By Edward Tsumele
First a group of 10 mainly young dancers come on stage, and they start the popular baTswana traditional dance routines. After them yet another group, this time made up of 10 couples come to the centre of the stage and again dance the traditional baTswana dance.
It is after this group that a lone character comes on stage and he starts relating the history of the baTswana, one of the ethnic groups mainly found in South and Bostwana.
As the narrator tells this story, it becomes clear that the name Tswana was coined centuries ago in its original version Bechuana , adopted by this group centuries ago. It is in reference to the fact that this distinct African group appeared to look the same with the same origin with regards to their ancestors, or so the= members of this group believed.
I am at a place called Candy Lifestyle Centre in Alexandra to watch the rehearsal of a new play, titled Marangrang, written and directed by playwright Bogosi Kenneth Bolokwe. Though I am the only audience, besides the director Bolokwe and his assistant and his wife, I found myself struggling to stop smiling at different points during the rehearsal of Marangrang, which in seTswana means chaos.
And indeed chaos happens in this fictitious village some donkey years ago, where a distinct African ethnic group cal is trying to create some form of identity, complete with leadership that is elected democratically at a communal meeting.
What happens here is that the Kgosi of the baTswana, after realizing that he is advanced in age, decides this is the right time to make successions plans while he is still alive. He gathers the community to get their counsel as to who among his two eligible sons should be the leader of this group of people after his death. Good move on the part of the chief, but there is one problem though, in fact many problems.
Among his nation, there is no agreement based on the nation’s consensus as to who between Marumo, whose mother is determined that he should succeed his father ahead of his half brother, the son of the chief’s late first wife, who according to tradition of succession in this nation is the one who should take over, unless there is a serious problem with him such as suffering from mental health for example.
Another problem is that Marumo’s mother as the only surviving wife of the chief has so much influence with regards to the politics of succession, and she is so ambitious and determined to see to it that her son, Marumo becomes the chief and not Rantshope.
I am not going to spoil it for you to tell you the whole story as you will have to wait to watch the play at Joburg Theatre, on a date to be determined this May.
But for now let the playwright in his own words give you a bit of the gist of this interesting story of succession gone wrong that many will easily connect with in contemporary South Africa.
“I am a person who still believes and values traditional practices. Though there is a barrier for the love of local culture. The self hate is evident in black South Africans vas most don’t appreciate their culture and heritage. Traditional values are challenged and at worst discarded. This project aims to create a unique performance with its roots deeply embedded in local soils, accessible to people across the social spectrum. The ideal being to preserve, exhibit and promote our diverse cultures. If we allow it to be destroyed the very fabric of our society will disintegrate.
During my childhood, we had neither TVs nor access to the internet even computer games. The only source of entertainment was radio at certain times. But “maitisong” was our best as we would gather around the fire where the old men and old women kept our mouths open listening to the tales of myths, bravery of the ancient kings and wars that tore apart villages.
Marangrang is one of the stories that captured my mind since and would sincerely share it globally. Its layout still resembles the political arena existing today. The concept is imaginary and the names fictitious, yet it depicts the political greed of leaders on the continent.
The story is based on Bechuana tribe fighting for their rights and kingdom, dividing children of the same womb (Mother Africa).Where blood of the innocent blood often shed as in modern times. Expressing the African continent engulfed into wars due to dictators and politicians who are supposed to devote their lives to serve the needs of the people who put them into power, instead they succumb to visions of self grandeur. The typical African leader today clings to power at all costs, paving the way to greed and malpractice that harm people under their watch.
Political struggles in Africa are not a tale of only today. They have been active for centuries.
All characters’ names in the play are fictitious as we don’t want to harm any individual, political parties or tribes. Though the name Bechuana will be used to identify the tribe. The name Batswana is derived from Bechuana.
The setting is in an old village of Bechuana under the regime of Kgosi Kgodungwe. As kings are polygamist he had two wives. Each wife bearing a boy. The first wife Tumisang, her son Rantshope was the first born of the king. While Mmadira the second wife gave birth to a second boy Marumo. Unfortunately Tumisang passed on leaving Rantshope in his early 20s.
Then he was able to look after himself but under a watchful eye from his father and monitored by chieftains. But as the story unfolds it was discovered that Marumo was an adulterous child of the most trusted adviser of the King,” Bolokwe says about this play in his directors’ notes.
However at this stage, It is safe to say what unfolds of stage in the telling of this story of succession and the division it causes among the baTswana is captivating dance, spirited singing and good acting by a mainly young cast most of whom are drawn from the local community in Alexandra.
“We wanted to give young actors and dancers from Alexandra an opportunity to be in this musical. Who knows we might create stars out of some of them,” said Bolokwe.