Katutura ’59 by Frederick B. Philander
Reviewer: Dr Sarala Krishnamurthy
Katutura ’59, a play by Frederick B. Philander, was staged on 29 and 30 August 2007, appropriately in the Boiler Room of the Katutura Arts Centre in the city of Windhoek.
It is a powerful play recapitulating the massacre of the local people in 1959 on the occasion of their refusal to move out of their locality as a protest against land-grabbing by the Boer-led government.
The play ran for 90 minutes and was a gripping re-enactment of an important period in the history of the Namibian nation.
Seventeen years after independence it is likely that many people would have forgotten those troubled times. For many in the audience, therefore, it was an occasion to bemoan the loss of lives of simple people who fought for their homes, their dignity and their identity.
For many youngsters, it was an occasion to truly comprehend the tremendous sacrifice that their parents would have made to bring liberation to this glorious land.
The play opens with the arrest of a shanty town dweller in the middle of the night. The terror of being arrested and taken away was captured in the dark with the use of torch light, which made the scene very poignant.
The contrast between the brutality of the Police chief and the plaintive cry of the lady whose husband was dragged away because he “resisted arrest” speaks not just to the audience, people who belong to a different day and age, but also universally to all people of all climes. The scenes that follow trace the grit and determination of a humble woman, who wants only the best for her husband and children. She is satisfied with the two pounds extra that she earns by laundering her mistress’s clothes so that she can get her husband released from jail.
Meanwhile, Handjievol is urged by her mistress to move to Katutura. Oom Booi, an old drunk, but for me the voice of conscience in the play, explains to her the reasons for their relocation.
She has to face more trials and tribulations when her son is laid off from work and her daughter turns to prostitution to make a living. The slings and arrows of fortune do not break her spirit because of her deep and abiding faith and her God.
Her husband returns home after release from jail and he is determined that they are not going to move. The people of the township rally around to resist the Boers and in the struggle, many of them die.
Paradoxically enough, even though the play dealt with such a serious theme, it was not a morose or a serious play. There were several moments of laughter evoked by the antics of the black policemen in the employ of the government and, my own personal favourites, the old man, Oom Booi, and the white mistress beautifully caricatured by Lize Kubersky.
This is not to say that other characters performed below expectation. Not at all. In a play of intense emotions and swift action, these roles stood out. Arts, literature, music and culture are the four pillars that uphold a society which is progressive and liberated. Theatre provides the means to bring people together and also helps in nation building.
Frederick Philander can truly be called the father of the theatre movement in Namibia, not only because he has written several plays that can be described as genuinely Namibian, but also because of the encouragement and opportunity he gives to artists to perform in the plays he directs.
In Katutura 59 he reminds the Namibian people to honour their forgotten and unsung heroes. For a foreigner viewing the play, it is a vivid first hand experience of the Namibian struggle for independence.
The playwright can be described as a historical witness and the importance of this role can neither be denied nor ever be denigrated.
– By Tommy Katamila (Nampa)
I went to watch this historic drama, conceptualized by the famous award-winning playwright, Frederick B. Philander, on Wednesday.
All I can say is, ‘Wow.’
When the play kicked off, there was just a glimmer of light as Handjievol (Arlene Mouton) and her husband, Boetie, (Richard Swartz) retired for the night in their zinc house.
One could feel the tension in the Katutura Community Arts Centre Boiler Theatre. Nobody knew what to expect, a real good writer’s ploy, I think
Shortly thereafter major Lombaard (Botha Ellis) and his two reservists henchmen (Pineas, Armas Shivute, and Tjireya Hipikuruka) enter the scene, armed with torches. This lighting sequence also added to the drama and suspense. They forced open Handjievol’s door and arrested her husband.
The dialogue that followed formed the crux of the matter as racial undertones came out strongly. I found it real comical to hear Boetie being arrested for resisting arrest whereas his initial crime was not even clearly spelled out. A master stroke again.’
Anna Louw as Gerty gave a powerful performance. It was almost as if she was being her real natural self.’
Lize Kubersky (Missies Lombaard) was another star in the cast with her funny demeanour and intricate swirl, whilst Oom Booi (Stanley van Wyk) didn’t put one foot wrong in his role. When push came to shove and the residents of the Old Location refused to move to the new location set out for them, the police, as we anticipated they would do, started shooting.
The almost real rifle sounds (blank bullet shots) got me shit-scared because it came at the right moments to give the most dramatic impact.
Armas Shivute (Doubling as Pineas and Jakop) was simply out of this world in his roles. The audience was spellbound and captivated by his acting abilities as the son of Handjievol.
He even excelled more in his comic role as the reservist, Pineas, literally jumping on the back of his fellow bouker policeman, Klaas, out of fear for the township mob refusing to move one inch from the place they called home.
I am still not sure whether it was the acoustics of the hall or the actors not giving clear oratory, but my ears could not decipher some of the words by some of them.
The accompanying musical interludes were perfectly timed and weighed with the actors getting down as if they were in a real Old Location beer hall.
Intila Katambo (Meide), Romanus Mutuku (Takala) and Basil Dewaldt (the evicted man and later as the city mayor) all did justice to their roles.
All in all, the massive audience applause at the end of the play showed that Katutura’59 is a great play.
Committed Artists of Namibia are performing a series of plays on the Namibian situation as part of its festival within the Bank Windhoek Festival.
I intend attending all of them.’