The Free State Arts Festival recently took place at the Bloemfontein campus of the University of the Free State. In this piece Precious Mamotingoe Lesupi reports on a tour through her emotions as she experienced some of the plays.

Disgust, shame and heartache are the first things that came to me as I watched most of the plays at the Free State Arts Festival this year. I felt the screams of women in our country through art.

Colonialism came with historical distortions and we as modern day society still live by those and turn them into new words, philosophies and principles. Krotoa for instance, a production on a Khoe girl who was violated by a European man while she served as the key negotiator between people of the Khoisan and the Europeans, highlights the issue of gender based violence in history. It reminds us as a nation how we overlook this historical violence, which in turn influences modern society to take that kind of violence lightly.

According to writer and playwright, Sylvia Vollenhoven, the theatre production was “an act of restorative justice”. Krotoa has become a piece to the puzzle of reinforcing activism aimed at the dehumanisation of people, especially women of the Khoisan.

On the other hand, For Coloured Girls, written by Ntozake Shane merges dance and poetry to highlight issues of abuse, identity crisis, self-love, depression and self-empowerment. The theatrical production sets off with a dance piece that speaks to empowerment. Following this is Lady in Brown’s (Naledi Moalusi) poetic introduction that speaks to a black girl, “somebody, anybody, sing a black girl’s song”.

The dance is used as a mechanism of survival, celebration and empowerment throughout the production, as the girls say “We gotta dance to keep from dying”.

Casting seven girls each in a dress representing rainbow colours, they take it home by locating themselves outside their towns. For instance, one of the characters, Lady in Green, is played by Mandisa Wiso who is originally from Welkom. “We come to share our world with you”, they declare.

I froze through a part of the play that talked about rape. The theatre became awfully cold and the mournful background music made it worse. It was a collection of phrases used to victimise survivors of sexual abuse that start with, “A friend is hard to press charges against,” or, “If you know him, you must have wanted it”. Other phrases include; “You know, these things happen,” and, “It must have been a misunderstanding”, these phrases depict the nature of rape and the societal pressure that survivors face, especially when the perpetrator is a friend, family member or acquaintance.

On self-love and self-empowerment, For Coloured Girls makes use of repetition as a form of affirmation and my favourite repeated phrase is “Through my tears, I found God in myself and I loved her, I loved her fiercely.”

While we fight gender based violence in our everyday lives, we should not forget that which comes from a romantic partner. Swan Song, written and performed by Buhle Ngaba speaks to issues of self-image and the pressures of changing to suit one’s romantic partner.

This production is mostly humorous and one sees and thoroughly enjoys all the love between these two people. “What’s a Swan without a wing?” was a statement that turned the atmosphere very dark. It made me question all that I’ve had to lose to please society, to please men and to please my family. The production has a morbid end as the Swan ends up committing suicide.

What I felt at the festival this year was women in the arts fighting for their stories and the voices of those we have already lost to be heard.