Magazine 2015
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
Sujatha Rao  
This research paper focuses on Athol Fugard post apartheid plays Playland and My Life which confront the  
truth about the traumatic past in order to promote forgiveness and reconciliation between the victims and  
perpetrators of violence and the themes shift from racial focus to the multidimensional human existence The  
paper explores Fugard’s introspection into human emotions and his futuristic technique arising from his  
social context.  
Key Words : Apartheid, Dreams, Forgiveness, Human Emotions, Justice, Reconciliation, Sins, Truth.  
South African texts which were published after the democratic elections in 1994 are commonly referred to  
as the Post – apartheid literature. Post – apartheid writing is marked by an abrupt shift away from racial  
focus towards a wider concern with the multi-dimensional human existence.  
The aftermath of apartheid has brought in new problems of the society into focus ranging from economically  
sensitive to gender conscious literature and representation of racial divisions and clan difference account  
to South African post – apartheid.  
Writers like Athol Fugard and Ngema took bold themes like the truth and reconciliation to highlight the  
importance of confrontation the truth about the traumatic past in order to promote forgiveness and  
reconciliation between the victims and perpetrators of violence.  
Athol Fugard’s name is synonymous with the South African theatre. His plays set in South Africa reflect  
the politics of race. As a white, he was drawn into the struggle against the apartheid. Despite being a  
white, English speaking playwright his plays has been a great success. He tried to highlight the human  
suffering in a fragmented society under the pressure of South African society. His play The Blood Knot  
established him as a playwright. Fugard’s plays after 1990 reflect hope that the past can be lived with, if  
not erased. The post – apartheid of Fugard projected the continued hope, fear in the New South African.  
There was a paradigm shift from racial focus to the multidimensional human existence.  
The South African anti-apartheid playwright, Athol Fugard, is acclaimed worldwide as the world’s greatest  
living playwright. More importantly, his work is lauded for his insight and in-depth of characterization and  
sensitization to racial discrimination and injustice.  
Athol Fugard produced his post – apartheid play, Playland (1992) which was set in play land, a mobile  
amusement park. The temporal setting of Playland in the years preceding 1990, reminds the audience  
that in South Africa 1990 was not only the end of a decade but also the beginning of a new era. The play  
Playland presents the confrontation of a Blackman and a Whiteman each in need of the other for healing  
and repentance and reflects South Africa symbolically on the brink of the dismantling of apartheid.  
The play is set in a small town Karoo. The play portrays with rapes, murder, crimes with Martinus optimistic  
hopes of a beginning of a New Era and Nelson’s Mandela’s release in 1990. It deals with the two perspectives  
of two guilt ridden characters, Martins Zoeloe, the black night watchman who suffered as a victim and  
Gideon Les Roux, the white soldier who gave up a war on account of remorse. They both meet by  
chance and confess to each other, and also to the world, about the dark secrets and horrors of their past.  
Martinus explains how he had killed a white man, Andries Jacobus de Lange, who assaulted the woman  
he loved. Gideon relieves the atrocities he witnessed during his service as a soldier in the South African  
Border War and how he used to count the dead bodies like “cabbages his father used to count in his  
backyard”. (31)  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
GIDEON: when it was all over – the shooting and screaming… I would take a deep breath, say to  
myself ‘you’re alive Gid,’ then walk around and count. I always wanted to know how many there were,  
you see ... You could take your time you see, walk around slowly and carefully and do it properly like  
my pa used to do when he counted his cabbages in the backyard... That’show I learned to count.  
Even before I was in school man I knew how to count my blessings but now it wasn’t cabbages  
anymore, it was ‘One Swapo, two Swapo, three Swapo…’my very first time I counted there were eight  
of them... Then for a long time it looked as if fifteen was going to be the record until that follow – up  
when we ambushed a whole bloody unit... and when it came time to count ...! Twenty-fucking-seven  
of them! I couldn’t believe it man. A new record! ‘Twenty seven Swapo cabbages in the garden  
daddy!’ (31)  
Martinus, in spite of his guilt, remorse and deepest faith in the Bible and the Day of Judgement, fails to  
feel sorry for the murder he had committed.  
He says:  
MARTINUS: The dominee was very sad and prayed for me. There in the cell, on his knees, he prayed  
to God make me feel sorry. But it is no good. I still don’t have that feeling. All the years I was in gaol,  
and all the years I sit here by the fire, I ask myself,’ what is it that makes a man feel sorry? Why  
doesn’t it happen inside me?’ Baas Joppie, was a prison carpenter, I was his handlanger he was  
sorry. He killed his father and he was sorry for doing it he cried all the times he told me about it. And  
Jackson Xaba-they hanged him-guilty four times for rape and murder; he told me also he was sorry.  
But me? (34)  
Provoked by Martinus if “he did not have a repentant feeling for what he did, for the men he killed”,  
Gideon responds emotionally and narrates an incident of the past when he used to load the dead bodies  
of the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) people they killed, on to the back of the lorry.  
He says that he had seen an old woman, probably the mother of one of the deceased –  
GIDEON: [....] All the time I was doing this I had a strange feeling that it reminded me of something,  
but I could not remember what it was. And the old woman was still standing there watching us. I  
couldn’t take it anymore so I started shouting and telling her to go away and while I was doing that  
suddenly it came to me, the thing I was trying to remember. (35)  
He even recounts it to an experience he faced as a child  
GIDEON: Every day me and my dad would take his fishing rod and go down to the rocks. He would  
put on some bait and throw out and then wait for the big one. My job was to catch him the small fishes  
in the rock pools for him to use as bait. So one day I catch this lekker fat little fish and I’m all excited  
and I start to cut it up and then – Here ! man, hundreds of little babies jump out of its stomach on to  
the rock. Just so big... (indicating with his fingers) ...little babies man! – they already has little black  
dots where their eyes was going to be – jumping around their on the rock. And the mother fish also,  
with her stomach hanging open where I had cut her, wagging her tail there on the rock. And I looked  
down at all of this and I knew man, I just knew that what I had done was a terrible sin. Anyway you  
looked at it, whether you believe all that stuff Heaven and Hell and God Almighty or not it makes no  
difference. What I have done was a sin. You can’t do that to a mother and her babies. I don’t care what  
it is a fish or a dog or another person, it’s wrong!... (35-36)  
The image of the “dying mother – fish with a torn stomach watching its helpless little babies dying on the  
rock, where Gideon as a boy had cut” her makes him remorseful. The feeling of sin he had recognized as  
a boy from the pain – torn eyes of the mother fish made him again see a similar kind of pain in the eyes  
of the old mother of the deceased SWAPO. His sense of guilt makes him uneasy. He makes a thorough  
search for the old woman as he wants to apologize. He says:  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
I wanted to tell her about that little boy. I wanted to tell her that he knew what was right and wrong. I  
don’t know what happened to him, what went wrong in his life, but he didn’t want to grow up to be a  
man throwing other man into a hole like rotten cabbages. He didn’t want to be me. And when I told  
her all that, I was going to ask her for forgiveness...but she was gone (A silence between the two men.  
Martinus finally understands) (36)  
This shows how sensitive people are made insensitive by the conditions. The sense of remorse Gideon  
experiences brings out his original nature as a human being. Martinus and Gideon, who meet as strangers  
come closer and Gideon puts it in a philosophical tone –  
Forget about him, man. He’s forgotten about us. It’s me and you tonight. The whole world is me and  
you. Here! Now! (anger and bitterness). Do you think I wanted it to be this way? Do you think that if  
I could have chosen the other person in my world tonight it would be you? No such luck. We’ve got  
no choices, man. I’ve got you and you’ve got me. Finish and klaar. Forgive me or kill me. That’s the  
only choice you’ve got. (37)  
Martinus also responds in a similar tone, but with all faith in Hell.  
If I forgive you then I must forgave Andries Jacobus de Lange, and if I forgive him, then I must I ask  
God to forgive me…. And then what is left? Nothing! I sit here with nothing... Tonight... Tomorrow...all  
my days and all my nights ... Nothing!  
It’s too late. (37)  
(Violent rejection.) No!  
Each has satisfied a need they both have. They listened, not because of apartheid rules have said they  
could – or should – but because of human nature. The Truth and Reconciliation commission was not set  
up until 1994, but Fugard in 1992 has already shown in the arena of a night watchman’s camp one of the  
guiding precepts of that commission : to provide an opportunity for the silenced to speak out. In the  
South Africa of 1990, Gideon is still more privileged than Martinus, but until that eve of a new year he had  
also been silenced by a guilt that is not necessarily expunged as a result of talking to this black man –  
but it is eased. In most cases the TRC was unable to fully forgive or heal the wounds inflicted by apartheid,  
but for Martinus and Gideon, their own little truth commission enabled their true feelings to be shown –  
and Fugard saw his next play as a continuation of this (2009: 245)  
Fugard clearly knows that the past cannot be erased and forgotten. Gideon will continue to be haunted  
by “that whole outside Oshakati” and Martinus will never regret his murder of de Lange, but both of them  
have, as Mary Benson astutely observes, actually listened to each other for the time, and that is something  
of a “beginning” (Benson, 141). Wertheim explained, “clearly, too, the separation, the apartheid that has  
kept the people of different races apart, will come undone not merely when the laws say so but when  
people begin to listen to one another, as human beings, not as essentialised members of different races”  
2000: e-book).  
On the other hand, Fugard’s main point seems deeply felt: that violence breeds further violence unless  
there comes a moment in which trying to balance rights and wrong is set aside for reconciliation; and in  
that sense Playland was timely written. The play is judged not for its political background but for the  
deep insights and hope for the people living in the post-apartheid time.  
My Life shows Fugard’s interest in the younger generation in South Africa and his commitment as a  
playwright to “listen to their stories” to “attune his work” to the new generation of South Africans, to the  
multi-cultured and many ranged stories of the younger generation so merely embodied in the lives of the  
five women in the play. In My Life Fugard celebrates the new South African and listens to their stories. My  
Life records the autobiographical narrative of five young South African women where these girls read,  
reflect the diaries they wrote about their families and the racial discrimination. The five girls are Eleanor  
Busi Mthimunye, Reshoketswe Maredi, Heather Leite, Riana Jacobs and Sivagaury Govinder all belonging  
to the suppressed categories under apartheid rule. “They don’t know that when I’m sad I pretend I’m  
not... even though my inside is burning with pain”. “Are you impressed with our stories because of what  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
they say about us, or maybe because of something they say about you?” In Bare Stage Mary Benson  
says “Athol was in the city, creating a play with five young women, chosen from auditions with high-  
school students. He did not intend the cast to be all-female but they had shown far greater potential than  
any of the boys. Busi and Shoki were black, Gamy Asian, Heather white and Riana of mixed race. All  
these girls belong to different races, and they sing their songs as chorus and in the play where they  
perform, involve the audience in singing too. Their voices are united into one, just as their grief is united.  
They learn their lesson from each other and seek solace, solidarity in their grief. The play finally celebrates  
the regeneration of a new South Africa. My Life is, as Mannie Manim affirms, “not great art, but it is  
certainly a sign of change at a critical moment in South African history” (2000, e-book)  
Fugard saw it as a chamber quintet for which he would interweave their stories.” An aerobics session  
frames the play (called by Fugard a recital) which is made up of stories told by the girls. The setting is  
just before the first free elections in South Africa. Fugard´s heavy collaboration with others is reminiscent  
of his work with Kani and Ntshona, but less successful.  
As in every oppressive culture, however, writers in that society had to device ways of couching their  
protest in the pleasing capsule of entertainment. All protest need not be overtly confrontational to be  
effective. Athol Fugard continues to tell his stories, be it in ‘Coming Home’ and other recent plays where  
he brought out the truth of people “searching for his own truth as he explores the truth of others”. Athol  
Fugard’s anti-apartheid missiles, even though often theatrically decorated, were no less potent. It is  
credit to “the best political dramatist writing in English today” and “perhaps the world’s most performed  
playwright writing in English today”. Though Fugard’s plays are always immersed in the politics of the  
day (apartheid and now post-apartheid), he never allows politics to affect his insight into people. Women  
occupy a dominant role in many of Fugard’s plays Fugard’s characters are similar to those found in the  
works of Tennessee Williams.  
Benson, Mary. “Athol Fugard and Barney Simon: Bare Stage, a Few Props, Great Theatre”.  
Randburg, South Africa: Raven Press. (1997)  
Fugard, Athol.  
Playland and A place with the Pigs, New York, Theatre Communication Group, 1993  
My Life and Valley Song. Johannesburg and London: Hodder and Stoughton and Witwatersrand University  
Press, 1996.  
Leshoai, B. L. “Black South African Theatre.” In Theater in Africa. Ed. Oyin Ogunba and Abiola Irele.  
Ibadan: Ibadan University Press, 1978: 115-130.  
Manim, Mannie. “Producing Fugard.” In Playland … and Other Works by Athol Fugard. Johannesburg:  
Witwatersrand University Press, 1992.  
McDonald, Marianne. “A Gift for His Seventieth Birthday: Athol Fugard’s Sorrows and Rejoicing.” Theatre  
Forum, (21) (2002):3-13.  
Wertheim, Albert. The Dramatic Art of Athol Fugard: From South Africa to the World. Bloomington, IN:  
Indiana UP. (e-book), (2000): 273.  
Dr. Sujatha Rao, Associate Professor & Head, Dept. of English, Maniben Nanavati Women;s College,