After international success, The Fall: All Rhodes Lead to Decolonisation is now back in SA. Picture: SUPPLIED
After international success, The Fall: All Rhodes Lead to Decolonisation is now back in SA. Picture: SUPPLIED

After a tour abroad, where it received critical acclaim for graphically capturing the issues of the student movement in SA, the stage production of The Fall: All Rhodes Lead to Decolonisation is back on the boards in SA.

It was first staged at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town in 2017 and is now on at the South African State Theatre.

The production recreates the scenes of student protests that rocked the University of Cape Town in 2015. The first target was the statue of Cecil John Rhodes, which had for decades occupied a prominent plinth below the Jameson Hall.

The protests spread like wildfire to other universities, especially former white universities such as Rhodes University and University of the Witwatersrand, which became the epicentre of student protests for the decolonisation of curricula. Protesters added the demand for free tertiary education.

The Fall does not pretend to tell the whole story about the students’ dissent. Workshopped by former UCT drama students who were participants in the protests that eventually forced university authorities to uproot the statue, the play tells the offence many felt about Rhodes’s legacy. His benevolent side gets negligible attention — he started a scholarship fund to send white males to Oxford University in the UK (all students can now apply) and his education trust fund helped build Rhodes University.

In The Fall the students, especially black students, are portrayed as so enraged by the presence of Rhodes’s ghost as represented by the statue that one of them gives it five lashes as it is carried away.

The acting is convincing and leaves the audience with no doubt about the students’ anger. It soon becomes clear that the main issue was not just the continued deification of Rhodes in democratic SA. Other issues raised in the play range from the lack of transformation at universities, with black academic staff occupying lower ranks and the outsourcing of cleaning and security staff.

The Fall also demonstrates how the student body was not completely united. After the statue was brought down, cracks began to appear within the ranks of the protesters. At UCT there were bitter wrangles between students over the dominance of patriarchal attitudes and the lack of tolerance for minorities.

In many ways the play is successful in telling of the contradictions in contemporary SA, going far beyond the issues confronting students at tertiary institutions to turn a lens of the transformation to all of society.

The characters include Kgothatso, an excluded cricket player; Chwaita, a student who attended a model C school and is mocked by her fellow protesters, who regard her as a brainwashed, apolitical coconut; and Zukile, from a rigid, patriarchal Xhosa cultural background.

The Fall: All Rhodes Lead to Decolonisation is at the South African State Theatre in Pretoria until June 24.

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