Boesman and Lena are "coloured" South Africans wandering through the mudflats by the Swartkops River. In the first act, they stagger onstage carrying everything they own: pots, pans, clothes, wine, a mattress, and other small items. Earlier the same day, they were driven out of their old home when a bulldozer came to destroy the itinerant camp where they had built their "pondok" or hut. It is clear from the brutality of the destruction that the residents of the homeless camp were targeted because of the color of their skin. Boesman and Lena is set during apartheid in South Africa, and racism drove the white ruling class to push homeless "coloureds" like Boesman and Lena as far away from white neighborhoods as possible. Author Athol Fugard makes it clear that this isn't the first time Boesman and Lena have been driven out of their homes. Both characters are in their fifties, and they appear to have been living this itinerant life together for decades.
One would think that these hardships would bring Boesman and Lena closer together, but in fact the pair seem curiously ill-suited. Lena is understandably bitter and depressed about their situation, and she describes the mudflats in a negative light, saying, "This piece of world is rotten. Put down your foot and you're in it up to your knee." Given that stage productions of the play can't always add real mud or dirt to the stage, this line also serves as description for the audience, enhancing the already bleak, depressing atmosphere. Boesman, meanwhile, is alternately taciturn and abusive, oscillating between giving Lena the silent treatment and savagely lashing out at her. Boesman claims to just want peace while building their new pondok out of corrugated iron and scrap metal. While he works, she recalls the names of all the shantytowns that they have been driven out of over the years: Redhouse, Veeplaas, Korsten, Bethelsdorp, Mission Vale, Kleinskool. It is important to Lena...
(The entire section is 779 words.)