In April 12015, a statue of Cecil Rhodes was toppled from its plinth at the University of Cape Town (UCT) by a group of student activists.
The English mining magnate who’d been a key figure in the colonisation of southern Africa, died in 1902 at the age of 42, and the statue to him was erected in 1934, during at a time when imperialist ideas of white supremacy still held sway.
Rhodes was Prime Minister of what was known as The Cape Colony from 1890-96, when the colonial government effectively excluded blacks from voting by raising the financial requirements to do so. He was also responsible for annexing huge swathes of land from black South Africans. So, it’s no wonder he was a much-hated figure.
The UCT students involved in Rhodes’ removal in 2015 included a group who were in their final year of a four-year acting degree at the University’s Baxter Theatre Centre. They were also part of the #Feesmustfall movement, opposing the prohibitive fees in South Africa’s universities.
“A bright, talented and political group, they were out on the barricades in their final year,” is how UCT Drama lecturer Clare Stopford recalls them. Based on their experience of that campaign, the group subsequently went on to devise and perform The Fall at the university. It has since toured South Africa and travelled to Edinburgh, London and New York, earning rave reviews, including one from The New York Times’ Ben Brantley who described it as ‘exhilarating . . . stirring . . .an infectious heady joy’.
Now, it’s coming to Galway where it will be performed as part of the Arts Festival from this Sunday, through to Saturday next, July 21.
The Fall has its legacy in South Africa’s Protest Plays of the 1980s, explains Clare Stopford, who began her career as an actor before moving to Johannesburg where she joined the renowned Market Theatre and, under the mentorship of its founder, Barney Simon, moved into directing.
The company was renowned for its Protest Plays during those troubled times, when the campaign against South Africa’s apartheid regime was gaining in strength at home and abroad.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.