Scholars of African theatre in general and Theatre-for- Development in particular will definitely find the technique of dramaturgy that Masitha Hoeane employs in scripting Mama Mudu's Children relevant in delineating contemporary issues. In reviewing the play, I look at the following aspects: patronage, thematic considerations, technique and relevance. The play is partitioned into five scenes, plus a prologue, an interlude and an epilogue, which do not only serve the purposes of prefacing, providing an interruptive deviation from the main subject or creating a witty conclusion to dramatic ekstasis respectively, but which also illustrate how Hoeane has used the play to unravel tensions which are intricately linked to one another and to the characters as they attempt to seek answers to the major question of the play, i.e. the absence of Ubuntu in a contemporary Edladleni society. The tragi-comedy dramatic style of Mama Mudu's Children is embedded in the language employed as it unravels the characters’ motives, which when deconstructed denounce condescending human behaviour. The language pattern reflects agency, yet with idiomatic expressions that particularly cite xenophobic tendencies, rendering the Edladleni society a paradoxical space of dwelling.
The play chronicles the life of Mama Mudu, an elderly female character, who is caught between protecting her family and the larger Edladleni community from violence, crime and poverty, and protecting migrants from other African countries from prejudice and xenophobic attacks. Although she ends up raising the consciousness of the society against absurd killings of defenceless inhabitants of Edladleni irrespective of where they come from, she loses her grandson, Lulu, to gun violence. While Mercy, a migrant from another African nation is brutally murdered by a mob in what is clearly a xenophobic attack, her father, Sam, barely escapes with his life, while his kiosk rages with an engulfing flame torched by the same mob.
A succinct background to the creation of Mama Mudu's Children, provided in the preface and acknowledgment of the play invites comments on the question of patronage in African Performative Arts. I read this play after returning from the symposium, ‘Power to the People?: Patronage, Intervention and Transformation in African Performative Arts’ at Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya, 20–25 March 2018. The symposium provides a platform to reflect on reasons why certain artistic projects, such as Mama Mudu's Children, are commissioned.