Dr. P. C. Henderson

(Re)membering the Past: Worker Theatre and Community Performance in KwaZulu/ Natal, South Africa in the 1980s.

The paper is a (re)membering of the past, a series of fragmentary, pointillist reflections on an intense period of creative expression within the progressive labour movement and within broader politicised collectivities in the area of Pietermaritzburg and its surrounds in KwaZulu/Natal, South Africa during the mid 1980s. As a 'culturalworker' involved in workshopping worker and community theatre at the time, I explore performance within the context of extreme social and political (dis)ease as an urgent, sensuous magic: the issuing into being of identities and visions of the future that refuse to mesh with limiting experience. I suggest how, even with the passing of time, embodied processes of creativity straddling fissures between aspiration and 'reality' leave vivid traces in acts of remembrance. My gathering of fragments of memory takes place from the horizon of a post-apartheid present marked by the emergence of a liberal capitalist state responsive to global pressures; a present in which conflicts of the past have been down-played in the interests of national unity. In a return to 'normality' the liminal vision and power of theatre 'from below' as an embodied process auguring transformation has lost access to public space. The value and specificies of worker and community theatre have been submerged in their acrimonious dismissal as half-formed and immature, and in the accompanying marginalisation of both the labour movement and grass roots political groupings. A failure to hold onto qualities of past performance practices is marked by a return to convention, an emphasis on a-politcal excellence and technique. The paper therefore mitigates against a certain kind of forgetting and asks what kinds of liminal theatre can emerge in the present context where words, meanings, identities and ideological commitments have lost their moorings.