By Jason Maseko
As part of what has become an Orientation Week tradition, the Rhodes University Drama Department and the Division of Student Affairs present The Purple Shall Govern! an engaging, provocative, and vibrant play aimed at 2020’s incoming first-year students. Directed by award-winning director, activist, and performer Mmatumisang Motsisi, The Purple Shall Govern! aims to introduce the first-years to the varying dynamics of university life, particularly in a small town such as Makhanda.
This play holds a particular kind of force, especially in South African politics. Its title is inspired by the Purple March 1989, in which thousands of South Africans marched to Parliament in protest of apartheid law. During this march, police retaliated with batons, tear gas, and a new weapon – a water cannon that sprayed purple dye that stained protestors and made them easier to identify and detain.
In the context of Rhodes University and its trademark colour, the play’s title takes on a different meaning. Here, the purple in question is the student body, and this foregrounds these students the tellers of their own stories. From grappling with rape culture and consent, to dealing gently with race and privilege, this play boldly addresses the intertwining worlds of its RU student characters.
What stands out in this refreshing rendition is a clearer sense of the space, time, and the dissolving binaries that today’s youth exist in. Carried by a vibrant ensemble, The Purple Shall Govern! also addresses more issues than before, with a special emphasis on disability, sexual identity, gender, and the overarching impact of social media on student life.
No matter what the issue faced by these characters, each is handled with honesty, humour, and most of all, a quiet awareness that, even here, not every answer is found. Questions can still be asked, however: with its use of Playback Theatre, the play invites the audience to share their own stories and reflect on what has been presented. This doesn’t mean an immediate answer to any questions, especially with the intricate, delicate topics that are dealt with. Instead, the audience and the cast are encouraged to engage with each other, and what’s more, find common ground.
Catch The Purple Shall Govern! at the Rhodes University Theatre from Monday 3 February to 6 February at 14.30pm, with an extra show on Tuesday 4 February 2020 at 7.30pm.