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Dispossession and Solidarity in Athol Fugard and Juan Radrigán1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 September 2015


This article compares the two major figures of Chilean and South African theatre, in particular two intimate realist dramas onstage and onscreen in the 1970s and 1980s, when both countries were ruled by tyrannies tolerated by governments in the so-called free world. In Boesman and Lena and Hechos consumados the depiction of solidarity against the dispossession caused by ‘capitalist revolution’ in Pinochet's Chile or Afrikaner capitalism in apartheid South Africa still resonates today when the rhetoric of struggle appears compromised by the culture of consumption and when post-apartheid and post-dictatorship governments retreat from ‘suspended revolution’ in a world shaped not only in the global South but also in the affluent North by neo-liberal axioms of shrunken government and free markets for the rich against austerity for the poor.

Copyright © International Federation for Theatre Research 2015 

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2 Billington, Michael, ‘Review of Boesman and Lena’, Plays and Players, 18 (1971), pp. 48–9Google Scholar; ‘Children of Fate: review’, Guardian, 31 October 2013, n.p., at, last accessed 8 July 2015.

3 Apart from a brief article tracking the ‘theme of marginality’ in both writers but without referring to Boesman and Lena (Enrique, Sandoval G., ‘El tema de marginalidad en dos dramaturgos contemporáneos: Athol Fugard y Juan Radrigán’, Polis, 3 (2002), pp. 210Google Scholar), there has been no engagement with Fugard in Chile or with Radrigán in South Africa. Military regimes in Spain and South America were not likely hosts for Fugard's anti-authoritarian drama. Only in 1999 did his work reach Argentina with The Road to Mecca.

4 Moulián, Tomás, Chile actual: anatomía de un mito (Santiago: LOM, 1997), p. 15Google Scholar; O'Meara, Dan, Volkskapitalisme (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983)Google Scholar, passim.

5 See Moulián's anatomy of the myth of post-dictatorship freedoms; Richard, Nelly, Crítica de la memoria (Santiago: Ediciones Universitarias Diego Portales, 2010)Google Scholar; Salazar, Gabriel, Dolencias históricas de la memoria ciudadana: Chile 1810–2010 (Santiago: Editorial Universitaria, 2012)Google Scholar; Bond, Patrick, Elite Transition: From Apartheid to Neoliberalism in South Africa (London: Pluto Press, 2001)Google Scholar; Bundy, Colin, Short-Changed: South Africa Since Apartheid (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2014)Google Scholar; and Habib, Adam, from whose work South Africa's Suspended Revolution (Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2013)Google Scholar, I borrow to reflect on the political impasse of the present.

6 ‘Plebeian’ effectively translates Latin American popular because it denotes informal resistance by ordinary people to patrician arrogance while allowing that the precariously employed may not identify with an organized proletariat. ‘Popular’ in English is too closely linked to marketing for profit to represent those alienated from consumer culture.

7 Sandoval, ‘El tema de marginalidad’, borrows the focus on marginalization from major Chilean scholars Maria de la Luz Hurtado and Juan Andrés Piña, whose introduction to Radrigán, Juan, Teatro (11 obras) (Santiago: CENECA/University of Minnesota Press, 1984)Google Scholar (hereafter Radrigán, Obras) is titled ‘Los niveles de marginalidad en Juan Radrigán’ but whose analysis nonetheless focuses on dispossession.

8 The Population Registration Act used ‘Coloured’ to separate ‘brown’ mostly Afrikaans-speakers from ‘black’ Bantu-language-speakers and, while granting the former minor privileges, also split families, even taking supposedly brown children away from apparently white parents.

9 Pinochet erected a statue in Santiago to Palacios, whose tract blamed immigrants for allegedly diluting the Nordic purity of the Chilean race; see La raza Chilena (Valparaiso: Imprenta alemana, 1904). An older statue of Palacios in his birthplace Santa Cruz appears with commentary in Littín's clandestine film Acta general de Chile (1986) (Buenos Aires, Blakman Films, 1997) and in Marquez's, Gabriel García narrative La aventura de Miguel Littín (Mexico City: Editorial Diana, 1986), p. 96Google Scholar. On the mestizo majority in Chile, see Salazar, Dolencias históricas, p. 140.

10 Moulián, Chile actual, pp. 76–8, alludes, without direct citation, to Foucault's call for dispersed interventions to pry open states of political paralysis while discussing oblique resistance to political quietism in the post-dictatorship; see Foucault, Michel, ‘Two Lectures: One’, in Foucault, , Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, ed. Gordon, Colin (New York: Pantheon 1980), pp. 7892Google Scholar; here pp. 80, 83.

11 Neither Vorster (1966–78) nor his successor, P. W. Botha (1978–88), were dictators; they answered to the National Party, which while authoritarian met opposition from the courts and the press. O'Meara, Dan, Forty Lost Years: The Apartheid State and the Politics of the National Party 1948-1994 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1996), pp. 130207Google Scholar. Nonetheless, the apartheid state's promotion of volkskapitalisme shared elements with the economic deregulation and persecution of ‘godless communists’ that drove Pinochet's dictatorship (Moulián, Chile actual, pp. 171–80) and his lesser-known interest in racial purity recalls, albeit on a smaller scale, the white supremacist ideology of apartheid.

12 Fugard, Athol, Notebooks 1960–77 (New York: Theatre Communication Group, 1984), pp. 132, 146Google Scholar.

13 Kani's joke is in the 1974 film documenting the New York performance but does not appear in the published text; see Fugard, Athol and Martin, Andrew, Sizwe Bansi Is Dead (New York: Insight Media, 1992)Google Scholar. The National Security Archive's publication of declassified US documents demonstrates that Nixon directed the CIA to destabilize Chile even before Allende took office. Kornbluh, Peter, The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability (New York: New Press, 2003), pp. 334Google Scholar.

14 Fugard, Notebooks, p. 146.

15 Ibid., p. 166.


16 Platzky, Laurine and Walker, Cherryl, The Surplus People: Forced Removals in South Africa (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1985), p. 10Google Scholar.

17 Fugard, quoted in Walder, Dennis, Athol Fugard (London: Macmillan, 1985), p. 74Google Scholar.

18 Collier, Simon and Sater, William F., A History of Chile: 1808–2002 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 290CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

19 Puga, Ana Elena, ‘Introduction’, in Radrigán, Juan, Finished from the Start and Other Plays, trans. Puga, Ana Elena and Núñez-Parra, Mónica (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1992)Google Scholar (hereafter Radrigán, Finished), pp. xxix–xxxi.

20 Kornbluh, The Pinochet File, pp. 79–160.

21 The coup erupted with a military assault on the presidential palace and Allende's suicide there on 11 September, and the murder of leftists like singer-songwriter Víctor Jara and others held in the National Stadium days thereafter. Pinochet sent not only guerrillas but Socialist and Communist Party members and others with no militant background to torture centres or concentration camps, and went on to deploy DINA to kill adversaries abroad, including his predecessor General Carlos Prats in Argentine exile in 1974, and diplomat Orlando Letelier and his US associate Ronnie Moffitt in Washington, DC in 1976; see Kornbluh, The Pinochet File, pp. 333–5; pp. 441–6. As Stern, Steve J. shows in Battling for Hearts and Minds: Memory Struggles in Pinochet's Chile, 1973–88 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), pp. 4156CrossRefGoogle Scholar, junta claims that guerrillas had attempted to overthrow the government were largely propaganda.

22 Winn, Peter, ‘“No Miracle for Us”: The Textile Industry in the Pinochet Era’, in Winn, , Victims of the Chilean Miracle: Workers and Neoliberalism in the Pinochet Era, 1973–1998 (Durham, NC: Duke Unbiversity Press, 2004), pp. 125–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Although equivocating on the label ‘dictator’, even conservative historian Vial, Gonzalo, Chile: cinco siglos de historia (Santiago: Zig Zag, 2012)Google Scholar, Vol II, p. 1321, acknowledges that Pinochet had a singular ‘appetite for power’ and that he moved promptly to concentrate it in his own hands.

23 Puga, ‘Introduction’, p. xxxiv.

24 Stern, Battling for Hearts and Minds, pp. 112–23. Even if documented dead and disappeared numbered less than 3,500 (Kornbluh, The Pinochet File, 162), the torture of tens of thousands (Stern, Steve J., Reckoning with Pinochet: The Memory Question in Democratic Chile, 1989-2006 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), p. 298CrossRefGoogle Scholar) and the exile of hundreds of thousands (Collier and Sater, A History of Chile, p. 360), a huge number for a country of ten million at the time, shredded the fabric of the whole society.

25 Dismantling the Popular Unity economic programme, whose attempts to promote equity had already been hampered by US blockage of World Bank loans, by US manipulation of copper prices (Collier and Sater, A History of Chile, pp. 340–44) and by CIA support for propaganda and espionage (Kornbluh, The Pinochet File, pp. 79–160), was for the junta as important as political power. Neo-liberal economists called Chicago Boys, for their allegiance to Milton Friedman and colleagues, voided gains for working people by gutting unions and privatizing state assets; see Winn, ‘No Miracle for Us’, pp. 25–9. Friedman praised the ‘Chilean miracle’ during a lecture tour in 1975 (Alejandro Reuss, ‘Milton Friedman's “Chilean Miracle”’, Dollars and Sense, 7 January 2007, n.p., at, last accessed 8 July 2015, but the year's mass lay-offs required a Program for Minimum Employment and, as Moulián, Chile actual, pp. 89–96, demonstrates, economic shock treatment did not reduce triple-digit inflation or reverse negative growth until the end of the decade and these gains were not historically exceptional.

26 Kruger, Loren, Post-imperial Brecht: Politics and Performance, East and South (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 222–31Google Scholar.

27 de la Luz Hurtado, Maria, Teatro Chileno y modernidad: identidad y crisis social (Irvine, CA: Gestos, 1997), pp. 155, pp. 186–202Google Scholar.

28 On Peoples Educational Theatre and other short-lived militant ventures see Kruger, Loren, The Drama of South Africa (London: Routledge, 1999), pp. 129–47Google Scholar.

29 Maria, Theresa Zeghers N., 25 años de teatro en Chile: 1970–95 (Santiago: Ministerio de Educación, 1999), pp. 72–3Google Scholar; pp. 86–7.

30 Hurtado and Piña, ‘Los niveles de marginalidad’, p. 19.

31 Radrigán, Obras, p. 310; trans. Puga and Núñez-Parra, Radrigán, Finished, p. 182. My comments draw on the Spanish original but cite from the US translation, except where ambiguities or discrepancies require citation of the original. Modifications indicated by italics in the text followed by ‘translation modified’.

32 Fugard, Athol, Three Port Elizabeth Plays: The Blood Knot, Hello and Goodbye and Boesman and Lena (New York: Viking, 1974), p. 205Google Scholar.

33 Radrigán, Obras, p. 310; Radrigán, Finished, p. 182.

34 My comments are based on Fugard's text, the original staging with Fugard, Bryceland and (white) Glynn Day as Outa, which I saw at the Alexander Theatre in Johannesburg, and the film by Ross Devenish (1973) (Cape Town: Bluewater Media, 2009), who cast black Sandy Dube as Outa.

35 Fugard, Three Port Elizabeth Plays, p. 167.

36 Radrigán, Finished, p. 147. In the opening directions, sitio baldío (Radrigán, Obras, p. 275) makes more sense as ‘empty [or vacant] lot’ than ‘wasteland’ in Children of Fate, but Shaw has more practical directions: ‘Stage left we make out a shape of a person’. Radrigán, Juan, Children of Fate, trans. Shaw, Robert (London: Oberon, 2013), p. 17Google Scholar.

37 Radrigán, Finished, p. 147.

38 Radrigán, Finished, p. 148.

39 Hurtado, Teatro Chileno, p. 149. More recently, Machuca (2004), a film by Andrés Wood, who was eight in 1973 (the year of the story), vividly depicts the población where Pedro Machuca and his family live, contrasted with his Catholic school classmate's home in a wealthy suburb, which could be in the US. The contrast highlights the inequality that fuelled the Popular Unity movement in Radrigán's day and suggests that society remains divided in today's Chile.

40 Radrigán, Obras, p. 284; Radrigán, Finished, p. 150.

41 Vera fled Chile in 1973, studied film in Romania and settled in Sweden, but returned temporarily after relaxed restrictions admitted some exiles after 1980. Millán, Francisco, La memoria agitada: cine y represión en Chile y Argentina (Madrid: Ocho y medio, 2001), p. 461Google Scholar. Valenzuela's work with Radrigán included the role of Lucía in Claudio di Girólamo's film of Radrigán's play El 18 de los García. With shared casts of dissidents, these films had no official distribution but circulated informally in solidarity with victims of terror, often with Girólamo's documentary Andrés de la Victoria, about a community priest killed by police (Stern, Battling for Hearts and Minds, p. 331).

42 Puga, note to Radrigán, Finished, p. 146.

43 Since the dialogue indicates that both men worked on industrial machines, ‘textile worker’ makes more sense than ‘weaver’; the latter, used both by Shaw and by Puga and Núñez-Parra, conflates tejedores with artisans like the women crafting arpilleras (rag tapestries) to commemorate the disappeared, dramatized in Tres Marías y una Rosa by the Taller de Investigación Teatral in 1979. At its height, the textile industry employed more workers than any other, but most firms did not survive deregulation and cheaper imports. Winn, ‘No Miracle for Us’.

44 Radrigán, Obras, pp. 299, 297; Radrigán, Finished, p. 171, 169, translation modified.

45 In ‘Neoliberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy’, Theory and Event, 7, 1 (2003), n.p., see, last accessed 8 July 2015, Wendy Brown notes that neo-liberal ideology reinterprets Adam Smith's ideal of the self-reliant individual as condemnation of those whom society has abandoned as moral as well as economic failures.

46 The passive ‘I was sent’ conveys the power of unseen bosses more precisely than the unidiomatic transfer of the Spanish active impersonal, especially as Emilio's questions, culminating in ‘Who is he? Have you ever seen him?’ (Radrigán, Finished, p. 185), suggest that Miguel's boss is a faceless corporation.

47 Radrigán, Obras, p. 298; Radrigán, Finished, p. 170.

48 Radrigán, Finished, p. 150; Obras, p. 278.

49 Obras, p. 315, translation modified.

50 Radrigán, Finished, p. 187.

51 For this dop (‘tot’) system see February, Vernon, The Afrikaners of South Africa (London: Kegan Paul, 1990), p. 100Google Scholar. Post-apartheid law prohibits the practice but it has not disappeared.

52 Kruger, Drama of South Africa, pp. 123–5. Fugard's decades with black collaborators earned their willingness to take risks onstage with his work. His long-time associate Zakes Mokae, performing in New York in 1970, was able to show Boesman's abusive side without losing his dignity, in keeping with Fugard's Boesman with Bryceland as Lena, who portrayed brief moments of relief against long episodes of misery. By contrast, the US film (Boesman and Lena (New York: Primedia, 1999)) by John Berry, who had directed the New York production, softened the ugly but realistic abuse by omitting racist epithets altogether and by using Lena's fleeting recollection of family life in a ‘real room with a door and all that’ (Fugard, Three Port Elizabeth Plays, p. 182) to prompt a backstory of courtship between two young and impossibly beautiful people, played by Angela Bassett and Danny Glover, perhaps to reassure audiences of a happy beginning if not a happy ending.

53 Wertheim, Albert, The Dramatic Art of Athol Fugard (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), p. 57Google Scholar.

54 Apartheid aversion to race mixing perversely acknowledged the hidden hybrid ancestry of Afrikaners and the linguistic promiscuity of Afrikaans, which had emerged from the encounter between colonial Dutch and mostly South Asian slaves, and thus could not be suiwer (pure) as apartheid ideologues claimed; see February, The Afrikaners of South Africa, pp. 6–18.

55 See note 9 above.

note 9

56 For historical labour solidarity between poor whites and ‘Coloureds’ see Berger, Iris, Threads of Solidarity: Women in South African Industry 1900–1980 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991Google Scholar).

57 Collier and Sater, A History of Chile, pp. 290-2.

58 Fugard, Three Port Elizabeth Plays, p. 183.

59 Ibid., p. 184.


60 Ibid., p. 186.


61 Ibid., p. 207.


62 Ibid., p. 213.


63 Ibid., p. 214.


64 Ibid., p. 216.


65 Ibid., p. 219.


66 Radrigán, Obras, p. 280; Radrigán, Children, p. 23; Radrigán, Finished, p. 152.

67 Radrigán, Obras, p. 280; Radrigán, Children, p. 24; Radrigán, Finished, p. 152, 162.

68 Stern, Battling for Hearts and Minds, pp. 112–23; pp. 209–309.

69 Radrigán, Finished, p. 152, 153; Radrigán, Obras, p. 281, translation modified.

70 Radrigán, Finished, p. 152.

71 Radrigán, Finished, p. 145; Radrigán, Children, p. 5.

72 Despite the text's reference to a man, the 1981 premiere featured a woman, Mariela Roy. Myriam Palacios (1936–2013) performed in Tres Marías y una Rosa, and in films, including El 18 de los García (see note 41 for details of this film). Vera's treatment of the silent figures in Hechos – he cuts black and white dialogue scenes with short colour sequences that depict crowds on the move – may conjure the disappeared or the ‘unhoused’, as the play indicates, but it may also register reawakening of public protest under way by 1984.

note 41

73 Radrigán, Finished, p. 148.

74 Ibid., p. 166.


75 Ibid., Finished, p. 154.


76 Radrigán, Obras, p. 282; Radrigán, Finished, p. 154; translation modified.

77 Radrigán, Finished, p. 164.

78 Radrigán, Obras, p. 296; Radrigán, Finished, p. 169, 153.

79 Radrigán, Finished, p. 178. Vera added interior scenes in Miguel's apartment that dramatize his conflicts with his ill wife, which deepen the alienation that pushes Miguel to respond to Emilio with deadly violence.

80 Radrigán, Obras, p. 309; Radrigán, Finished, p. 181, translation modified.

81 Radrigán, Obras, p. 310; Radrigán, Finished, p. 182, translation modified.

82 Thomas, Eduardo, ‘Representación y transcendencia de lo absurdo en el teatro chileno contemporáneo’, Revista Chilena de la literatura, 54 (April 1999), pp. 530, here p. 22Google Scholar. Thomas's primary source is Hurtado and Piña, who omit Camus but link Radrigán to the theatre of the absurd in the sense purported by Martin Esslin to cover the projects of Beckett, Adamov and Arrabál (pp. 49–50).

83 Radrigán, Obras, p. 364.

84 Camus, Albert, Le mythe de Sisyphe (Paris: Gallimard, 1953)Google Scholar, p. 45; Camus, , The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, trans. O'Brien, Justin (New York: Knopf, 1983), p. 28Google Scholar, translation modified.

85 Radrigán, Finished, p. 182.

86 Camus, Le mythe de Sisyphe, p. 18; Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, p. 5.

87 Radrigán, Obras, p. 314; Radrigán, Finished, p. 186, translation modified to highlight the originally capitalized Yes and No.

88 Camus, Albert, L'homme révolté (Paris: Gallimard, 1951), p. 25Google Scholar; Camus, The Rebel, trans. Antony Bower (New York: Knopf, 1961), p. 13.

89 Radrigán, Finished, p. 187; translation modified.

90 Radrigán, Obras, p. 315; Radrigán, Finished, p. 187.

91 Camus, L'homme révolté, p. 26; Camus, The Rebel, p. 14.

92 Fugard, Three Port Elizabeth Plays, p. 218.

93 Fugard, Notebooks, p. 156.

94 Fugard, Three Port Elizabeth Plays, p. 219.

95 Radrigán, Finished, p. 187.

96 Mda, Zakes repeats this dubious claim in ‘Theater and Reconciliation in South Africa’, Theater, 25, 3 (1995), pp. 3645, here p. 36CrossRefGoogle Scholar; for the longer history from the 1920s, see Kruger, Post-imperial Brecht, pp. 215–36.

97 On the political–legal struggle see Stern, Reckoning, pp. 211–65; on the politics of memory see Richard, Crítica de la memoria, especially ‘Pasado fijo y recuerdo en movimiento’, pp. 146–78.

98 Habib, South Africa's Suspended Revolution, pp. 201–24.

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