Mark Fleishman

‘Peeling the Wound’: Dramaturgies of haunting on the neo-apartheid stage

Drawing on the ideas of post-Shoah theorists, Saul Friedlander, James E. Young and Marianne Hirsch, and the conception of haunting proposed by sociologist, Avery Gordon, my paper sets out to reflect on the ways in which young theatre makers in South Africa today engage with a past which remains present in their lives despite 22-years of supposed post-apartheid existence. In particular, the paper focuses on the recent work of Mandla Mbothwe in productions such as Inxeba Lomphilisi and Did We Dance: Ukutshona Ko Mendi.

For Mbothwe, the failure of the previous generation to deal adequately with the trauma of apartheid has produced an unresolved tension in the lives of young South Africans, many of whom did not directly experience apartheid in its legal sense but continue to experience its aftermath in a state of what political scientist, Lawrence Hamilton, describes as ‘unfreedom’ – a state in which they have attained political freedom but do not possess the means to be free, given the persistent levels of poverty, inequality and social marginalization they experience. I would suggest, however, that this ‘unfreedom’ is also a result of a particular kind of melancholy (in the Freudian sense), a traumatic haunting, that continues to have significant impact on their lives.

My focus here is on the particular dramaturgical strategies adopted by Mbothwe which I would suggest are emblematic of his generation and those who follow in his creative footsteps. These choices run counter to the recently entrenched testimonial model for dealing dramaturgically with traumatic experiences and emphasizes instead the impact of imagination on traumatic events; a focus on beauty in unexpected and often painful places; the impossibility of producing a coherent or comprehensible narrative of trauma; and the use of physicality and particular modes of vocality to produce an immediate, visceral and affective performance aesthetic to overcome perhaps as Blanchot would have it, ‘[t]he danger that the disaster acquire meaning rather than body’ (1).

(1) Blanchot, M. 1995. The Writing of the Disaster. Trans. A. Smock. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, p.41.


Mark Fleishman is Professor in the Department of Drama at the University of Cape Town and co-artistic director of Magnet Theatre, an independent theatre company established in 1987 in Johannesburg and based in Cape Town since 1994. He has created and directed many performance works for the company that have been performed nationally and internationally over the past 26 years and is involved in development projects in urban townships and rural communities using theatre as a tool for social justice and transformation.

His articles have appeared in the South African Theatre Journal, Contemporary Theatre Review and Theatre Research International as well as in numerous edited collections, most recently in Jenny Hughes and Helen Nicolson (eds.), Critical Perspectives on Applied Theatre (Cambridge University Press – 2016) and Mary Luckhurst and Emilie Morin (eds.), Theatre & Human Rights after 1945: Things Unspeakable (Palgrave – 2015). He is editor of Performing Migrancy and Mobility in Africa: Cape of Flows in the Studies in International Performance series at Palgrave (2015). He was a visiting scholar on the MAIPR programme at Warwick between 2009 and 2012, and is an active member of the Performance as Research Working Group of the IFTR, and was co-convenor from 2009-2013.