Undoing Apartheid: A Panel Discussion

March 21, 2023 by Kimberley Yates

On March 14, early in the morning in Toronto, and the mid-afternoon in Cape Town, a large group of scholars of Africa, racism, puppetry, and visual arts gathered in a Zoom room to listen in as the author of Undoing Apartheid, Professor Premesh Lalu, discussed his work with Toronto researchers John Noyes and Warren Earl Crichlow. Despite a time change in Toronto (which bumped up the time of the event in Cape Town by an hour) and load shedding in Cape Town (which bumped Professor Lalu offline briefly), the conversation was significant and profoundly intellectual. Moderated by Dr. Melissa Levin, the panel reunited scholars who were integral to the JHI’s Mellon-funded project, Aesthetic Education: A South-North Dialogue (2016-2020) and added a large number of participants from the Ahmed Kathradra Foundation, an anti-racism initiative established in the name of one of the original apartheid protesters, who spent most of his life imprisoned on Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela.

Post-apartheid South Africa still struggles to overcome the past, not just because the material conditions of apartheid linger but because the intellectual conditions it created have not been thoroughly dismantled. The system of 'petty apartheid', which controlled the minutia of everyday life, became a means of dragooning human beings into adapting to increasingly mechanized forms of life that stifle desire and creative endeavour. As a result, apartheid is incessantly repeated in the struggle to move beyond it. In Undoing Apartheid, Premesh Lalu argues that only an aesthetic education can lead to a future beyond apartheid. To find ways to escape the vicious cycle, he traces the patterns created by three theatrical works by William Kentridge, Jane Taylor, and the Handspring Puppet CompanyFaustus in Africa, Woyzeck on the Highveld, and Ubu and the Truth Commission—which coincided with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of apartheid. Through the analysis of these works, Lalu uncovers the roots of modern thinking about race and affirms the need to revitalize a post-apartheid reconciliation endowed with truth – if only to keep alive the rhyme of hope and history.

JHI is now planning events in June, when Handspring co-founders Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler will be recognized by the University of Toronto as recipients of honorary doctorates.  Join us on June 7 at 10 am for a panel discussion about their work—Puppets: Theory, Practice and Performance—and the future of the puppet in the Innis Town Hall.