I See You, a pertinent play about post-Apartheid Johannesburg from Mongiwekhaya. Handled with aplomb by Noma Dumezweni in her directorial debut. The play is on at the Royal Court Theatre until March 26th, it will then move to the Market Theatre in Johannesburg.

In I See You, Mongiwekhaya has created a visceral representation of the startling socio-economic tensions and systemic violence in Johannesburg. A gripping production offering an anatomy of the competing concerns of race and class in Joburg, and the persistent abuse of power by the South African Police Service. All in the course of one night in the city’s streets and suburbs.

The play was developed during the Royal Court’s new writing project in South Africa which began in 2013. Under Noma Dumezweni’s direction, the play locks you into this night through Johannesburg’s emotional and political landscape, through a city with competing sensations of danger and adventure, of fresh freedom meeting old oppressions.

With a potent performance from Desmond Dube, as the deranged and very dangerous Sgt. Buthelezi, and Bayo Gbadamosi ,striking, as the wrongfully accused student, Ben. The play opens by intersecting the lives of Ben and Skinn, two young people driving towards a good time. Their misfortune begins when they encounter Sgt. Buthelezi, and Ben, the driver, is unable to address Buthelezi in an African tongue. Joburgers know the necessity of this exchange, even if one must arouse some dodgy Zulu or retired Afrikaans, it must be done, particularly in a country where English is immediately associated with internalised imperialism and the police force now constitutes former guerilla fighters.

The centrepiece of the play becomes the interaction between Ben and his arresting officer, Sgt. Buthelezi. Both black males but time and circumstance have conspired to pit them against each other. Buthelezi wants Ben to pay for his privilege, he wants Ben to know pain because of his own pain, which is quite unrelated to Ben. But the opportunity to torture and humiliate an innocent cannot be passed up by the predatory police officer. Who unlawfully arrests Ben and proceeds to taunt him, “Speak to me in your mother-tongue and I will let you go”. Powerless to respond in Xhosa, Ben is taken on a ride through the darkest parts of Jozi and Buthelezi.

Mongiwekhaya’s play exposes the violent subjugation transmuted from the old government to their African counterparts, and the abuse of the state’s monopoly on violence. I See You addresses the complexity of African interaction and identity in Johannesburg, it navigates the power dynamics between Africans; between the state and civilians, between the newly rich and the persistently poor. And between South African men and women. It is a multi-layered microcosm of a nation still integrating its disparate pieces. A stirring production.

I See You is now playing at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg.

By Oratile Mashazi