The Dead Wait

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The Dead Wait by South African born playwright Paul Herzberg is based on the story of a young South African athlete who is a conscripted soldier in the Angolan Civil War and was shortlisted for the Verity Bargate Award in 1997. The story also reflects Herzberg's own experiences as a conscripted soldier before leaving South Africa. The Dead Wait was broadcast on BBC Radio and received its theatrical world premiere at the Barney Simon Theatre at the Market, in 1997. The play was presented at the Standard Bank National Arts Festival in the same year, directed by Clare Stopford. The cast: Kurt Wüstmann, James Borthwick, Lindelani Buthelezi, Annie Robinson, Nambitha Mpumlwana. Design by Nadya Cohen; lighting design by Michael Maxwell.

The protagonist, as a young (white) conscript during the Angola Civil War in the 70s, was ordered to carry a wounded black enemy soldier on his back for 60 kilometres through the bush to the base where the “terrorist” could be interrogated. Eventually his commanding officer ordered the young man to execute the ANC operative. He did, and guilt-ridden went into exile abroad and now returns, two decades later, to apply to the TRC to confess the guilt he had been carrying with him for twenty years, like the actual load ("the dead weight") he was forced to carry all those years earlier.

In 2002 it received its British premiere at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, with Herzberg in the role of Captain Papa Louw, where it was nominated for three Manchester Evenings News Awards (best new play, production and actor) winning in the last category. The play was published by Oberon books.


Grahamstown Festival Programme, 1997.

[Van Heerden (2008)][1] pp 104-105

NELM catalogue.

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