District Six writer Alex La Guma wielded the colossal power of his pen, unleashing the full force of the apartheid state. He suffered countless arrests, terrifying torture and had to flee into exile with his family. Despite this he was a powerful activist as well as a prolific writer and artist, producing award winning novels, essays, radio scripts, journalism, cartoon strips and even travelogues. But why have so many South Africans forgotten him, or not even heard of him?
Apartheid carved a hole in the heart of South African literature. Alex La Guma strides into that gap with the force of a Colossus. But who was this literary genius who was driven from his home country? Who won countless awards all over the world? Who lies buried in the Heroes Acre of a Cuban cemetery?
Dance of the La Gumas; Revolution, Rumba & Romance – starring Rehane Abrahams and Elton Landrew – tells the gripping story of a heritage that was buried by the brutality of the apartheid state. Forgetting this literary giant is tantamount to forgetting how great we are as a nation.
Elton Landrew (Suidooster, David Kramer’s Danger In the Dark and All Who Pass) and Rehane Abrahams (Best Actress, Fleur du cap Awards Womb of Fire, Dans van die Watermeid and Cissy Gool) were recently seen in the TV series Arendsvlei together. Jacques Theron (Nicola Hanekom’s award-winning trilogy Lot, Betésda and Babbel as well as Moeder Moed) plays the security policeman with the chilling name of ‘Spyker’ van Wyk. Warrant Officer Hernus JP van Wyk was notorious for extreme forms of torture.
This new work by Basil Appollis and Sylvia Vollenhoven – opening at Artscape on April 9th – merges powerful performance with sound and video artistry to tell a historic story that has extensive contemporary relevance. It is a work that ensures we do not forget Alex La Guma and lose ourselves in the process. Dance of the La Gumas is a collaboration between the Artscape Theatre Centre and the District Six Museum.
Born in District Six on 20th February 1925 Justin Alexander La Guma was the son of the prominent trade unionist and Communist Party leader, Jimmy La Guma. The hallmark of Alex La Guma’s career is his fiction, mostly based on the lives of ordinary people and their daily fight to survive. As an activist artist he had one driving passion, to see a liberated South Africa where the oppression of apartheid and the exploitation of capitalism was dealt a death blow.
“La Guma’s literature is timeless and universal because it reminds us at every turn that real change comes from the authenticity and struggles of the working classes. His stories are like prescient warnings that the ‘victory’ of capitalism comes at a great cost. The elegance and style of his writing makes him stand head and shoulders above his contemporaries. Yet as a nation we hardly know him ,” says Director Basil Appollis.
Dance of the La Gumas follows the tumultuous journey of Alex and his dynamic wife Blanche – a midwife, activist and diplomat – who roamed the world with their two sons Eugene and Barto taking the fight for justice in South Africa to far flung corners of the globe. And throughout it all their love for each other and their joie de vivre – the dancing, the singing and passionate living – shines through. Their story is truly one of Revolution, Rumba and Romance.
The memories, stories and harrowing experiences are brought to life with music, dance and poetic accounts, using La Guma’s own writing. The play explores their early days in District Six when Alex and Blanche were young sweethearts, to their underground work for the Communist Party and his life as a Treason Trialist. Then comes the heartbreak of exile, the strangeness of London and finally a diplomatic posting in Cuba. The last dance of this heroic love story happens in Havana in October 1985 when Alex dies of a heart attack.
Alex’s widow Blanche La Guma who currently lives in Cape Town, and several real characters in our heroes’ lives are in ‘conversation’ with the theatre audience and the actors, using the graphic design artistry of Kirsti Cumming (The Life and Times of Michael K). The lighting is by Faheem Bardien.
Performances are at the Artscape Arena Theatre from 9th to 23rd April 2022, Tuesday to Fridays at 7 pm and on Saturdays at 1 pm and 7 pm. Tickets are R80 per person available through Computicket 086 191-58000 and 021 421-7695. Age restriction: No under 13’s. www.artscape.co.za and www.districtsix.co.za