At the Out The Box Festival March, 2010

 And there he is. Paul Kruger, who looks as if he’s just stepped out of the grave, complete with top hat and tails, is giving a sleeping or dead woman his version of the kiss of life.  This involves ripping a large bouquet of flowers from her deathly grip.  She opens her heavily made up eyes and starts hopping around; her Voortrekker kappie wildly flapping about.  From her severely torn broekie a penis shyly peeps out at the audience.

Peter van Heerden plays a character which I’ve named Magda van Bliksem but she really could be a Prudent or a Rachel or a Herman.  What follows is a most bizarre and fascinating journey throughout the Hiddingh campus as van Bliksem chases her man, the top and tails character, played with humour and pathos by the wildly bearded Andre Laubscher. 

Van Bliksem slips into a frock made of enormous metal rings, a metaphor for the chastity belt, and proceeds to climb up the side of the Little Theatre.  There is a beating, a braai and a drunken and abusive old South African husband in the mix and it’s all very odd. 

On the surface the actors appear to be making a statement about female subservience and male perversion in a white patriarchal society.  Van Heerden is known for his performance art that challenges and explores the role of the white male in our contemporary society, so perhaps the three males are metaphors for certain breeds of male in South Africa; the resurrected Vooortrekker in Laubscher’s character, van Bliksem as oppression turning around and devouring itself, and the very much alive beer –swilling- boerewors- braaing sexist white male.

 However the performance really got me thinking about a time in this country, not so long ago, when women were seen as little more than breeding machines to keep their husband’s bloodline going.  And this archaic practice of giving away your surname in favour of your husband’s – most bizarre.   

Andre Laubscher and friends in an imprompto performance on his farm.

Andre Laubscher and friends in an imprompto performance on his farm.

Which really got me thinking about how female oppression is often thinly disguised as love, and how marriage and religion often reinforces the woman to be subservient to her husband, and to obey her jealous god.  

Which really, really got me thinking about black oppression, of the female kind, and how strong a metaphor Flowers for my Flesh, which it’s three white male characters, really is for the silently suffering black female in South Africa. 

Which in a very bizarre way got me thinking about how my parents and the Dutch Reformed church ‘lovingly’ sheltered me and my brother from the ‘blacks’.  “Love thy neighbour,” was said out loud every Sunday. But the unspoken words, ‘as long as they are white,’ still echoes in my mind.  Dialogue on the subject of blacks was taboo.   And it wasn’t until the late nineties that the first coloured face appeared in the church.  But by then it was too late for me.

Whether van Heerdens’ performance piece is really about emasculation, the Voortrekkers, sexism or racism, is left up to the spectator. For me its success lies in the inner dialogue and memories it stirred up within me and how grateful I am for having an independent brain which has lovingly sheltered me from the herd. 

As I am sitting here writing this, van Bliksem is being beaten by a dude wearing the Old South African Flag on his shirt, and the angry red welts will mark just another day at the office for van Heerden.


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