Soweto’s theatrical puzzle

Multimillion-dollar structure is a little bubble of escapism in a place where the harsh reality of life is still inescapable for some South Africans.

Johannesburg, South Africa – First impressions count. And to me at least, Soweto’s new theatre looks like a deconstructed Rubik’s cube.

I don’t know if it’s deliberate but that thought surely must have occurred to the architect or designer who chose those particular tones of blue, red and yellow.

The impression is enforced by the fact that the exterior is made of tiles – little coloured squares that make up the giant cubes. 

Only orange and green are missing, but maybe the grass is the green, hmmm …

Just as I realise I am overthinking this, it occurs to me that this little puzzle actually fits quite well.

This sparkling new multi-million-dollar theatre is in a township – a place where, under apartheid, the white minority forced their black labourers to live so they could be close enough to the city to work in the mines, clean homes and care for white babies – without actually living next door.

Today, of course, Soweto is a very different place.

One-third, that’s roughly 3.5 million, of Johannesburg’s residents live in Soweto. And within it, there are many different, diverse areas that make it a microcosm of South African society with all its inequalities.

There are million-dollar homes in the rich parts, while in the poorer areas – like Kliptown – there is no electricity and only one tap with running water to cater for 100 people.

The irony is that Kliptown is literally across a railway track from the spot where the Freedom Charter was signed.

That charter is the basis for the country’s constitution and enshrines the right to basic services.

Now, the Soweto Theatre just adds to the juxtaposition.

It is a new home for art in a place where some people don’t get enough to eat. It is a place many white people will feel comfortable visiting at night, located in an area that they would not dare go to otherwise.

It is a little bubble of escapism in a place where the harsh reality of life is still inescapable for some.


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