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OTHER PEOPLE’S FLOWERS Sizwe Vilakazi: Writer & Performer

In 2003 I joined Vulavulani Theatre Company (based in Soweto, South Africa) in my early 20’s after an extensive engagement in community theatre, which was largely protest in its nature. They were doing their second co-production with Action Transport Theatre Company (based in Ellesmere Port, UK) – That is when I met David Selzer. He was part of the Board at the time. I worked as an actor on two productions that introduced me to the idea of making theatre for children and young people.

A few years later, when I was given an opportunity to work as a writer for Action Transport,



‘In the very midst of civilised Europe…the existence

of an entire population is threatened.’ Anatole France et al, 1919


Ukraine, like all countries, is an invention;

an abstraction on a map; a conqueror’s

caprice; an accident of history;

an actual, continual pit of war,

occupation, partition, rebellion,

displacement, famine – and pogroms

under Chmielnicki’s Cossacks, the Tzar’s

Black Hundreds, the Soviets, the Nazis…


Until the Germans occupied Ukraine

my grandfather,



1816 was the ‘year of no summer’.

Volcanic ash from the Dutch East Indies

darkened Europe’s skies. Mount Tambora,

amid the savannahs of Sumbawa,

had erupted the previous year.

So June 1815 was unseasonably

wet, particularly in Belgium.

Escaped from Elba, Bonaparte had rallied

France, almost expunging Blucher’s Prussians

in Wallonia. At Waterloo,

on the morning of the 8th, Napoleon –

once begetter of Le Code Civil

Des Français before he crowned himself –

waited for the ground to dry in order

to deploy his cavalry to best effect.



Cometh the hour, cometh the greedy fool.

Though a classicist from Balliol,

he eschewed role models like Pericles and

Spartacus, preferring the Lion King.

Bank-rolled by the money of oligarchs,

he was their unkempt, useful idiot,

an adipose, amoral narcissist,

in that land of public malfeasance,

of conspicuous inequality,

corporate manipulation, media

compliance, self-righteous kleptocracy,

institutionalised xenophobia.

Ever the opportunist and the dicer,

to distract from drunken scandals that mocked

the unnecessary deaths of tens

of thousands of his fellow citizens

he employed foreign flags and foreign corpses.



After the massacre at Culloden

the Crown and its lackeys impoverished

the Highlands – forbade the language and the kilt,

began the Clearances, the diasporas.

By Victorian times all that had become

the background of fiction – as in ‘Kidnapped’,

Robert Louis Stevenson’s adult novel

about bigotry, pride, loyalty and friendships,

masquerading as a boy’s adventure yarn

set among the lochs, the glens, the heather.

Young David Balfour – a Protestant

lowlander – is traduced, kidnapped, shipwrecked,



I became 12 at the end of ’53.

That year we had bought our first TV

(with a 9 inch screen) to watch the Queen

being crowned. Just in time for the crowning

the British – with some help – had ‘conquered’

Everest. That September I had started

at the grammar school which had been founded

by Henry VIII after he had robbed

the local monastery. The masters

were begowned, the corridors stone-lined, dark.

Placing the sides of our blue and green striped caps

equidistant from our ears –