African Studies Quarterly
Volume 10, Issue 1
Spring 2008

Theatres of Struggle and the End of Apartheid. Belinda Bozzoli. Athens, OH : Ohio University Press, 2004. 208 pp.

Theatres of Struggle and the End of Apartheid depicts the Alexandra Rebellion of 1986 as analyzed through various themes from literature on collective action and social movements, as well as those on identity and space. With these, Bozzoli frames the rebellion and its aftermath as a drama played out in the township, and although she uses just one case study, it is general enough to represent what was occurring in many of the townships during that time. She draws upon thousands of archived interviews with the actors involved to create a rich and cohesive story that one cannot help but think sets the stage for the horrendously high rate of violence experienced in the country today.

It is the youth who are the crux of this story, as they fight against the complacency of previous generations to overthrow apartheid in any way possible, and in the case of Alex, it is often a violent one. Ironically, these youth were educated enough under apartheid to know just how bad it was, and decided to follow in the steps of such fighters as Mandela, Tambo, Slovo, Mbeki, to get out of it. Some of the more important tactics depicted here include the almost impenetrable male social networks of bonding on the streets, 'comrade' activities of boycotts and strikes to render the township ungovernable, and the sheer violence in acts such as torture, public brutality and necklacing against impipis (informers). At one point the youth rival the police in dishing out punishments and organizing people's courts, which draw on the historicity of kgotlas, albeit led not by elders but by increasingly hostile youth themselves.

For Bozzoli's script, space is a key issue. The township represents the setting from which individuals need liberation, and how it is theirs to transform; they - the 'conveyors of a just cause'-are to free the adults from their own oppression. Audiences and actors play out scripts of revolution, justice, and transformation that pit nationalistic comrades against the immoral evils of apartheid. For many perpetrators, it matters not that there are times when the innocent inadvertently become entangled in the violence, for the importance lies in the evolving identity of the township and its inhabitants as 'free' in what is to become the new and improved South Africa.

'Nationalism' overtakes violence as the master frame, as is evidenced in the post-rebellion years as memories are re-constructed. The recollections of the most heinous of actions evolve into those by some 'other,' thus romanticizing the nationalist movement by spotlighting the repression and casting the brutal acts to the wings. In the TRC stories to emerge, Alex plays the role of victim and the stories of individual struggles transform into meanings that go beyond the private sphere. Thus, a new public sphere has been constructed that allows township residents to share in each other's stories and create a collective township mentality.

Bozzoli fully fleshes out the theatre theme in Chapter 9 (Nationalism and Theatricality), and she does a good job of portraying funerals as political street theatre, defining the framing as that of group suffering and persecution, and illustrating the rules of the game regarding discipline and interpretation of events. Yet the careful reader may find herself wishing these themes had emerged earlier in the book with as much depth as they do here.

Perhaps the greatest question the book raises, and leaves inadequately answered, is how these events have shaped the current extreme rates of violence in South Africa today. To the author's credit, she acknowledges that this is not the aim of the book, as it is historical rather than predictive, but with the brief references she makes at various points, she cannot help but leave the reader wanting more. The youth and their activities are discussed in the final chapter as a source of great pride as well as great shame for the township regarding "our heritage to our children: The knowledge of how to die, and how to kill" (p. 276). This statement is chillingly prescient given that it was made by an interviewee over twenty years ago. Disaffection and displacement continued past the rebellions and bubbled to the surface in violent acts by the late 1990s: "A culture of criminality, rooted in the very shattering of bonds that took place under high apartheid, emerged" and is currently sustained much of the time through peer pressure (p. 281).

Thus the book shows us in part how township rebellions have set the precedent for violence today, but we don't fully understand why this has carried over and remained so strongly embedded. This is not the goal of the book, however, and thus it has no option but to leave this theme until the last chapter, even if it comes across as too little too late. Theatres of Struggle and the End of Apartheid does, however, successfully accomplish its goal of depicting the Alexandra Rebellion of 1986 as a type of political theatre in the streets, and it also accomplishes the task of raising questions quite relevant today to the region concerning relationships between nationalism and civic-ness, space and struggle, violence and crime, and elder and youth identities.

Kenly Greer Fenio
University of Florida