Benji Francis epitomises the soul of an artist thwarted by Apartheid. So eloquent is he in the telling of his story, it could be described as lyrical if it were not for the degree of pain and torment that lies beneath his words. He tells of moments of searching, a thirst for creative expression, being touched by seminal figures like Mannie Manim, Athol Fugard and Steve Biko.
To face the truth, of being descended from slaves, which indentured Indians to South Africa were, is already a bitter pill. To have a father who put education and owning land for his family’s dignity above all else, and then to have his family forcefully removed from that land under the shadow of a policeman’s trudgen, simply adds salt to an already festering wound. It is an important story, especially for those who were politically protected from Apartheid, from the background noises of women being beaten, men being imprisoned, should hear.
Although he was brought up Christian, he was inspired by the enchantment and colour of a single Hindu temple in his youth. This was where Benji found himself pulled into the theatricality of life. It became his passion; meeting Athol Fugard advanced that passion. However, above all else, he has been driven by the injustices of Apartheid and the prejudices inherited from a colonial hangover and found his voice in theatre.
It is a long interview, but if theatre reflects history, every chapter of this interview relates to a period in this important history, from the slavery of Indians, through Apartheid and its consequences, to the storehouse of a cultural legacy Benjy represents.