Athol Fugard – My Children! My Africa!

fugard-my-children-my-africa“My Children! My Africa!” is a flawed, yet powerful play first performed in 1989 in South Africa. Fugard is a talented playwright, but his assumptions are somewhat off.

The text centers around three characters set in “State of Emergency” 1984 South Africa. Isabel, a white, precocious Afrikaner; Thami, a black, independent African; and Mr. M, the teacher, caught in the middle of events not so out of their control. The story is somewhat about reconciliation and the power of education and discipline. Yet, things fall apart as Thami rebels in his mind against the Bantu education and the Western teachings (taught to him by his teacher Mr. M). In the end, all three pay the price for their friendship, but that is not the most of it.

In all honesty, the play taken with a grain of salt is moving and I felt my chest tighten and my heart race as Fugard effortlessly moves the reader through this trying time. But upon reflection, problems begin to emerge.

One is the assumptions are raised. Fugard is obviously anti-apartheid, but does the future of South Africa, as he was predicting in 1989, lay with those like Thami or those like Isabel. Thami, who begins to be swept away by the movements in Southern Africa (notably Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique) is given a negative aura by Fugard, as if he lets his emotions rule his better reasoning, exemplified by Mr. M. As one critic points out, Fugard, in the end, voices the beliefs of the white, middle class South Africa through characters like Isabel and Mr. M. The violence, which is “inevitably” what Thami will adopt, will only hurt South Africa’s future after apartheid even more.

The other is the historical inaccuracies. The book was written in 1989, but set in 1984. Fugard uses the play as a weather-vane and a crystal ball in which he attempts to predict the future by rewriting the past. He misrepresents 1980s South Africa and movements like the UDF, essential to the ending of racial hierarchy in 1994, by having Thami break off Isabel and his friendship because blacks and whites were not allowed to mix and be friends. Fugard also uses history, on which Thami builds his new found historical consciousness, to downplay the positive roles of social movements in South Africa. Then there is the story of Mr. M, which Fugard rips right from the newspapers (he even keeps his same name) yet is not given proper justice.

The reason the play got 4 stars instead of 3 resides in Fugard’s character, Thami. In my opinion, Thami transcends the near stranglehold that Fugard attempts to impose upon him. The events Fugard banked on us forgetting: Klipstown in 1955, Sharpsville in 1960, or Soweto in 1976. Don’t follow Mr. M’s bogus mantra of “correctly” reading or voting or seeing things – because more often than not, you’re being misled in ways that cannot be seen. Instead, read with an open mind and let history guide you the rest of the way.


~ by Daniel on November 11, 2008.

2 Responses to “Athol Fugard – My Children! My Africa!”

  1. Isabel is not an Afrikan, she is from England, Afrikans are Duch. She is called a white.

  2. if i say am nt confused, then, am 100% lying. The idea i got from write-up is quite different from what i think Fugard was trying to pass across. Mr. M believes that, with education and ‘words’, the fighting can be done without boycotting, strikes and blood shed. He belives that some people ‘comrades’ as they were called are using and playing on the innocency of the young onres. He tried to stop this by reporting them to the police and as a reaction against his actions, he was tagged an ‘informer’. In the cause of bring peace, he was brutally mudered by the set of pupils he was fight for.

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