Country duty

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Stemme | Voices | Amazwi is LitNet’s series of 15 short, powerful monologues, written by established and upcoming playwrights, presented in collaboration with Suidoosterfees, NATi and ATKV.

In Mike van Graan’s ‘Country duty’, a whistleblower delivers the keynote address at an awards ceremony for investigative journalists. Motlatji Mjamba performs the monologue, directed by Chuma Sopotela.

In this video, Motlatji Mjamba and director Chuma Sopotela discuss their approach to the performance.

Country duty

Thank you for inviting me to do this evening’s keynote address.

To be honest, I struggled with whether to accept or not. Every time I’ve raised my head, I’ve been shot at from all directions. So far, only metaphorically. Which is why I’m not on social media.

This is my first public event in nearly four years. I used to do it all the time. I was the blue-eyed brown girl. Whenever the company needed a public face, I would be it. I loved it. Meeting people. The flirting. Sometimes being patronised, but mostly being affirmed. The cocktail circuit lifestyle.

Till I began to ask questions. Why are we invoicing for work that we have not done? Is it right that we should be designing requests for proposals – government tenders – for which we ourselves will pitch? So, we’re coaching the new CEO of a state-owned enterprise before the job is even advertised?

I went from the IT girl to the OUT girl. From being the head of my unit, I had to report to someone who used to be my junior.

When I asked why, I was told that I was just not good enough. They mess with your head. There’s the man-woman thing. The age difference. And, of course, I was black. The youngest black and only woman in a mostly male management team, half of them white. Always having to prove herself. And excelling. For which I got paid huge bonuses. And then, after I ask questions, they tell me I’m not good enough.

You know it’s not true, but you start to think that they have a point. To believe that something is wrong with you. You lose confidence. You second-guess yourself. Maybe I was wrong. This is a feasible way to correct apartheid’s wrongs, surely? Perhaps this is how business works?

You guys don’t know how lucky you are. As journalists, you have a community of people to support you. It’s your job to expose wrong. You get trained for this. And you are recognised with awards. Like tonight.

Being a whistleblower isn’t a job. In fact, it often means losing your job. There’s no training for this. No manual. And no support.

They say, “Bad things persist when good people do nothing.” I don’t want to sound like a “poor-me victim”, but in my experience, even when good people do something, bad things persist. And it is the good people who suffer.

It is difficult not to be angry.

I’ve learned to channel my anger through poetry. I’d like to end with a poem, The winter we still endure, to honour some good people. They lost their lives, serving their country.

Another meaningless monument rises to
Heroes past
Who squirm in their restless graves
As erstwhile comrades
Words of regret
For a modern martyr
Riddled with hired bullets
Enablers of treason
Accomplices to plunder
Their own hands dripping complicit blood
Now vow
No stone unturned
The full might of the law
Everything in their power

When history mocks their two-faced tongues

Spineless men
Skeleton women
Preside over our winter
While desperate praise-singers
Search for swallows
To beg us believe their spring

The fiction of a new dawn
A rising sun
A better life for all
Lies buried in faction wars
Of scorched-earth rogues
Who put first the party
Path to elite enrichment
Betraying a country
Its hopes
Its dreams
To the voracious gods of greed

Traitors triumph
Robbers swagger
Killers strut
With brazen impunity beyond the law

While true people’s servants
Have track records trashed
Careers curtailed
Their very hearts

Which road will be named for Moss Phakoe
What building for Andile Matshaya
Who will build a monument for Babita Deokaran

As we weep for them
We weep for ourselves

For the winter we still endure

Would I take a public stand against corruption again? Would I “Thuma mina”?

Absolutely not.

The costs are too great.


Stemme | Voices | Amazwi is supported by the National Arts Council.

Stemme | Voices | Amazwi is a New Writing project of LitNet and is supported by the LW Hiemstra Trust.

All the monologues are available here:

Stemme | Voices | Amazwi

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