My Hole My Home gives a face and voice to the homeless
Had its writer, John Ledwaba — homeless himself for some time — lived to see this production, he would be very proud
When celebrated playwright John Ledwaba died on Christmas Day in 2017, there was a memorial service for him at the Market Theatre where his talent was discovered and honed in the 1980s.
It was also the theatre where some of his plays charmed many audiences, and for which he was recognised by winning the Standard Bank Young Artist Award in 1995.
At the memorial service, Market Theatre artistic director James Ngcobo announced that Ledwaba had completed the writing of another play, My Hole My Home, before he died, and that the Market Theatre was going to stage it.
It is on at the Market’s Barney Simon Theatre, named after the late theatre director. Simon played an important role in developing Ledwaba — as he did for many artists, especially those from the townships where formal training opportunities were non-existent.
Ledwaba worked closely with another self-taught playwright, Matsemela Manaka, who also hailed from Diepkloof. Ledwaba and Manaka co-wrote the seminal theatrical production Egoli, which probed the exploitative nature of the mining industry during apartheid. It was the last show Ledwaba attended before he died.
Ledwaba was a huge presence in the 1980s and 1990s, before descending into obscurity, due partly to his alcoholism and bad temper. But before he died of cancer last year, he managed to craft a beautiful play about homelessness.
In many ways My Hole My Home demonstrates Ledwaba’s return to the glory of his early career. He confessed his demons to many people — particularly Phala Ookeditse Phala, who he hand-picked to direct his last play shortly before he died.
"This play is as much about homelessness as it is about Bra John’s tortured life," says Phala. "He was clearly a man on the mend. He actually told me during the reading of this script that his biggest challenge was anger control and alcoholism, and that he was dealing with those issues. He told me that his wife had played an important role in his new path. She had made a person out of a monster."
Phala says Ledwaba had become quite spiritual as part of his rehabilitation journey, and this is well reflected in My Hole My Home.
According to the Market Theatre’s website, the play is about the plight of two homeless men living on the streets of Johannesburg, for whom the streets provide roots, identity, security, a sense of belonging and a place of emotional wellbeing.
Ledwaba was inspired to write it after reading Phakama Mbonambi’s Sunday Times article about two homeless men, Silence Mninzi and Elijah Simama, who were living in two neighbouring holes in a park in Linden. "He puts human faces to the struggles homeless people encounter. It is a play about their courage, determination and ability to confront the scary past patterns of misfortune" and eradicate their bad luck.
The acting of Mandla Gaduka and Seneliso Dladla in this two-hander is beautiful. Under Phala’s superb directing, the actors manage to get into the shoes of homeless people in a remarkable way. They make audiences see homeless people as not just a problem, but human beings that have, for one reason or another, fallen off the social radar. Through this play, one is left with no choice but to empathise with those that are homeless and not blindly judge them, as if often the case.
The play would undoubtedly have made Ledwaba proud if he had lived to witness the magic on stage.
My Hole My Home is sponsored by the Department of Arts and Culture’s incubation programme that gives emerging and mid-level directors, designers, production managers and actors opportunities to work with professional mentors. The programme emphasises developing home-grown content.
• My Hole My Home is on at the Market Theatre until June 3.