about this piece of slave document and reprimanded him for letting it lie about on the ground. The only solace and peace that the old black man could get was to paint flowers on the rocks.
The little grandson was not going to accept any of this false patronage from the white madam, who regarded the little boy as an upstart that needed a good thrashing to bring him to his senses.
The play starts off in the era of white domination and moves into our new-found democracy.
Much of the interesting dialogue takes place in the democratic era between the little boy, who returns to the farm as an adult qualified as a teacher, and the aging, bitter Afrikaner woman on the farm, armed with a tiny pistol to protect her from becoming just another statistic of brutal farm killings.
She grudgingly accepts that she has to address the educated black man by his correct name and not by his derogatory Afrikaner nickname at the young man’s insistence.
She, like so many of her ilk, strongly believed that the Afrikaner took no one’s land; they worked for it. She blamed the young black man’s government for doing nothing about the farm killings and tells him the country is going to be like Zimbabwe. She blamed the modern constitution that took away the death penalty for all the killings.
If he has been spending most of his time overseas, Fugard can be forgiven for not being aware of the many other unprovoked acts racism that have damned our country very recently, such as Penny Sparrow’s reference to black people as monkeys; the unprovoked pummelling of a helpless black petrol attendant by two burly white men in Gauteng and the hair-raising issue of black pupils hair in formerly white model C schools.
The play ended on a very fitting note with Fugard’s wisdom: “We must try to understand one another in order to live in peace and harmony”.
As we all rose to give the superb cast a standing ovation for an outstanding performance, I silently hoped that the play succeeded in convincing the very elderly white audience, many of whom must have been guilty of damning human rights violations against their black employees, that they must learn to see black people as humans and stop sowing the seeds of resentment towards black people in the little minds of their innocent grandchildren, who will have to live to face the consequences of such parochial teaching long after they are gone.