Bohlale ha bo ahe ntlong e le ngwe: What Theatre Making May Remind Us Of

17 Jun 2023


I recently finished the long journey of writing a play that will premiere at the 2023 National Arts festival.

This play, Pen(t)s Down Haha! is inspired by two 2022 tragic events: the injuries and death of more than 20 young people during the ‘Pens Down’ partying at Enyobeni tavern in East London, South Africa on 26 June 2022 and the injuries and death of more than 150 young people during the Halloween celebrations on 29 October 2022 in Seoul, South Korea.

In writing the play, I drew on the Sesotho saying, bohlale ha bo ahe ntlong e le ngwe (wisdom does not dwell in one house). I embedded the South African theatre-making style of workshopping and enabled diverse voices to be heard, most especially of young people.

The notion of writing for or about young people kept nudging me and I chose to write about young people with young people. This was quite interesting. As an adult, I remember feeling saddened to hear about adults who drink with young people at taverns and night-clubs. As part of researching, I learnt about a 67 year old man who used to drink with children at Enyobeni Tavern and stopped going there because the patriots (mostly children) called him ‘baby’. I wondered whether he was drinking with the 13 or 14 or 17 olds? I then went back to Oprah Winfrey’s advice around asking the question ‘what happened’, not ‘what’s wrong’. This writing experience has been a powerful reminder that in creating stories, the complexity of our characters may make us take a moment to ponder ‘what happened’. And that this is a better starting point than asking ‘what’s wrong’.

May this Youth month encourage adults and young people to tap into each other’s wisdom. It is only from drawing on the energies of all our people (I am thinking of children and adults here) that we can together work to achieve the goals of the National Development Plan (NDP) 2030. As a country, we have about seven more years to realize these goals. Is this possible? How?

By taking a moment to reflect on what such tragedies mean for us, we may propel ourselves to keep creating, asking and using our diverse experiences to spotlight the realities of young people’s lives and find new ways artistically and in real life to move towards these goals.

– Lalu Mokuku is the Chairperson of ASSITEJ SA and EC member of ASSITEJ International. Pen(t)s Down Haha! will tour to the ASSITEJ Cradle of creativity in August 2023. 

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