Thinking about South Africa recently reminded me of this powerful play by South African writer Athol Fugard. I saw it at the Hampstead Theatre, London in 2010. It is the story of an Afrikaaner train-driver, Roelf, who is traumatised by the death of a black woman, hit by his train.
He goes to the squatter camp to find her grave. There he finds the poor black grave-digger and caretaker, Simon, who tends the graves. Many of the dead are without names and the graves are marked with items of rubbish or discarded pieces of vehicles rather than crosses or religious motifs. The explanation is simple. Simon just needs to know where not to dig the next grave.
The play is close to a monologue as Roelf uses the mostly silent Simon as the listening ear to his story and his troubled conscience.
The play is based on a real event; a young black woman stepped in front of a train in Cape Flats, South Africa. She was holding her three young children as she did so. They were all killed. In that action, the desperate plight of many in South Africa is mirrored. In Roelf, we see the guilt and self- absorption of white South Africa reflected as it moves out from under the cover of Apartheid. Simon may be poor but it is Roelf who is suffering in this play.
In the production I saw Owen Sejake played Simon and Sean Wilson played Roelf. On the evening of my visit to the Hampstead Theatre, Athol Fugard was also present and he took questions at the end. That made it a special evening.
‘The Train Driver’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?