'Baby Tshepang's story still relevant as ever'

CapeTalk presenter John Maytham is at the National Arts Festival 2016 and reflects on the production "Tshepang."

The rape of 9-month-old Baby Tshepang shocked the country in October 2001. Almost 15 years later, the play that National Arts Festival featured artist, Lara Foot, first produced in 2003 is as relevant as ever.

The story of Tshepang and her horrific rape is told by township sculptor, Simon, some three years after the event. The baby's mother, Ruth, is on stage throughout, mute, and, literally, rubbing salt into her wounds.

The play's greatest strength is its nuanced understanding of individual responsibility and the role played by societal dysfunction. Yes, the mother's boyfriend physically raped the infant. But, as Simon angrily retorts at one of the vulture flock of journalists that descended on the northern Cape township in the immediate aftermath, this place has been gang raped many times over.

15 years on, the horrific statistics around ongoing child rapes tell us that the systemic, historical dysfunction and soceital illness that makes these violations almost inevitable are, depressingly, still very much with us. It's an exceptional piece of theatre, written and performed with a rare and wonderful integrity and compassion.

I watched it as one of about a dozen adults in an audience of nearly 300 senior school pupils. The silence; the drawn-in breaths; the audible groans of horror all attested to their, and my, total absorption in the drama. In the post-performance discussion, Lara Foot, stressed to the shell-shocked audience that she'd not written Tshepang to send people home saddened; bur rather to get them engaged, because that engagement is the first step in becoming part of a solution to a terrible scourge.

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