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Executive Summary of
Major Research Project
Submitted to
University Grants Commission
New Delhi

Name of PI:      Dr. Pranav Joshipura
Title:                Plays of Indian Diaspora in South Africa
File No:            F. No. 5 – 90/2013 (HRP)

The present research project deals with the plays authored by South African playwrights of Indian origin. The project is divided into five parts. First two parts deal with histories – of Indian settlement in South Africa and of South African Indian theatre. The third and fourth parts are about plays written during apartheid and after apartheid. The fifth and the last part is overall summing up of the research done.

Indian settlement in South Africa beings officially in 1860 with the arrival of the first batch of indentured labourers from India. Their journey through many phases of settlement till present time is divided in four sections. The first section deals with the time period beginning from 1860 through 1914, the time Gandhiji left South Africa after resisting hard for the rights of Indians and after experimenting with the unique tools of satyagraha and ahimsa. This phase is about the journey of Indian indentures settled on far flung plantations to semi-urban and urban centers. The second section narrates consolidation period of Indians from 1914 to 1948. This phase shows the process of urbanization of Indians and with that the growth of education and art and culture among Indians. This period also speaks about gradual rise of English educated Indians and the positioning of Indians as support to the rulers and as representatives of the community. The third section of Indian history deals with the apartheid time, viz., from 1948 through 1994. This section shows how the Indians fought in every possible way along with the native against inhuman apartheid system. Some Indians like Ahmed Kathrada, Mac Maharaj, etc. earned position of respect during the anti-apartheid struggle. The fourth section deals with post-1994 scenario of Indians in free South Africa. The free nation presents an altogether different issue in multiracial context for all races. It is interesting to observe the growth of a strong community on a foreign soil amidst various tumults to a respectable position and then once again sail through uncertainty after freedom.

The second part of the research is about the history of Indian theatre in South Africa. This theatre has begun informally from dance festivals organized at various temples and religious gatherings. Then this rudimentary theatre shifted to schools and college auditoriums where Indian children were learning lessons of life. The indigenous Indian theatre in South Africa began in early 1960s with Krishna Shah’s theatre workshop. Thereafter, this theatre prospered and became very significant during the apartheid. Many playwrights rose to prominence not only within the community but also nationally. However, playwrighting has taken an altogether different turn in the post-apartheid South Africa as socio-political realities of the present time have changed drastically. The South African Indian theatre is believed to be the response to the time.

The third part of the project analyses plays written by Indian playwrights in South Africa who wrote during the apartheid period. It is significant to note that the plays which are available in print only are considered for analysis. This time span covers playwrights like Ronnie Govender, Muthal Naidoo, Kessie Govender and Kriben Pillay. Among them, Ronnie Govender has achieved iconic status in South Africa. He has been awarded with the highest literary and art and citizenship awards for his contribution to South African theatre. Muthal Naidoo writes mostly about political situations. She can be considered as an activist against apartheid. Her plays arouse hilarious laughter and satirize the situation, but her core concern seems to be reformation, to sensitize people about the then government’s various malicious moves. Kessie Govender’s and Kriben Pillay’s plays present the Indian community in various perspectives. As this time span is considerably large, one finds good number of plays written during this time. The plays written during this time shows various problems faced by the Indian community in their interracial relationship during the apartheid. The plays also deal with problems within the community. This theatre can be considered as the protest theatre and community theatre as well. Some of the plays which became famous in South Africa and elsewhere are Ronnie Govender’s The Lahnee’s Pleasure, At the Edge, Muthal Naidoo’s The Masterplan, We 3 Kings, Kessie Govender’s Working Class Hero and Kriben Pillay’s Looking for Muruga.

The fourth part of the project analyses plays written during free South Africa. Playwrights like Rajesh Gopie, Ismail Mahomed and Ashwin Singh are presenting the changing scenario of the nation and with that changing socio-political situation. These plays mirror the problems the community is facing during the transition period. With races merging with each other and with the rise of black power in South Africa’s new reality, the situation of the Indians have become precarious. Moreover, the rainbow reality is witnessing the process of creating synthesis among races. Such a process creates problems at community levels. Plays written by Ashwin Singh present such issues. Rajesh Gopie’s plays travels from 1870 to the present time witnessing the effect of changing scenario on the community. Whereas Ismail Mahomed narrates situation of women in two different perspectives. Some of the noteworthy plays are Rajesh Gopie’s Out of Bounds, Ashwin Singh’s Spice ‘n Stuff, and Ismail Mahomed’s Cheaper than Roses.

The fifth part is the overall summing up of the research bringing out various observations made after analyzing plays through various dimensions. The analysis is made through sociological, historical and political perspectives prevalent during the time.

This is probably the first instance that South African Indian theatre is analyzed. This genre has escaped notice of the academia and has remained unexplored. So, it is hoped that the present research shall become the pioneering work and in future more scholars shall take up research in this area.

Dr. Pranav Joshipura
Principal Investigator