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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


COETSER, Johan. The Sea (2011) by Reza de Wet: A Slave Drama?. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2014, vol.54, n.2, pp.235-247. ISSN 2224-7912.

Although Die see (The Sea, 2011) depicts a single day in 1795 in the lives of three female slaves, the playwright does not use the words "slave drama" or "slave play" to describe her text. These words do not appear in the published play at all. In spite of the absence of the words "slave drama" or "slave play", I consider the three slaves in the play as representing all slaves. My discussion consequently concerns the marginal position of all slaves and their longing for freedom. In the play, the slaves 'anonymous owner and master holds Ou Vrou (Old Woman), Vrou (Woman) and Meisie (Maiden) captive in a dungeon beneath the Castle in Cape Town. Outside, a British naval force approaches the Dutch settlement from the Muizenberg side of the peninsula. The sound of approaching canon can be heard. Oblivious of their impending liberation, the three slaves discuss their experiences of being treated as the property, or sexual objects, of their master. True to her character, each slave expresses in her own way her longing for freedom. For now, all they can do is to escape to an imaginary garden in their dreams or dream of their childhood outside the Castle. Notwithstanding the absence of clear indications that Die see is a slave drama, the didascalies provide hints that this may be the case. Such indications include descriptions of the dramatis personae, references to the time of and the place in which the action occurs, and dedicating the play to Peter Voges for keeping the memories of slaves alive and for showing respect for the role they played in establishing the colony. In the analysis, I address the question whether it is possible to identify Die see as a slave play from the perspective of the didascalies. As a first step, I identify the main features of slave dramas in general, and then I compare Die see from the point of view of the didascalies to these features. If this play could indeed be identified as a slave drama, it is possibly the only play in Afrikaans that deals with classical slavery. The nature of the didascalies in drama in general frames the question. Similar to Genette's notion of the paratext, the didascalies represent the extradiegetic and heterodiegetic voice of the playwright in the text. In Die see, the playwright's voice most clearly relates to De Wet's dedication of the play to Peter Voges. Her dedication shows two sides, in which past (memories of slavery as represented by the three slaves) and present ("liberation" from contemporary, alternative forms of "slavery") supplement each other. Juxtaposing memories of classical slavery (past) and "liberation" from alternative, comtemporary forms of "slavery", enables me to identify narrative and discursive structures, or the playwright's voice, in Die see. One side of the coin relates to information the playwright extracted from historical sources. De Wet does not indicate which source(s) she consulted, and whether they are written or oral. In my discussion, I made use of Robert Shell's Children of bondage, which, for the purpose of this article, proved to be an adequate and reliable source of information on slavery. In this section, I focus on the transposition of the Battle of Muizenberg, the accommodation of slaves in the Slave Lodge, the maltreatment of the three slaves as courtesans, and naming conventions as part of the fictionalised reality presented onstage. As part of the playwright's heterodiegetic voice, the other side of the coin allows for a double interpretation. The first interpretation relates to the playwright's use of metaphors indicating decay. For instance, the cracked dungeon's walls housing rats and lice denote cracks in the existing and soon to be replaced Dutch regime. The second interpretation involves the fashion in which the playwright concludes her play. She provides her play with an open ending during which she suggests that Ou Vrou does not die at that time. De Wet employs sound effects that allow for an interpretation in which the moment of liberation by British forces anticipates the future liberation of all slaves - men, women and children - from all kinds of bondage. The playwright relates the slaves' freedom to important dates in South African slave history, namely 1795 (first British occupation of the colony), 1834 (legal liberation of slaves), and 1838 (last slaves set free).

Keywords : Reza de Wet; Die see (2011); slave drama; didascalies; slave narrative; Battle of Muizenberg; Slave Lodge; naming; British occupation; topicality.

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