Theatre Review: Khongolose Khommanding Khommissars – Comrades On Cahoots, Or Satire Stretched

August 5, 2023




Khongolose Khommanding Khommissars / Directed by Billy Langa & Mahlatsi Mokgonyana / John Kani Theatre, Market Theatre, Newtown, Johannesburg


The Market Theatre has been the de facto home of struggle theatre in South Africa since its inception. But now that The Struggle is theoretically over, nearly 30 years into democracy, you’d hope that the themes of older works would be out of date.

As all the coverage around State Capture and the summation of all of that in the Zondo Report confirm that much of the story remains the same, even if the players are different, and J Bobs Tshabalala, who wrote the script for Khongolose Khommanding Khommissars, views contemporary goings-on through a suitably jaundiced lens.

His dialogue is structured using quickfire rhyming couplets (described as ‘Comrade-speak’ in the show notes), confidently delivered by a talented cast. This gives the work the feel of a Shakespearean dramedy, and a sense of why the Bard’s work would have had such an impact when it was first presented. All the perspectives presented are made clear, but in a creative, dynamic way, including movement and interaction with a slick conceptual set by Denis Hutchinson (interlocked puzzle pieces, a couple of which hide booze cupboards and document storage spaces). The punchiness and pace add David Mamet-ish touch to the already stylised delivery, making the piece fairly dense – it’s necessary to focus and keep up.

Khongolose… is not a redemption story. Politicians and businesspeople vie for different slices of the largely looted pie, with their collective avarice only being adapted as new opportunities for gathering power and wealth are placed on offer, but never called to account.

Nobody involved is either trustworthy or even pleasant, though Xolile Gama gives his character, the superior who the others nominally submit to, a good deal of sleazy charm. The fact that such a striking-looking stage is filled with corruption in every poisonous sense of the word means the heavy satire eventually begins to take its toll. The intensity of the script and the commitment required to extract maximum value from the words line up well until you begin to sense that the commissars trying to undermine and upstage each other may well be heading towards success (on their terms, at any rate). If that does turn out to be the case, art imitating life could be too much of a no-good thing…