Timely memories of apartheid

Issue 

Timely memories of apartheid

My Black Heart — Memories of Apartheid
Performed by Barbara Abrahams
Directed by Coral Haddock
Produced by John L. Simpson
Belvoir Street Theatre, Sydney, until April 12
Reviewed by Norm Dixon

Some may dismiss My Black Heart as simply the expression of middle class white South African guilt. This misses the point.

The play is a window into the changing mind of white South Africa — a complex web of guilt, fear, uncertainty and hope. It is a window that reveals that many whites, despite the psychological trauma it will provoke, can be, and are being won over to the side of the liberation struggle (there are currently 50,000 white members of the African National Congress).

Johannesburg-born Barbara Abrahams left South Africa in 1982, when she was 17 years old. She uses her own and other white writers' material to delve into the memories of her childhood in apartheid South Africa and attempt to explain the white South African psyche: how it is possible to proudly proclaim themselves South African, to truly love the country and yet know nothing of its reality; how fear is instilled in white children from their earliest years as they are warned that the black "nanny" who seems to love and protect them will also be the one to murder them in their beds when the revolution comes.

Since the late '80s there has been a steady flow of literature by white South Africans, often driven by guilt and painfully angst-ridden, examining the history and impact of apartheid. All too often this writing reflects the conundrum of whites who cannot morally support the inhumanity of apartheid but find themselves overwhelmed with fear at the consequences of its elimination.

But My Black Heart is not fearful of democracy in South Africa. She acts out her personal reminiscences and also the writings of other South Africans such as Essop Patel, Sipho Sepamia, Alan Paton and many others. They are writings that express the many aspects of South Africa — fear, rebellion, demoralisation, humour and hope — and the belief that South Africans, black and white, can build a non-racial democracy permeates.

The overwhelming vote by white South Africans to continue the process of negotiations with the black majority for a transition to democracy makes this ambitious one-person play especially timely.