The Dry Wind Came: Breaking the Cycle of Violence in South Africa

Nick Boraine
November 23, 2012

Arts Policy Nexus

(To read other articles in our Arts-Policy Nexus series click here.)

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Photo courtesy of Global Arts Corps

“This time of healing has been a pretty
picture that we have drawn across the
land, and every day the dry wind comes
from the north to wipe it out.
But we’ve made this image of what we can
be and that is what we have to celebrate;
and we have to draw those lines again
while our hands remember. Then maybe we
will step back one day and stare with
wonder at what we have done, what we have
From The Play, “Truth In Translation”

And the dry wind came.

47 all told.

Not Iraq or Syria, not Pakistan, not Nigeria.

South Africa—my country. 47 dead. 34 shot and killed by police, 10 killed by striking miners, 78 more badly injured.

South Africa—the same country heralded for being the pinnacle of negotiated settlement after protracted conflict. South Africa—with the most progressive constitution on the planet. South Africa—a shining light of hope and possibility in the world.

A massive wake up call to all South Africans, the Marikana massacre of August 16th, 2012, sent a jolt through our society that had not been felt since the height of Apartheid in the late 1980s.

Marikana started a chain reaction of protests that continues today. Underpaid farmworkers in the Western Cape followed the example of the miners, using violence and intimidation to put pressure on farm owners. A violent strike of truck drivers has just ended, but for how long? Xenophobic murders are a constant threat in many townships. These are not isolated incidents. Each speaks to larger issues that perpetuate the cycle of violence in South Africa, a cycle that we thought we had broken.

As a founder and seasoned veteran of the Global Arts Corps with tours of duty as an actor, writer, and director in post-conflict regions like Northern Ireland, Rwanda, and the Balkans, I had no idea that the situation had shifted so fundamentally in my own country. Like frogs in slowly heating water, we were unaware that all around us it had actually begun to boil over. Politicians were enriching themselves at the expense of their people. Ordinary South Africans, so proud of our transition and ability to create change, had abdicated civic responsibility. A cavernous power vacuum had opened up, sucking in those without the will, the imagination, or the courage to lead effectively. In one day at Marikana, the rotten core of South Africa was revealed for all to see.

That’s how quickly it happens everywhere.

After touring the world for more than four years with the play “Truth In Translation” and then as a part of Michael Lessac’s Global Arts Corps, I should not have been surprised, I guess. I had listened to countless stories of the horrors of violence and conflict around the globe. I had worked with actors wrestling with their own countries’ ancestral demons—trying to make sense of where the violence started and how to break the cycle that only leads to more violence. As a South African, it was easy to relate—we had been through our own conflict and had somehow come out alive.  However, we allowed ourselves to be seduced into thinking that we had some kind of answer. We didn’t—the pretty picture that we drew in the sand was merely a possibility. But possibility demands vigilance, and Marikana shows how far we still have to go.

But possibility of the kind that South Africa represented demands vigilance, and Marikana shows how far we still have to go.

Marikana for me was a call to arms. Not to take to the streets but to remember to listen. Not to fight but to remember that nonviolence needs to be practiced, rehearsed again and again. I had to learn to be vigilant once more.

We marveled at how people could watch our play, “Truth In Translation” and see their own conflicts reflected in that mirror. Now the same held true for me in South Africa. I looked at how we had dropped the baton and how easy it was to slide into violence if we were not responsible for our own country.

Global Arts Corps creates theatre and film to advance reconciliation in societies emerging from violent conflict. We work with theatre artists who either once looked down the barrel of a gun at each other or, as children of conflict, still deal with memories not yet healed.  Drawing from a global corps of artists—from South Africa, the Balkans, Northern Ireland and the U.S.—we use theatre performances as catalysts for dialogue, and, around them, build strong community bonds that stimulate and encourage conflict resolution through simple, yet dependable, acts of solidarity, such as training professional actors, mentoring youth, and witnessing the local condition in a multi-year engagement.

The Global Arts Corps was started in South Africa to bring the possibilities we saw here to people across the world, but now South Africa needs the Global Arts Corps more than ever.

As a reinvestment into the country that started our organization, the Global Arts Corps is currently reengaging with youth groups as well as looking at restaging the play “Truth In Translation” with young students at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. We are also partnering with other NGOs in the town of Pearston in the Eastern Cape as part of ongoing project to give a voice to “at risk” young people in South Africa.

This is just a beginning, but all of us in South Africa must draw those lines again… while our hands remember.

Nick Boraine

Nick Boraine is an actor, writer, director and the Associate Artistic Director of Global Arts Corps.

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