Nothing but the Truthby Dave Durbach / 29.09.2010
Sipho Makhaya has worked at the public library in New Brighton, PE for 33 years. The powers that be have finally decreed that a black person must take over as head librarian, and Sipho, until now an assistant or deputy, would appear a shoe-in for the job. But after a lifetime of waiting, he fears he may now be too old for the promotion, and his ship, so to speak, will remain permanently at sea.
Sipho has spent his years quietly going about the task of providing for his family. He is the man on the street who did his part for the struggle, but had to put his family first. For years he lived in the shadow his brother Themba, the golden boy of the family. Sipho was forced to sacrifice everything so that his brother could go to university and become a leader in the struggle, only to disappear into exile in London. Sipho even lost his only son Luvuyo, who, inspired by his famous uncle, took to the streets and was killed by police in 1976.
Themba, in becoming a prominent activist, developed a reputation as a relentless womaniser, and for those who know him well, like his brother, a hypocrite. When uhuru finally came to South Africa, Themba decided not to return, and died before he could witness firsthand what he was fighting for.
Nothing But the Truth opens immediately following Themba’s death. This and the arrival of Themba’s anglicised daughter Mandisa “Mackay” (played by Welile Tembe), to deliver his ashes, have a profound effect on both Sipho (John Kani) and his loving daughter Thando (Motshabi Tyelele). Sipho is forced to confront his own feelings about his long lost brother and ultimately to tell Thando the truth about the mother she never knew. Thando, meanwhile, spends her days as an observer at the TRC. Despite bearing witness to the country’s public confessional, it takes the prompting of the self-centred Mandisa for her to start questioning her own servility to her father.
The play addresses the tenuous bonds that tie families together, the implications of telling the truth and keeping secrets on a domestic as well as national level, as well as the realities of post-apartheid disillusionment. It culminates in a moving soliloquy in which Sipho finally vents a lifetime of secrets and his despair at what democracy has really brought him (“This government owes me!” he declares, desperately).
Despite being set over 10 years ago and dealing with a very specific time in SA’s history, the play remains highly relevant. Mandisa’s naive talk of the need for retribution rather than reconciliation has Thando declaring that under the TRC’s conditions for amnesty, those who refuse to fully disclose their acts, such as Clive Derby-Lewis, must remain in jail – a remark that drew some knowing sniggers from the crowd, coming as it did days after media reports that Chris Hani’s killer could be released later this year.
Similarly, Sipho’s bitterness at how his son’s funeral was hijacked for political rallying still rings true, a week after Zwelinzima Vavi and Gwede Mantashe turned the funeral of trade unionist Mthuthuzeli Tom into an alliance press conference.
John Kani’s first play as sole author has enjoyed successful runs here and abroad since 2002. Already considered a modern classic of SA theatre, the play has been published and read as a set-work in schools, as well as turned into an award-winning film in 2008.
*Directed by Janice Honeyman, Nothing but the Truth is currently showing at the Market Theatre in Newtown until the 10th of October.