Johannesburg 14–18.09.17 | Re-envisioning CASA

Events / By Bart Luirink
Photo: 'Four Dilemmas Opening, Market Theatre ©Siphosihle Mkhwanazi. Photo: 'Four Dilemmas Opening, Market Theatre ©Siphosihle Mkhwanazi.

In December 1987, more than 300 South African artists came together in Amsterdam to perform on the cities’ stages and to discuss culture as they imagined it, in a free and democratic South Africa in the future. Two weeks of debate, music, theatre, lectures and dance, not to mention parties, turned the wintry lowlands into a hotbed of solidarity, inspiration and hope. Far away from the day-to-day brutalities by the Apartheid police or the loneliness of exile, South African artists and cultural workers lived the dream of freedom in the city that welcomed them.

Culture in Another South Africa (CASA) became a success because of the new agenda it produced for cultural aspirations, freedom and renewal in the context of the mission to ‘open the doors of culture’ to all the people, as outlined in the liberation movements’ Freedom Charter. But CASA did not just mean something to the South Africans. It inspired the city of Amsterdam to become ‘anti apartheidsstad’ in the (Dutch) words of then Mayor Ed van Thijn: its cultural stages eagerly welcomed the performances and free transport was offered to participants throughout the thirteen days that it lasted.

Culture in Another South Africa poster, 1987, Amsterdam. Design: Lies Ros, Rob Schröder, Frank Beekers

The festival also mobilised hundreds of volunteers and hosts, offering their residences to the participants. It attracted thousands of visitors who came to experience the South African multi-coloured culture-of-the-future in dozens of Amsterdam theatres, churches, musea and the city hall. Endless conversations  between people from different parts of the world went on each day and often night, until the early hours of the morning.  In the words of one South African participant the event showed a country 'that had clearly broken with its colonial past.'

Maybe we are not too sure about that, certainly not in the present day and age. But CASA was without doubt the biggest event the Dutch Anti-Apartheid Movement AABN ever organised, 'blackening' the city with South African icons like Abdullah Ibrahim, John Matshikiza, Nadine Gordimer, Lindiwe Mabuza, Barbara Masekela, Pallo Jordan, William Kentridge, Farid Esack and many others. (Masekela, the then head of the ANC's Cultural Department, called Amsterdam 'the cultural capital of South Africa.' Those were the days.)

Now, the Johannesburg based Market Theatre has taken the initiative to reflect on the CASA legacy and to, in its own words, create a 'new narrative.' The theatre, in collaboration with the Market Photo Workshop and the Windybrow Theatre, will bring together old and new vanguards of South African cultural freedom in a 5-day festival starting on September 14.

“Re-envisioning CASA” will kick off with the screening of Before Dawn, a documentary about the event by Dutch filmmaker Maarten Rens.

The screening will be followed by a debate with panelists including Barbara Masekela, justice Albie Sachs, Malcolm Purkey, Jade Bowers and Monageng Motshabi.

Leila Henriques, director of the Market Theatre's Laboratory, will discuss the making of her award-winning play Hani. Women's photography will be presented at the Market Photo Workshop. And, once more, Signs of Solidarity, a moving testimony of the support of Dutch people in the fight against apartheid, will be on show.

The event has the support of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

For more information check the website of the Market Theatre.