the man in the green jacket: a theatre play on marikana massacre

A tale of two cities – London and Marikana – circa August 2012.

The former is hosting the Olympic Games which leave locals annoyed at the traffic and money spent to host the spectacle.

Over at Marikana, in South Africa’s platinum belt, a mining strike leads to the massacre of 34 miners while 78 escape with injuries.

Fast-forward to 2014 and yet another tale of two cities.

We are still in London, Jermyn Street Theatre on the West End to be exact, and the South African story has shifted southwards to the Grahamstown Arts Festival in the Eastern Cape.

A play by South African writer and director Eliot Moleba called The Man in the Green Jacket is what unites the two cities this time around because it is being performed simultaneously in both cities.

Grahamstown Arts Festival is the biggest festival for the arts in South Africa and Moleba is showcasing the play not as part of the main acts but on the fringes of the festival.

In London the play is being staged as part of the month-long South Africa Season which ends on July 12 and it is being directed by Roy Alexander Weise.

Rather than focusing on events of the strike itself, Moleba says he decided to focus on the relationship between three generations of Ledwaba men: father, John, his son Oupa and grandson, Tumi.

John, a former mineworker knowingly watches as his son Oupa, a miner, attends secret meeting on the mine in preparation for a strike.

Moleba says he chose not to mention the strike until the end of the play because people already know most of the details.

“The strike is never mentioned until after the first 45 minutes of the play. But it’s implied. We see the son always coming home running from somewhere, as if he is being chased. As if he is hiding from something. And is always wearing his green jacket.”

He says the green jacket marks Oupa’s presence.

“So in the last, final moments of the play, when he has an argument with his father. The father stops him as he is about to leave the house.

“The father tells him ‘don’t forget your jacket’… and he takes the jacket. The next time the father sees it, it’s got blood stains on it and it’s torn. And he knows what happened to his son.”

In an email, Weise explains that he was attracted to the story because of its boldness.

“The Man In The Green Jacket is bold. It doesn’t apologise for being hard-hitting and is effortless in it’s humour and charm (a bit like Eliot to be honest). It speaks volumes about the state of not only South Africa but the world. The issues of badly distributed power and wealth are ones that we see everywhere: Spain, Ukraine, Brazil, London…Everywhere. The power to speak politically from one corner of the world and touch many others in a very private and personal way is quite rare to find in a story and this play does this.”

Weise admits that news on the massacre crinkled in slowly as Londoners were preoccupied with the 2012 Summer Olympics at the time.

“We had traffic all the time and were just annoyed about how long it took to get from one place to another. Some of us were also annoyed about the amount of money that was being pumped into specific areas but nevertheless it didn’t ever get so serious or really touch the surface because overall we were so “happy” to be the host nation. It disturbed me that we didn’t even bat an eyelid when we heard of the shootings in our news headlines and just wanted to hear about who had won the gold for rowing or equestrian .”

Moleba was similarly annoyed because the local coverage of the massacre focused mostly on the detail of the shooting itself and not necessarily on who the miners were or what happens to their families.

While watching video footage of the massacre, he caught sight of the man in the green jacket and wondered about his story and this eventually led him to write the play in 2012.

He says he is looking forward to seeing how both shows will be received.

“We really look forward to seeing how two cities will come alive with one show.”

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