Township funeral: Wie sien ons?

This incident of the women twerking and gyrating raised the question of whether or not such behavior is appropriate and if society had lost respect for funerals.

Pretoria-born playwright Patrick Sanku Bokaba, decided to pose this question on stage with a cast that features Kedione Tholo Manyaka, Peter Nomyai and Tebogo Thebehadi, to name a few, under the directorship of Dos Josias Moleele. Former classmates, Bokaba and Moleele have also worked on the play “Call Us Crazy” together and plan on writing more plays that will create jobs for the young talent in Pretoria.   

Who killed Oupa? “Township Funeral” revolves around this murder mystery. The opening scene of the play is set at a cemetery, where the character of Oupa, a revered gangster, is being buried. To honour his lifestyle, his peers turn his funeral into “one big jol”, by shooting their guns into the air and at his coffin, drifting cars and gyrating next to his coffin while the music is blasting in the background.

“This is a modern way of burying their own,” says Bokaba who is not unfamiliar with this practice. The funeral of a well-known gangster in Pretoria, he attended in 1997, with a similar atmosphere, is the inspiration behind Township Funeral. It started out as a fifteen-minute play, and has over the years evolved into a full production.

He rewrote the script in 2014 for the programme, Indie Spotlight – an initiative by the State Theatre that provides independent theatre practitioners with a platform to stage their productions at the State Theatre for free. The theatre offers décor, costume, marketing to the independent producers and a fee of R25 000 for each production. Sixty percent of the proceeds from the door go to the producer. In 2007 Bokaba showed a different version of Township Funeral at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival. 

“It was an educational play that aimed at teaching people about what is happening in townships.” According to Bokaba is version had a strong reprimanding tone to it, a tone he didn’t want to include in the 2015 version.

The current version gives the different characters an opportunity to voice opposing views on what constitutes unacceptable behavior at funerals. Bokaba describes one of the characters, Junior, as being “a moralist” in the play.  

Junior, who works at Lucia’s pub, a popular establishment in the township, is one of the suspects in Oupa’s murder. He condemns the modern way in which people bury gangsters in townships by quoting bible scriptures throughout the play.

Lucia on the other hand, does not agree with him. She is a pub owner who often hosts the “after tears”/wie sien ons (who sees us?) parties, parties where people drink and dance to music after funerals. Her character represents those who believe a person’s life should be celebrated in a manner in which mirrors that person’s lifestyle. This may include drinking like a fish or blasting music three houses away from the deceased’s home.   

You have to steal moments to catch your breath while watching Township Funeral. The actors are quite energetic and never really come down from the heightened energy. There is a DJ playing music throughout the play on stage, as most of the action takes place at Lucia’s pub where Oupa was killed and where the after tears party is held.   

According to Bokaba, after tears were not a norm when he was growing up during the 80s, in a township. “This behavior would not be allowed in the rural areas around South Africa,” he says. However, he is not trying to take the moral high ground with his play. Instead he leaves it the audiences to be the jury on the issues addressed in the play. “My message is in form of questions: Are we as a society on the right track? Is it right for us to continue bury people in that way and are after tears parties here to stay?”.

Township Funeral will be showing at the South African State Theatre until March 29.

  • A previous version of this article stated that: “Pretoria-born playwright Patrick Sanku Bokaba, decided to pose this question on stage with a cast that features Molefi ‘Wallet’ Monaisa, Obed Baloyi and Thembi Mnguni, to name a few, under the directorship of Dos Josias Moleele.” When, in fact, the cast featured Kedione Tholo Manyaka, Peter Nomyai and Tebogo Thebehadi, to name a few. The correction has been made.

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