Text: Funzani Mutsila
Tuesday morning the 19th of June a friend hits me up and asks that we go see a theatrical document of the fallist movement titled The Fall, at the State Theatre in Pretoria that very night. The cast includes Ameera Conrad, Oarabile Ditsele, Tankiso Mamabolo, Sizwesandile Mnisi, Sihle Mnqwazana, Cleo Raatus and Zandile Madliwa. I grab a couple of friends who were part of the fallist movement, particularly because it would be interesting to hear what they will have to say about the play and if the play really depicts what the fallist movement was about. The fallist movement is a counter-hegemony and pro-decolonial movement which was initiated through an act of protest, when Chumani Maxwele threw human waste unto the Cecil John Rhodes statue.
Under dimmed lights the play starts off with the actors, costumed in typical student fashion, singing some of the fallist songs. It immediately resonatea and the feeling of familiarity and nostalgia engulfs me. In the midst of that, a character played by Cleo Raatus resides a poem. The poem speaks about the conditions of black people in this country. This introduction of the play exudes some of the artistic elements that made up the movement. A reminder that, the space which was created by the fallists was one of expression. Song and spoken word was an integral part of the movement, for retreat and rest at the end of a day, comrades would find solace in gathering and singing together. The play clearly highlights that throughout, as songs such as “Pamberi nge chimurenga” Äzania” ïlizwe le lethu” to name but a few were sang.
What initially seemed like story telling through music, poetry and a dash of body movement fast tuned into dialogue, a conversation which raised an array of issues. In the first scene of dialogue, the students debate the potency of their movement and the pressure which must be exerted on to the university and the Vice Chancellor in particular to remove the Rhodes statue. The discussion is about whether or not to attend a meeting called upon by the university in the wake of the protest. It leads to the decision being made to occupy Bremner building which was later named “Äzania House” by the students themselves.
Although the play itself is focused mostly on the initial formations of Rhodes Must Fall, what I found most interesting is how it had varied characters who really made up the collective that was the fallist movement. The play really depicts how heterogeneous the collective was in thinking and in being. It represented characters of different gender, sexual orientations, different class backgrounds and individuals with a different understanding of the world and community, who came together under a vocation that united them, decolonization. What is noteworthy however was in how in that variety in character but similar purpose the contradictions which existed within the movement became a threat to the movement itself.
The play diachronically narrates the events from Rhodes Must Fall to Fees Must Fall to Shackville. Young people coming together with a collective pain, anger and frustration towards the imperialist, white supremacists capitalist, patriarchal, transphobic and homophobic system. Through these dialogues within the play, you gather certain nuances that are peculiar to the way in which the students within the movement interacted. For example the Pan Africanist Congress inspired slogan of “ïzwe lethu” “iAfrica”, was often used as a form of greeting and this is prominent in the play. The language used, which sent me and my friends to laughs as it reoccurs to us that, that’s how we expressed ourselves. The intense moments when students argue about the ills of society sent goose bumps all over my body. The emotional moments through song and reflection saw both I and my friends in tears and an ending which had us all feeling like there is still much work to be done towards the decolonial project.