‘The Prize Of Peace’ was real – though its dreams were not

By Lesley Stones 4 September 2011

When Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize in the tumultuous, untrusting times of 1993, what did they say to each other? Their conversation over dinner the night before must have been fraught with undercurrents and tensions. By LESLEY STONES.

Wouldn’t we like to know and so far the duo have kept mum – as we would expect. Nobody can know how their discussions and conversations went, yet Les Morison, a practicing advocate, has made a well-researched attempt to capture it in a play, “The Prize Of Peace”.

It’s set in a hotel in Oslo where one table far too large for two men dominates the stage. Neither Owen Sejake as Mandela nor Eric Nobbs as De Klerk look much like the men they portray, but that doesn’t detract from their performances. Both have the gravitas and the demeanour to carry off their characters convincingly. They are fluent and fluid as they banter and argue, reminisce and regret.

The supporting actresses are Elise van Niekerk as a chef who’s cooking up more than a lamb shank and Mathuti Komape as the security guard who also has murder on her mind. Hopefully the two women will grow more comfortable in their roles, because on opening night both seemed to be playing in a skin that didn’t quite fit.

It’s the script that stretches incredulity more than the cast, however. The Afrikaners are plotting to murder Mandela by poisoning the milk he drinks before bed. The blacks are plotting to kill De Klerk with poisoned meat, turning his triumphant moment on the world stage into his last supper.

Both Mandela and De Klerk are only made aware of these conflicting plans on the night, and both manage to thwart the murderous intentions. “We will take our battle to the ballot box,” De Klerk says angrily in a powerful scene with the secret agent chef.

Perhaps a double murder plot really was thwarted that night, in which case our struggling nation owes an even greater debt to these two men than we realise.

Yet conducting that plot on stage involves a couple of contrived moments to move the protagonists out of earshot so the secret saboteurs can argue with their venerated leaders.

As the men confound the women by swapping seats and two conflicting murder plots are revealed, I couldn’t help thinking that this would make a perfect, if irreverent farce.

The script, enhanced by director Clare Stopford, has a good mixture of humour, insight and intellect as Mandela argues for De Klerk to use the Peace Prize stage to apologise for the evils of apartheid.

One clever scene has the two women simultaneously slating the other race with all the bigotry and ignorance they can muster, neatly showing how neither side is better or more tolerant than their other.

“The Prize of Peace” highlights both how far we have come, and how far we still have to go. DM

“The Prize Of Peace” runs at Sandton’s Old Mutual Theatre on the Square until 24 September.

Photos by David Batzofin.

For more, visit Lesley’s excellent website.


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