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May 20, 2022

Motsheha Fuma Wa Ipiletsa: Feeding Children Through Theatre

According to the Sesotho calendar, Motsheanong (May) is the tenth month of the year. Accordingly, the plants are laughing at the birds that in Hlakubele (March) were giving them a hard time eating the sorghum uninvited, just as thlaku tsa mabele (grains of the sorghum) were beginning to show. Now in Motsheanong, the grains have hardened, making it difficult for the birds to eat the sorghum.

Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence suggests that in the olden days (even now) the owners of the fields established strategies to manage the damage likely to be caused by birds, without using pesticides. Some of the strategies have a strong resonance with the theatre. They include the use of recycled objects, such as colourful plastics, human voices or scarecrows, human-shaped structures that are planted to stand in the fields. These are not so different from puppets, which are interesting devises used in children’s theatre to stimulate conversations and expand imagination, amongst other things.

Similar to how field owners look after their crops, creating stories for children may need innovative approaches to have positive results. With this being Africa month and with the continental theme being food and nutrition security, critical reflection is needed in terms of how our continent is feeding its young population, both in terms of the physical food and the stories that may create food for thought, and ultimately, the desired changes in our society.

Recently the Stats SA report, Measuring Food Security in South Africa: Applying the Food Insecurity Experience Scale, confirmed that COVID-19 has had a negative impact on the global economy and that food security and nutrition have been adversely affected, particularly impacting children and young people. Moreover, research suggests that poverty is one of the fundamental causes of the recent tensions and conflicts we are experiencing on the continent.

But how do we deal with these topics? Important discussions about the role of young people in shaping the future have been evoked by the recent cooking oil memes as well as those that were elicited by John Steenhuisen’s visit to Ukraine – these induced both belly and nervous laughter. As caregivers, we cannot ignore the laughs that young people are likely to receive as a result of their curiosity or zeal to find food. Storyteller Ben Okri suggests that stories read or told “subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness” alter the world. And so I am not surprised that the oil memes and my belly/nervous laughter have led me into discussions about the Bucharest Summit of 2008, the patterns of xenophobic attacks starting with the 1995 Buyelekhaya (go back home) campaign, as well as the leadership of Moshoeshoe 1.

When we take time to reflect on the emotions brought about by laughter, we may be propelled to tell stories that remind us that amidst the difficulties caused by war and conflicts, we need pioneering and empathetic ways of telling stories. While I understand that symbols may only function if their meaning is shared, I also know that they can nudge us toward meaningful and nourishing theatre making. Ukrarian Puppet theatre is already offering insightful approaches by performing for traumatized children. In any case, motsheha fuma wa ipiletsa (the one who laughs at others, may draw the difficulty to themselves).

Lalu Mokuku is the chairperson of ASSITEJ SA and Executive Committee Member of ASSITEJ International. She is currently participating at the 2022 Bibu festival in Sweden, on-line.

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