Xeno is Greek for a type or model (hence ” stereotype”, “typical”, “typecasting” etc). Phobia is the Greek word for irrational fear or aversion.
In South Africa, the word “xenophobia” – essentially the fear of “the Other” – has become associated with violent images and atrocities.
Every year, almost like a season of ritual mass madness, mob lynchings flare up, seemingly ignited by political utterances. An orgy of burning tyre “necklaces”, stonings, beatings, sexual assault, robbery, and arson explodes upon hapless foreigners.
Nigerians, Mocambiqians, Zimbabweans, Malawians, and others from the lands north of the Limpopo River find themselves lumped together as “Makwerekwere”, code for “non-South African” targets of both sporadic and orchestrated mayhem.
In the smoke and fog of public opinion, leaders point fingers at each other while the police look aside till blood letting subsides to simmer like a toxic undercurrent till the next time…
“PoiXon” is the latest theatrical exploration of the phenomenon, and brought together in 2019 the writing, performances, and production of Peter Churu and Edgar Langeveldt.
Churu recalls his initial conversations with Langeveldt.
“We both immediately recognized a Play’s potential to handle such disturbing material with empathy and objectivity.”
At first glance Churu’s summary is a double entendre: theatre is entertainment, xenophobia is also gruesome drama.
And also an oxymoron: how can one be simultaneously empathetic yet detached enough to retain an objective observation on man’s inhumanity to fellow man?
“PoiXon” is a three Act, 45-minute tour de force in performance, messaging, and audience engagement. A four-hander, the Play features the two well-known, veteran Zimbabwean thespians while promising the unveiling of two fresh faces.
According to Langeveldt – who plays “Boykie”, a comical cross border jumper caught up in a bizarre xenophobic plot right on the edge of the “great, grey, greasy Limpopo”, home for millennia to resident crocodiles:
“Border jumpers fleeing for economic or social reasons often fall prey to crocodiles, human traffickers, corrupt or overzealous security agents and treacherous middlemen, known as ” Malaitsha”.
Boykie evades all of these but instead stumbles across a deadly xenophobic ritual, involving “uBaba”, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Witswatersrand, ” Mango”, his conflicted henchman, and “Thandiwe”, the Professor’s mostly naive daughter.
They are, as Boykie learns too late, members of the Lupu, a fictionalized tribe who are themselves the ultimate xenotype of ingrained prejudice.
Langeveldt is careful to point out that the South Africa/Zimbabwe setting is convenient rather than definitive.
“Xenophobia happens everywhere and anywhere. Peter and I decided that irrational fratricide deserved an equally rational unpacking. We want our audiences to recognize the universal root causes of civil fracture, why they develop, and how they are sustained.”
“PoiXon” presents xenophobia as a toxic condition of the heart and mind that moves the hands to unspeakable deeds that nonetheless flood the internet.
Peter Churu makes a return to the Zimbabwean stage after several years in the diasporan Theatre scene.
Edgar Langeveldt similarly treads the boards at Theatre in the Park many years since his stand-up comedy heydays around the region, and appearances in “Waiters”, ” State of the Nation” and a tour to Durban, Pietermaritzburg, and Grahamstown Festival with Juanita Chitepo’s “Sound Gaze”.
“PoiXon” runs from 3rd to 6th November 2021 at Theatre in the Park, Harare Gardens, to a select audience of diplomats, media, students, public, and a closing global webcast.