Some images from Ubu and the Truth Commission. The infamous Eye image sits bottom middle.

“Look for the eye,” advised Think!Fest convenor Anthea Garman when she introduced the packed Eden Grove audience to Ubu and the Truth Commission yesterday. Jane Taylor’s talk, entitled Omissions and Commissions: Re-making Ubu, explored the pastiche lead character of the award-winning piece – Pa Ubu. 

Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi formed the backbone of Pa Ubu’s character – both are beguiling and greedy figures with shady political intentions and aspirations. Jarry’s Ubu is informed by the Shakespearean tragic hero Macbeth – whose hubris is clearly seen in Jarry and Taylor’s Ubu. Taylor stressed that art exists in relation to other art and this connection should be interactive, and can lead to communication beyond what was originally envisaged by the artist. Taylor overturns Aristotle’s notion of good theatre only consisting of one kind of medium. Ubu and the Truth Commission demonstrates that the patterning of contradictory media and the use of mixed media can make good theatre that is profound in a subtle and perhaps, overwhelming, way.

Unlike Jarry’s Ubu, Taylor’s Ubu does not live in a vacuum. “My interest in re-creating Ubu Roi is to insert him into a world where his actions do have consequences,” explained Taylor. The absurdism of Ubu Roi is not lost in the reincarnation of Pa Ubu. His relationship to Ma Ubu, as well as his comically relentless and often brutal political machinations are likened to “the landscape of Tom and Jerry cartoons”, according to Taylor.

Ubu and the Truth Commission provides the pivotal function of aiding reconciliation outside state politics and the legalese that dogged the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The consequences of Pa Ubu’s actions, and those whom he stands as a symbol for, are of significance to all South Africans living in a post-apartheid context.

Lauren Kruger’s comment of South Africa being in a state of “post-anti-apartheid” raises important questions about the mixing pot that is South African identity and notions of nationhood. Taylor stressed the need to think about these issues to facilitate dealing with the public and national trauma that apartheid created and how art plays an instrumental role in this. Taylor commented on the validity of Kruger’s comment today, as the Manichean logic which was once a part of daily life is no longer. “I am of the belief we are in a post-TRC phase and narratives of self-reflection are significant to South African citizens,” said Taylor.

The significance of the TRC as a staged series of events lends itself to theatre. Taylor notes how this was not done to undermine pain caused to victims, but as a reminder of “the potency of theatre”. Taylor drew on the story of Dirk Vlakplaas to demonstrate how the “public confessional” is a topic that societies, and in this case, audiences, never tire of. Beginning with Rosseau’s The Confessions, Taylor believes “the framing of personal guilt a dramatic revelation” is something still seen in contemporary South African society with our morbid fascination with the Oscar Pistorius trial and addiction to reality TV. 

“Artists should be called upon to engage with significant issues. It is the artist’s responsibility to be a part of the philosophical enquiry […] and ethical meaning of a society,” said Taylor. Pa Ubu’s strutting and braggart figure makes for an interesting articulation of South Africans being in dialogue with themselves and each other in this “post-TRC period”.

Megan Wolstenholme Profile photo Design Indaba

Megan Wolstenholme, the PR, Marketing and Communications Manager for the International Design Indaba, talks about its mission to promote African creativity.

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Miyere old Miyandazi talks about his journey through nine Southern African countries on foot, with no sponsor or money and no passport, his experience of crossing borders using a fingerprint, the most genuine hospitality and support from people of all creeds and colours along the way, as well as violence, kidnapping and detention without trial. All of this as part of a mission to pick at those borders, real and imagined, that separate us as humanity.

Garret Barnwell, the president of MSF in South Africa, talks about working in solidarity with those displaced by conflict and natural disasters.


Middle-class South Africans can buy rights (to water, electricity, security, education and health) if they need to and that makes them consumer citizens; those who don’t have the money to get their needs often turn into rebel citizens; those who use patronage links in the ruling party are client citizens and then there are those who are aliens, outsiders and others in South Africa who must avoid the state and live informally and under the radar. Laurence Piper thinks about how economic status and geographic location have impacts on what kind of citizen you can be in South Africa today.


Adam Habib takes stock of 20 years of democracy and the skewed relationship between economic growth and inequality in South Africa which has “increased every single year for 20 years” despite the fact that South Africa in 2014 is far better country than it was in 1994. Habib argued that in order to address inequality, rising anger and protests South Africa needs:

  1. Better policy-making on employment and jobs for young South Africans
  2. A pact between labour, business and the govermnent to create work, and most important of all,
  3. Real leadership

National Arts Festival CEO Tony Lankaster talks about the strategic thinking shaping the future of the festival and the arts in South Africa.

Citizenship is both a relationship to the state in power and to one’s fellow citizens but 20 years into democracy citizenship in South Africa is far from a settled concept or experience. Millions of South Africans can vote but cannot influence daily politics in their immediate surroundings. And foreigners and asylum seekers among us find this to be a hostile, angry country in which their own status is extremely precarious. Recently we’ve seen the return of the same kind of tactics the apartheid government used being turned on citizens whose voices and opinions should have greater weight with those in power. Adam Habib, Joy Owen and Laurence Piper discuss the complications and challenges of South African citizenship now.


Tom Thum

Tom Thum started out just like all small boys do, making loud noises (explosions, crashes) to enhance his games, but his ability to do extraordinary things with his mouth, throat and body has resulted in an award-winning career as a beat boxer. In his talk/performance at Think!Fest he showed us the range of his abilities taking us from what we expected (beatboxing) through to an entire 50s jazz band which had an elderly man in the back row up on his feet and dancing.

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Hoping to make a difference to art publishing in South Africa, Bronwyn Law Viljoen and Oliver Barstow founded Fourthwall Books which publishes beautifully-designed and beautifully-written books on art, architecture and photography. Law Viljoen talked at Think!Fest about the relationship of pictures to texts, design to typology, ideas to books:


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