If King Leopold II were alive today, there is no doubt he would be on trial at The Hague for genocide and crimes against humanity, for his exploits in the Congo at the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries.
In 2005, Belgium’s Africa Museum, founded by King Leopold II and which for a century had neglected to tell the story of his rule, hosted an academic conference in order to ascertain the “historic truth” behind Adam Hochschild’s book, King Leopold’s Ghost; a haunting account of a megalomaniac of monstrous proportions, a man as cunning, charming, and cruel as any of the great Shakespearean villains.
Now at the Market Theatre, South Africa’s celebrated veteran actors, John Kani and Robert Whitehead will star in a gut-wrenching political thriller directed by award winning director Lesedi Job in CONGO The Trial of King Leopold II, a work adapted from Mark Twain’s King Léopold’s Soliloquy about his defence for the Congo rule. The script has been developed by Kani, Whitehead and Job with the financial support from the Thabo Mbeki Foundation.
CONGO The Trial of King Leopold II is an imagined encounter between Advocate Xola Mlambo played by John Kani and King Léopold played by Robert Whitehead about the 23-year rule of Congo by King Leopold II during which more than 10 million Africans were massacred without him even setting foot in the Congo.
Under his rule, the Congo Free State, suffered a decline in population from 20 million to 10 million in the decades as his colonial agents implemented a brutal regime of forced labor and a process in which Belgian agents would enter a village, hold the women and children hostage until the men would head into the forest, find rubber trees, tap them, and return with superhuman quotas of sap. Many were worked to death or else killed. If agents killed those held to ransom, they might chop off their hands, to prove that the bullets used hadn’t been wasted on game.
Kani and Whitehead star in a deeply moving portrait that brings to life this largely untold story about an African holocaust with wit and skill to expose these crimes against humanity that is articulated in Adam Rothchild’s book, King Leopold’s Ghost.
Directed by one of South Africa’s award winning and rising star, Lesedi Job, the delicate production is given volume and credibility by an added local angle in the story with John Kani and Robert Whitehead immersing themselves in an emotional and heart-wrenching performance that brings together these two theatre titans to co-star in a production at the Market Theatre for the first time since the 80’s.
If you were King Leopold II how would you structure your defence? Are the numbers of people who were massacred exaggerated? Did they die from other causes? Was King Leopold even aware that he ordered such barbaric acts? With John Kani in the role of Advocate Xola Mlambo and Robert Whitehead as King Leopold II the tragedy of the Congo — too long forgotten — is brought into our consciousness with great power and compassion.
CONGO The Trial of King Leopold II is a powerful re-imagination of the terror reigned over an African nation. This is the thinking person’s kind of theatre production. It could not be left in the hands of a finer trio of multi-award-winning stars in the calibre of John Kani, Robert Whitehead and Lesedi Job.
The show runs from 12 October until 11 November 2018. Contact Anthony Ezeoke on 011 832 1641 to book your tickets now for what is guaranteed to be the fastest selling production at the Market Theatre!
Photos supplied by Lusanda Zokufa, Senior Publicist at the Market Theatre