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The New School

Publication Date

Fall 2022

Program Name

South Africa: Social and Political Transformation


Historically, South African theater has utilized the stage as a platform to dismantle apartheid, pointing to its purposeful oppressive structure as the cause for much human suffering. In the 28 years since the dismantling of apartheid, contemporary South African theater has retained the same role, critically questioning the ways people are systematically disenfranchised. A need is surfacing, however, to address the causes for contemporary South African political disfunctions and societal inequities, other than apartheid. This study will focus on Isidlamlilo, a play written by Neil Coppen and Mpume Mthombeni in collaboration with their theater company Empatheatre, and will aim to understand how this play follows in the footsteps of previous South African theater, is situated within globally recognized theoretical frameworks, and gives audiences a space to critically engage with contemporary politics. Isidlamlilo was first performed at The 2022 National Arts Festival and was showcased from November 4th through 9th, 2022 at The Elizabeth Sneddon Theater at The University of KwaZulu-Natal. The play tells the life story of Zenzile Maseko, a former Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) assassin who presently resides in a womens hostel in Durban. This study has been specific to a play which has not yet had its impact analyzed. The researcher has observed the rehearsal process, analyzed the script and multiple performances, and facilitated interviews with audience members. Through use of these methodologies, this study has investigated how Isidlamlilo allowed audiences to critically engage with Contemporary South African socio-political tensions. This study finds that the play achieved educational and humanizing effects whilst providing solutions for building a future recognized for its social cohesion and confrontation of contemporary systems of oppression.


African History | African Languages and Societies | Dramatic Literature, Criticism and Theory | Playwriting | Politics and Social Change


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