Cue Online (Grahamstown)

3 July 2012

South Africa: Does Race Still Matter?

Photo: Cue
Student sharp-shooters

Whether you page through the visual art, drama or comedy sections of the Festival programme, two themes recur - race and apartheid.

"Race puts bums on seats," said comedian Siv Ngesi, who has been making fun at Festival of race-related issues for six years. "The only time race won't be an issue is when we are all coloured," Ngesi said, adding that laughing at the issues is the first step. "What people can appreciate about this type of theatre is that people are able to see themselves, which could be why this topic still does well."

Darlington Michaels, writer and director of Bantustan, a play set during the apartheid era, said that theatre is usually an indicator of deeper societal issues. "Theatre will always be used as a tool to address these issues," he said.

Michaels pointed out the various racist incidents that have been reported on social networks, in schools and the workplace recently.

"Because of this climate, the audience still reacts positively and still wants to watch these shows that tell us who we are and where we come from."

Festival director Ismail Mahomed said that this phenomenon is not unique to South Africa. "Artists all over the world immerse themselves in confronting issues of identity," he said. "It is not unusual for South African artists to also be engaging with issues of identity."

As director, Mahomed takes final responsibility for compiling the Festival programme, drawing on the recommendations of the advisory committee and other experts to present an innovative and exciting programme each year.

Geoffrey Lebenyam, curator of My Freedom, My Expression, believes that South Africans have different experiences of race, and that this is evident in the different art works and productions featured at this year's Festival.

"People react very differently and this is what you want as an artist," Lebenyam said. "People always want to see themselves," he said, and race-related productions are an accurate reflection of South African society.

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