The story of a farm murder that rocked SA’s Rainbow Nation myth heads to Market Theatre stages

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

In recent years South Africa’s foundation was rattled and the dream of a Rainbow Nation where everyone is equal before the law and where all racial groups would live in peaceful co-existence was shattered. Instead to some, it increasingly felt like a dream  suddenly turned into a nightmare as the reality of  racial divisions that still exist dawned. It is a terrible event that shook the nation’s belief in racial unity and harmony. The myth of a rainbow nation was exposed as its influence suddenly became a fading concept that nobody hardly remembered at the very moment the event unfolded in the North West Province of South Africa.. Instead the fractured nature of the country was elevated by the tragic event and racial polarisation amplified. Only the very optimistic still held onto the myth of a country united in its diversity in the aftermath of what happened.

That event was the murder of a farm worker in the North West Province by the son of a farmer with the assistance of his friends (they were found guilty and later acquitted on appeal). The farm worker was allegedly found stealing maize from a farm that belonged to his father.

After this incident, many asked the relevant question of whether a few maize cobs were worth someone’s life, and that is if it was even true that the farm worker indeed did steal. Maize can be planted in the next season, but life once lost cannot be brought back to life..

The fact that the person who committed the murder was white, and the person who was murdered was black, enraged people, even more. After all, the relationship between farm workers who are almost always predominantly black and poor, and the farm bosses, who are almost always predominantly white, is not a balanced one. Their world is not that of equals in a mutually beneficial relationship.  For one, the farmers in this often antagonistic but essential relationship, are wealthier and more powerful than the workers. Since the time of colonialism and land dispossession, the relationship between a farm worker and a farm owner has always been fraught with the risk of an explosion going off at some stage.

That story of violence and murder is now captured in a stage play, written recently and which has received impressive critical acclaim by those that have seen it, both here in South Africa and in Europe where it enjoyed a reading session.

But of course we all know that the past two years have been difficult years for the arts sector in general and theatre in particular due to the Covid-19 restrictions that were  activated to control the spread of infection in the population..

The point is, even though this play found its way onto the stages of two theatres abd a number of other places, such as festivals, in South Africa in the past two years, it did not enjoy full public attendance because of the restrictions. And now that the restrictions have been eased, allowing venues to fill up audiences up to 50% of their capacity, this play will hopefully find decent patronage as this is an important play that one needs to watch, especially those seeking to understand the complexities of racial relationships in post apartheid South Africa.

This is especially so when one casts their gaze on race relations in this country, that are still problematic, 28 years after democracy and the Rainbow Nation phrase was coined by Bishop Tutu and embodied and embedded in former President Nelson Mandela’s reconciliation project.

However because of the problematic character of race relations in contemporary South Africa, the Rainbow Nation idea is increasingly being questioned by some, and incidents such as this farm murder are not helping the situation.

The Red on the Rainbow is written and directed by Monageng Vice Motshabi. The play raises questions on how far have we come in recognising the humanity of black people in this Country since 1994. Coligny ‘sunflower’ case tells us white lives matter more than black lives in small farm towns in South Africa. These gruesome events routinely remind us of the abundant violence that has come to characterise our society.

Monageng is the Standard Bank Young Artist Award Winner for Theatre 2017. His most recent play, The Red on the Rainbow was adapted to a short film by Label Noir, which was screened with a reading of sections of the play at the Maxim Gorky Theatre, Berlin in 2020. The experience was supported by the Literarisches Colloquium of Berlin(LCB), who also supported the writing process. The play, now titled The Red on the Rainbow, had its South African premier at the Soweto Theatre, as part of the Arts Alive Johannesburg International Arts Festival 2021. The play was then presented at the South African State Theatre, Jika Performing Arts College, in Botshabelo and at the Northern Cape Theatre.

The Red on the Rainbow follows the aftermath of the death of a young man on a maize farm at the hands of a farmer’s son and his friends. The play explores how time seems to remain frozen, picture style, in an unending apartheid-ghost-dance. How with each dreary step into the future, reality seems to loop, stoop and Reloop, forever trapping the amper- people of these towns in a cartoonish and feverish attempt to leap into the much lauded blissful change that our country’s simunye moment is said to have unleashed for all.

Starring in this gut wrenching and masterful production is a talented ensemble featuring Barileng Thato Malebye, Dambuza Nqumashe, Thapelo Mohapi, Tshireletso Nkoane and Xolile Gama supported by award winning musicians in Sydney Mavundla and Volley Nchabeleng.

The Red on the Rainbow is a powerful vehicle that encourages people everywhere to strengthen and consolidate their voices against racism, to mobilise against all forms and manifestations of racial discrimination and injustice, and to ensure a safe environment through artistic excellence.

South Africa is born out of a painful past of racial segregation under apartheid government unfortunately it has not successfully transitioned to the dream on a Rainbow Nation!

The Market Theatre remains at the forefront of South African theatre, actively encouraging new works that continue to reach international stages and promote riveting dialogue for audiences.


Writer and Director                                               Monageng Vice Motshabi

Lighting Designer                                       Hlomohang Mothetho                                         

Costume Designer                                     Natalie Paneng

Choreographer                                           Mandla Mngwevu

Sound Designer                                         

Set Designer

Stage Manager


Sydney Mavundla

Volley Nchabeleng

Cast Members:

Barileng Thato Malebye

Dambuza Nqumashe

Thapelo Mohapi

Tshireletso Nkoane

Xolile Gama

Season:                                             Wednesday 20 April – Sunday 1 May 2022 

Venue:                                                           Mannie Manim 

Performance times:                                   Tuesday – Saturday @19h00 and Sunday @15h15

Ticket prices:                                               Tuesday – Thursday R90

Friday – Saturday R150

Sunday – R130

.The Red on the Rainbow will open on Wednesday 20 April running till  Sunday 1 May 2022  in the Mannie Manim  Theatre at the Market Theatre complex in Newtown, Johannesburg.

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