Who is the real Allan Boesak?
by Diane de Beer
Photos: Nardus Engelbrecht
Many artists would relish the challenge if given the chance to present an original play spotlighting one of our struggle heroes.
Allan Boesak is a man of the cloth, a controversial figure, someone who never courted consensus, yet a complex and challenging man. And if the title of the play is only a surname, the assumption is that many in the audience would at least know who he is.
This would be a fascinating story to tell, because while he might be a rock star to some, others would only be familiar with or perhaps remember the headlines. And these are already captured in the short summary in the festival guide. “His political career crashed through barriers and his fraud case, which resulted in a prison sentence turned him into a semi-mythical almost iconic figure,” is some of what it says.
Mercy Kannemeyer is the writer, director and responsible for design and lighting. There’s a lot of information out there, but you have to give the audience and the actor something to work with.
If your text is a run-through of his life from birth to his later life where he is granted an official pardon and reinstated as cleric, I know nothing more about his life than when I first entered the room.
What is in the text could have been a class assignment for high school students because it only lists a slightly random rundown of his life. Not much the audience or the actor could do with that – especially one as accomplished as Marlo Minnaar. But he could only play with what he is given and there’s not much.
Clichéd phrases like a prophet is honoured everywhere but at home, or just a mention of Beyers Naudé, who changed his perception of all white people, is not enough to make a man. And that is what we’re looking for.
Who is Allan Boesak? How did his life spiral so out of control that he went from apartheid activist to charged fraudster? Where is he now and what is he doing? How did he rise again after the fall – even if he was pardoned?
Who is this man?
We have to honour our heroes and tell their stories, give them flesh, make them human. He might be familiar to his community, but the rest of us are only familiar with what we have been told and even those cannot be remembered 20 years on.
Everything about the production felt rushed and not well thought through. The set was unimaginative and so was the staging. Why would someone suddenly step onto a church pew to deliver a line?
Why weren’t we told why he didn’t attend the UDF celebrations in 2023? Nobody knows him any better than before we saw the play.
It’s a pity. What I do know, is that he is a fascinating man who lived in interesting times in which he played a leading role. Tell me why things happened and how he felt about his world at the time, not that it happened. That is what I know.