Government Inspector tells of corruption through comedy

By Zelmarie Goosen and Robyn Kirk

 

THE RICH AND THE DUBIOUS: (from left) Obett Motaung, Campbell Jessica Meas, Michelle Schewitz, Jonathan Young and Peter Terry (foreground) in Jessica Friedan’s Government Inspector at the Wits Theatre. Photo: supplied

THE RICH AND THE DUBIOUS: (from left) Obett Motaung, Campbell Jessica Meas, Michelle Schewitz, Jonathan Young with Peter Terry (foreground) in Jessica Friedan’s Government Inspector at the Wits Theatre. Photo: supplied

The wealthy vying for the favour of the powerful, people giving gifts in order to gain something and a society in which greed conquers all. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

These are the central themes of the play Government Inspector that opened this week at the Wits Theatre.

Written more than 150 years ago the play is clearly still relevant to modern-day South African audiences.

For South African audiences

“It’s a satire set in Russia, not in South Africa, but I think we’ll see a lot of ourselves,” says director Jessica Friedan, a former Witsie. Friedan feels that through laughter, people look at issues differently. “I think we’re feeling a little brutalised with the country right now … we have enough commentary that’s very direct and very blunt and very harsh and we have enough depressing stuff.”

With the struggles South Africa is facing 20 years into democracy and the fallout from the Nkandla report fresh on our minds, Government Inspector takes a light-hearted look at what the elite will do to stay rich and powerful  through the deeds of a string of unlikable characters produced (or performed?) by  talented actors.

“I think it sort of brings out the universal themes of awful people using their positions to get lots of money and get lots of opportunities, which is as true in imperial Russia as it is here and anywhere else,” says Friedan.

Famous faces

The play sees guest performers Peter Terry and Matthew Lotter (both leading South African entertainers) acting alongside Wits School of Arts students. Friedan said she was  “very delighted” to have Terry and Lotter work with them.

“I think they bring a professionalism and an insight and also a perspective of what it is to work and what matters and doesn’t matter. The students have learnt a lot from them”.

Government Inspector is showing at the Wits Theatre on west campus, Braamfontein from till 30 April.

Editorial: Bite the hand that doesn’t feed

So it looks like Limpopo might produce a whole generation of Malemas. Education is the key to success but these northern youngsters aren’t exactly experiencing the “better life for all”.

The textbook saga is just another example of the ANC’s failure to curb corruption and mismanagement. But are voters finally going to ask: “What about the kids … what about my kids?”

Voting for the ANC in 1994 was certainly no mistake. Voting for them ever since, out of loyalty, fear, hope or whatever other reason, might’ve been a bad idea. Unemployed youth are angry and from these hopeless masses rise the likes of Julius Malema. Whether he still stands for that crowd or just stands to profit from their desperation is debatable. But he represents where it all went wrong – trying to fix things that may not be broken and further breaking things that need fixing. Case in point: education.

In a radio interview this week president Zuma insisted that education is a top priority as it receives a hefty portion of the budget. But one can’t help question why things are so bad in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo if that were true. Perhaps the wrong aspects within education are being prioritised.

It seems the ANC-led government may be trying to fix the problem from the top down. BEE, possible lower university entrance requirements, alleged inflated matric results … why not make just a slightly better effort at improving primary and high school education? Delivery of textbooks is such a basic process, how could it possibly have gone this wrong? Why not pay teachers, arguably the most important members of our society, a better salary? If you are a teacher in the Eastern Cape you might appreciate being paid at all.

The ANC-led government is giving our children a slap in the face. Yet parents and young adults keep voting for the party. Is that not a slap in the face to everyone who is trying their hardest to get ahead? Minister Angie Motshekga’s defence of her actions, or lack thereof, is offensive to say the least.

The Ethics Institute of SA should be supported for saying this week that officials should take responsibility for this debacle. An emotional observer might go further and say that Minister Motshekga is a disgrace to women who lead and a disgrace to what the ANC once was.

But forget about her. Just think of all the opportunities school children in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape will miss out on. Malema is right about one thing: the gap between rich and poor is widening. But neither he nor the current government has the solution.

The money is there, we just need the corruption and mismanagement to stop. For our children’s sake.