Edinburgh Fringe 2012
A township near Cape Town 1993. A young American Fullbright scholar, Amy Beihl, is killed by a mob simply because she is white. The mother of one of the killers tells her story in an imagined testimony to Amy’s mother. Adapted from the novel (of the same name) by Dr Sindiwe Magona. A moving and revealing glimpse into life in a township in the dying days of apartheid.
Mother To Mother is a one woman play based on a true story – the brutal mob killing of American Fulbright scholar Amy Biehl, in Gugulethu, Cape Town, in 1993. It is written by the South African novelist Dr Sindiwe Magona, adapted from her novel of the same name written after she discovered that one her neighbours was the mother of one of the four young men convicted of Amy’s killing.
The story is told by Mandisa, the mother of of Mxolisi (one of the four). In the course of it she addresses Amy’ s mother, retelling the events of that day – a mundane and ordinary day until her world falls apart.
As she reflects on the day, she also gives us her perspective on apartheid and the impact on her and her family’s lives. She recalls her childhood and the forced removal to the townships – for her family, to Gugelethu, “‘Our pride’, they [the government] call it; only we call it Gugeletha ‘Their pride’”.
The story is played out against a backdrop of projected images of the township and of Amy which offer us a vivid context and remind us that, although the narrative is imagined, this story has its roots in a painful reality.
Thembi Mtshali-Jones gives a moving and powerful performance as she takes us through her day; from yelling at Mxolis and the other children to get up and have breakfast, her day at work for a white family, her hot and difficult bus journey home. A journey during which she begins to hear the news of the killing but, as yet, with no idea that her own son is involved. Until that point we see a woman who is managing to make the best of the world she finds herself in. Her observations of life as a mother in a township and a servant in the white world are wry and witty and often accompanied by deep throated chuckles. At the same time she is also concerned about the anger she sees among the young people and what that is doing to them and the community. As we move further into the story of the killing she brings out all the uncertainties, the confusion and chaos of that day – the police arrive looking for Mxolisi, they refuse to believe that she does not know where he is and beat her ‘they will take any excuse to beat us’. She eventually tracks him down and learns he was involved.
Her story is told simply; she uses a minimum of props and different areas of the stage denote her home, her workplace, the street… These all allow the lyrical power of her voice to shine through and hold us in its sure grasp. All of Africa’s rich and painful history is in her voice as she spans the comic and the terrible with perfect timing.
It is in the final part where she most directly addresses Amy’s mother; she is in her own kitchen and the space seems to shrink around her, wrapping her in stillness as she talks – quietly, intimately, mother to mother.
Note: Amy Biehl was an American exchange student who was registering voters for South Africa’s first democratic election, at the time of the attack on 25 August 1993.
‘Four young men were convicted and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment for her murder. When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established, the young men applied for amnesty. Determined to honour Amy’s love of South Africa and her belief in the truth and reconciliation process, Amy’s parents participated in the Commission’s hearings and supported amnesty for the youths; the four were granted amnesty and released from prison in 1998.’ – Amy Biehl Foundation website.
For more information about the foundation, set up in Amy’s name, go to www.amybiehl.co.za