The Mother of all Eating … and the looting continues!

Today it is almost impossible to defend the position that the former liberators are the main characters in this hard hitting play by Zakes Mda about contemporary South Africa, and how deep corruption is in society.

By Edward Tsumele

Corruption is certainly a curse in the world, and whenever it takes place, it is unfortunately the most vulnerable that pay the price while the elite get away with murder, for the lack of a better word.

Though corruption itself is a world-wide scourge, it is mostly in Africa where it expresses itself in especially crude terms and its devastation most acutely felt. This is so simply because even though the continent is rich with minerals and other natural resources, these God-given resources tend to benefit a few in society, often the political and business elites, while leaving the poor, the vulnerable and those not politically not connected, jostling for the crumbs while the looters and their families are living it large. This unfortunately happens often at the expense and exclusion of those that need those resources the most.

It is against this background that those that love theatre now that at Level 3 theatres are allowed to operate, must be feeling excited that one of the smartest plays to deal with corruption, will once more grace the stages of the Market Theatre. The last time it graced these stages, and fortunately it was way back before the pandemic of Covid-19, those of us who were lucky to watch the play, were made uncomfortable by witnessing  corruption being portrayed in a way that never fails to make a viewer angry about the scourge of corruption in society.

The Mother of All Eating starring Thulani Nyembe and Vusi Kunene images Thandile Zwelibanzi

This play, The Mother of all Eating…and the looting continues, was penned donkey years ago, and was first staged in neighbouring Lesotho. However the issue are too close home to just think of the play as only passing a moral judgment on Lesotho. Unfortunately the plays depicts issues of corruption that many will easily point out are very much part of the South African society that we have since become since the advent of democracy.

There is no way of ignoring this play for the South African audience. This is especially so looking closely at recent developments in recent years in South Africa, involving the political and business elites’ shenanigans, especially  when one looks at State Capture skeletons that are bring revealed at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry. In fact to be honest, people have now stopped being shocked by the revelations  of brazen malfeasance emanating from the Zondo Commission.

And it is therefore a welcome development that a team of competent theatre makers have been assembled for this production. Contemporary and highly creative theatre directors, Khayelihle Dom Gumede and Phala Ookeditse Phala, tackle this  30 year old timeless playThe Mother of All Eating written by prolific playwright Zakes Mda. The play will be staged at the Market Theatre as part of the 45 years celebration from 16 March – 11 April 2021.

Mda’s satirical masterpiece set in Maseru, Lesotho (and first performed at the Sechaba Hall of the Victoria Hotel in Maseru in 1992),explores the debilitating culture of corruption and greed known as ‘eating’. A culture which has become synonymous with corrupt state officials who enrich themselves by abusing government funds.

Although The Mother of all Eating is over 30 years old, it remains as tragically relevant today as when it was first staged. Mda meticulously penned a seminal take on how systemised corruption, becomes normalised and embedded, how it imposes a steep cost on society, easily dwarfing that of street crime. He reveals how an emphasis on the individual as evildoer misses the point that systems and individuals are mutually reinforcing.

The Mother of All Eating starring Thulani Nyembe and Vusi Kunene images Thandile Zwelibanzi

Mda’s timeless classic centres on a character called ‘The Man’, the principal secretary to a government minister. The Man is corrupt to the core, and has enriched himself as he has moved through the ranks of government. The play exposes the catastrophic effects of greed and the tragic effects that accompany unchecked corruption.

Wilfully performed by South African legends, Vusi Kunene and Thulani Nyembe, this contemporary take is an exhibition of every facet of the classic stage actor. A visual and narrative feast that will have audiences confounded by ironic laughter and melancholic reflection as the play peals away at the disease and dis-ease of the global themes of greed, corruption and classism. While the play is a triumph on stage, it speaks to our fundamental failure to heed the warnings and lessons, etched in the classic narrative of the abuse of power.

Dom has had the great fortune of directing over a dozen professional productions for the stage include the award-winning production, ‘Crepuscule’, co-director of ‘Milk and Honey’ and co-directing of the acclaimed ‘Tsotsi: The Musical’. He was also the Theatre Curator for the Inaugural season of ‘The Centre for The Less Good Idea’ Founded by William Kentridge. He is also an internationally published academic and playwright. 

Phalais the Animateur at The Centre for the Less Good Idea, an interdisciplinary incubator space for the arts, based in Maboneng, Johannesburg. He isa multi-award-winning storiyer in the form of a theatre-maker and director whose works have won awards in South Africa, USA, Czech Republic and Australia.

There is no silver bullet for fighting corruption. South Africa has been riddled with corruption scandals  since the days of apartheid to the current dispensation. The current inquiries into State Capture andPPE’s misappropriation illustrate the insurmountable financial mismanagement and corruption that cripples the government’s capability to deliver services to its citizens.  It is therefore a pity that theatre lovers have to celebrate the coming back on stage of this play about corruption since it is so relevant.

If we became the society that so many of our liberators, such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Walter Sisulu, Albertina Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Denis Goldberg and others had envisioned when they first decided to fight for our liberation, we would not need to celebrate  the coming back on stage for a play such as The Mother of All Eating.

Who ever thought even in their wildest dreams that  one time liberators, now firmly in power, would be the ones that are taking the country down the drain due to their greed and rampant corruption? The reality though is that they are and like President Cyril Ramaphosa pointed out in rcent years when he wrote a ltter to ANC branches …corruption has many players, granted, but in the dock for trial, it is the very same Movement that was the most instrumental in the liberation of the country that is Charged Number 1.

This is really sad, especially considering the fact that it took us only 27 years to be in this deep morass of corruption, stinking right up to the tree tops. In fact it has now become almost impossible to defend the position that the former liberators are the main characters in this hard hitting play about contemporary South Africa, and how deep corruption is in society.

So help me to welcome on stage, the Mother of all Eating.


Writer                                           Zakes Mda
Co – Directors                  Khayelihle Dom Gumede and Phala Ookeditse Phala 
Set Designer                                 Onthatile Matshidiso

Assistant Set Designer                 Antonie Adams
Lighting Designer                         Nomvula Molepo
Costume co-ordinator                  Phumelele Dlamini
Stage manager                              Zandile Mawane

Vusi Kunene
Thulani Nyembe

Volley Nchabeleng

Age Recommendation                          13
Season:                                                     Tuesday 16 March – 11 April 2021
Venue:                                                       The Barney Simon Theatre

Performance times:                  Tuesday – Saturday @18h30 and Sunday @15h00

Ticket prices:         Tuesday – Thursday R90.00 Friday – Saturday R150.00 and Sunday R130.00

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