It’s a time for festive celebrations and collective reflection Nataniël tells DIANE DE BEER as he elaborates about his end-of-year show at the Atterbury Theatre,  Butterfly running from December 1 to 6 and again at the beginning of February:

This is not a time to pontificate, be prescriptive or preachy. It’s the end of a tough year with calamitous interruptions of which no one knows the outcome  – yet ­– but with his traditional festive season show, Nataniël wants to spotlight the effect of this period of isolation without dwelling on Covid19 specifically.

He mentions love and loss, neglect and honesty, blame and forgiveness, insanity and hope, all of which he wants to investigate from his unique vantage and inspired by his continued isolation.

For some of us, being cut off from the rest of the world might have been frightening but for others it was a time to exhale, try to regain a sense of focussed living. “I discovered I quite enjoyed the frugal lifestyle that resulted,” says this artist of extravagance, and he immediately points to his costumes for this show specifically.

Deciding on their design route, he and his long-time designer Floris Louw went big. “Once the shops opened, we could buy fabrics but nothing new was coming into the country,” he notes.

Anyone who knows his particular bent to surprise will know that this simply wasn’t good enough. And because they had to work from different towns, it all happened digitally. “We found all these fabrics that I had bought and never used for previous shows, pieces that could be mixed and turned into something else.”

And it is all this improvisation that brings a different kind of creativity to the surface. In the end, the costumes might have had an element of frugality in terms of what was available, but being the artists they are, these garments are even bigger and more spectacular than before.

That’s Nataniël. Make it tough and he will find a way to make it work. While the theatres are only allowed a 50% capacity, the costs of staging a show remain the same.

He is flummoxed about the fact that theatres are compared to rugby matches in the pandemic sense because it has been found internationally that theatres are some of the safest venues around. “Audiences sit quietly and listen to a show. There’s no communicating and cheering or physical touch. But we still have similar costs as if the auditorium is fully packed. Theatres aren’t charging you only 50 percent fees,” he notes.

And again being artists, they don’t provide 50 percent shows. Once they decide to step up, it’s all systems go – and with more than a few months with dark theatres, there’s an excitement bubbling as the doors are open slowly yet with exuberance.

Musically he believes he has made accessible choices. “This is easy on the ear,” he says as he turns to his text which consists of different stories – not dealing with the pandemic and yet, he has been intrigued by the way individuals have reacted to these unexpected challenges. – — “People talk about going back to normal. I don’t want to go back.’’ This is a time for change and that’s the extraordinary opportunity he hopes many will embrace.

It is a time to learn and to leap into a newfound reality. “Many believe in stability but that sounds like a slow death to me,” he says. “I might be exhausted, but I’m excited.”

The butterfly symbolises conscience.

As always Nataniël is joined on stage by Charl du Plessis (piano), Werner Spies (bass), Peter Auret (drums) and Nicolaas Swart (vocals). With a soft sigh he knows live theatre comes with its own baggage and a recent visit to the Charl du Plessis Trio album launch reminded him how some people simply ignore theatre etiquette. “We had someone in front of us who was conducting a WhatsApp conversation throughout the show. She was in and out of the theatre to receive and return messages. I wanted to trip her,” he said. But few will dare to be a disturbance in his shows. In recent years, he simply calls them out aware that if they disturb those on stage, it also worries the audience.

Another irritation he has discarded is corporate bookings. “I only want people in the theatre who want to be there, not because someone else has bought them a ticket!”

While the show running from December 1 to  6 is practically  sold out with only a few seats left, bookings have been opened for a later mini season which runs from February 2 to 6, a great way to start 2021 –  in the theatre. Book at itickets.co.za for the first season or for the February show at itickets.co.za

Talking about exhaustion, apart from the TV show Toegang, currently on kykNET (find all the recipes in English on his recently launched blog www.smallcoronations.com), he has also launched some ridiculously delicious cookies available in selected shops and a smart new olive oil range, as well as his latest book of short stories.

Nataniël Stories Dik Dun Think Thin will be sold at his many shows and as always is a collection of stories in Afrikaans and English, some written for shows and tweaked for a book and others specially written.

Regarded by many as one of our best short story writers, anyone who has listened to one of his tales will know about his use of language, the way he plays with and applies specific words and then, of course, his imagination, which seemingly has no limit. From show to show, book to book, they keep spilling out from a mind that doesn’t appear to be working too hard to create a world we all want to escape to.

He describes this as “a very happy book”. The title won’t be explained in any of the stories but recently someone gave his childhood piano teacher the funeral programme of a woman called Sally from Porterville who used to work for the Le Roux family when they lived there.

“Paul Kruger had smaller funeral,” says Nataniël, who explains that Sally was larger than life with HUGE personality. “She always used to say Dik, Dun, Thick, Thin,” he says almost like an exclamation mark. “I couldn’t believe how they found a way to get it (the programme) to me,” he says as he pays tribute to someone who made an impression on his young life.

Again that is part of his extraordinary storytelling ability. It often seems quite fantastical yet much of the time reflects the weird and wonderful byways of his life. He has a way of exploring those adventures with eyes that look at the world with wonder.

And we’re the blessed recipients.


It’s time to make music in the capital city says the CEO of Aardklop, Alexa Strachan, as she gathers a coterie of classical contributors to lead the charge. DIANE DE BEER reports:

Following a critical call from Nataniël about a crisis in Pretoria’s classical music world because of the closure of yet another venue,  CEO of Aardklop Alexa Strachan knew she would have to take action.

With designated classical venues diminishing in the city and classical musicians finding less and less opportunity to perform, it was time to act.

“I know that our audiences hail mostly from Pretoria and Joburg and the Jacaranda city has always had a strong classical music following. It suddenly felt as if we were being presented with an opportunity in what have been tough times for especially performers and festivals,” she notes.

There aren’t many venues with grand pianos and that was the first priority, with funding also a head scratcher.
“But I was willing to take the risk with the first show,” even before she had all her ducks in a row. She turned to classical musician Charl du Plessis and together they approached Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool with the hope of finding a new home for the birth of their new  brainchild, Aardklop Aubade (morning love song) – which they duly did with great success.

Their aim is to present monthly Sunday morning concerts in Pretoria at a venue that is both familiar and easy to access. With their youth drama projects, Aardklop has forged a relationship with the school and it wasn’t too much of a stretch for them to step in as partners with Radio Sonder Grense (RSG), a media partner.

What appealed to Strachan was that music is an universal language which also broadens their base which is a bonus in tough times. “It’s always better to have more than one basket,” she points out.

For Aardklop, as for many others, 2020 has been a year of dread and disappointment which has forced them to take a long view but even more specifically, to think creatively – something that’s part of being an artist.

Their first show will be presented on  December 13 in the AHS Potgietersaal at Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool at 11am. “I wanted to end the year on a more optimistic note,” says Strachan.

With Du Plessis her classical contact and compiler for the future, she wanted him to be part of the first concert and they decided on Carols and Chords with Du Plessis on piano, Lizelle le Roux on violin and Ockie Vermeulen on organ. The focus is on specially arranged Christmas music of the past 300 years from Silent Night to Bethlehem Ster and Somerkersfees and many more.

Accompanist to Nataniël, Du Plessis is a solo artist in his own right as a classical pianist who also performs regularly with his own jazz group, the Charl du Plessis Trio. Vermeulen, who is currently the university organist for Unisa as well as the organist at the Pretoria East Ned Geref Church while Le Roux is a lecturer in Law at the University of Pretoria and also launched her first solo CD last year which earned her a Ghoema for best solo instrumental album. It’s a formidable combo stepping out for this debut concert.

They will also be joined by an Affie saxophone player, Rohan Grobbelaar (gr 10) who will perform Jean Baptiste Singelée’s Concertino, accompanied by Dr Jannie le Roux on piano.

“We’re hoping music fans will make a morning of it because snacks and wine will be available with seating in the shade before or after the 60 minute show,” says Strachan who believes these first steps will herald small new beginnings.

Du Plessis is thrilled with this new venture, excited about the future and the planning of a series of classical concerts.

“It’s also exciting to discover and explore a new space with an already established tradition. Acoustically it is sound and a beautiful auditorium,” he elaborates.

And Strachan loves the expanded gallery which guarantees good viewing as well as listening.

They hope that this will be viewed as a gift for classical music lovers.

Covid rules will be followed strictly.

Aardklop Aubade – Carols & Chords

Date: 13 December 2020

Time: 11am until noon

Price: R150 (R120 pensioners)

Venue: Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool (school hall)

Tickets: Ticketpro

In A World That Feels Closed, Teksmark Breaks Down Barriers – As The Arts Should

PICTURES: Nardus Engelbrecht

It was the fifth year of the Teksmark (text market) at the end of last month, something originating from Hugo Theart (artistic director: Kunste Onbeperk) and supported by Cornelia Faasen (CEO of the Nasionale Afrikaanse Teater-inisiatief NATi) and Lara Foot (CEO and artistic director  of the Baxter Theatre Centre) – and not even Covid-19 was going to scupper their plans.  Going from strength to strength, this year’s crop of entries exceeded 120, a clear indication that people had time but also the talent to start writing. DIANE DE BEER reports:

Die Sondige Sewe by Niël Rademan
For many this was their first outing to the theatre post Covid-19 and Cape Town’s Baxter (the home of the Teksmark) made surer everyone complied with the rules.
Fortunately, huge crowds are not a necessary part of the deal as the three days pack in mainly the playwright and artists involved, a few producers and possible independent funders, as well as representatives of the different festivals.
A clutch of debut plays are selected for possible further development and short extracts are featured by selected directors and casts. Sometimes the playwright is involved but not always. The most exciting development these past few years has been the inclusion and thus expansion of entries from all the official languages. It has made a huge difference in a country too small to create pockets of the arts. We need the cross-pollination to grow and flourish.
We should all be pulling together but language has always been a stumbling block in the sense of who speaks and understands what and with not many (white folk) who can speak more than two of the 11 official languages.
Two of the comedies from the Suidoosterfees Nati Rising Star Project: Die Workshop by Fabian Rainers (left) and Al Dra ‘n Aap ‘n Goue Ring by Margo Kotzé

But if anyone is going to find a solution, this is the perfect platform and already this year there has been a much stronger push for collaborations. Sometimes a playwright would use three languages to tell a story. In another instance, a gang of playwrights got together to write a play almost in Robert Altman fashion where different sketches are pulled together to make a whole.

It’s just easier to mix and match on every level when this kind of collaboration becomes the norm and for audiences the variety is huge. As much as everyone has their favourite artists, there’s nothing as exciting as a much larger pool to choose from and to witness.
This is a time to move forward and not back. Once the barriers came down, there was an explosion on our stages of new talent. The diversity is to our benefit locally and we could lead the way internationally. This is the way to enrich and enlighten minds by experiencing one another’s stories and the way stories are told.
Covid-19 has been a nightmare for everyone, but if anything has been a certainty in these uncertain times, it is that artists will find inspiration and show us many different ways to move forward.
When one of our top and most prolific playwrights Mike van Graan, for example, collaborates with the likes of Wessel Pretorius and Malika Ndlovu sparks are going to fly. There were six playwrights in all, none of whom had met before when they arrived at the Teksmark.
They had been commissioned by Lara Foot to attempt this way of telling a storie(s) with Van Graan as the one who had to pull everything together with some kind of through-line. They had weekly digital meetings but this was the first time they saw an extract from the work.
The Valley of the Shadow by Qondiswa James, Tankiso Mamabolo, Tiisetso Mashifane, Malika Ndlovu, Wessel Pretorius and Mike van Graan.
The thing I found interesting having read the play, The Valley of the Shadow, without knowing who the writer(s) was – was that I didn’t detect that it was a team effort. Because of the different characters (and that was a clever way to do this kind of collaboration) each story had a specific voice which meant that the writing could organically change from scene to scene.
Playwright Kanye Viljoen’s text was in Afrikaans, English and Xhosa, as she dipped into a Karoo tale familiar to many – a mermaid somewhere in the Meiringspoort environs. It’s a magical South African story with roots in the past (meaning different things to different people in the group) but set in our present and how we can tell stories.
Kanya Viljoen’s multi-lingual Grot
She wanted to uses different languages as would happen in a South African context. Even when you don’t understand everything, it doesn’t land strangely on the ear because it rings true. I have watched many bi-lingual plays at The Market in the past where English was used to tell the story and isiXhosa or isiZulu perhaps to capture more of the culture through the language.
Do you miss out when you don’t understand something? Of course, but perhaps finally in this technological advanced  time, there’s a solution other than just sticking to a universal language – in the South African context, English.
People playing in their own language and those listening is something to experience – still not common in this country. Hopefully, as this kind of writing happens more frequently, someone will find an imaginative fix.
Another language case in point was iNau and ander drama by Jolyn Philips, who brings the lives of three women, Bientang, Narina and Lydia, to share a very particular story of which this particular unfolding makes a strong statement of this time – and more than anything it is about time.
To capture these silenced voices for those who have never been without voice, she sat down after the performance (in which she also participated) and described the toughness of allowing the drama to unfold. It needs to be part of the performance because it explains so much for those who need to hear. It’s a powerful performance and can be described as life-changing without any dramatics.

There was much to praise in all the other selected Teksmark plays including themes of dysfunctional families playing out by using mercy killings (assisted dying) at the heart of the story in Mike van Graan’s What We Wish For; Covid Moons, Clare Stopford’s response to being trapped in a high-security block of flats in Cape Town during the first Level 5  lockdown (the play opens on Friday 20 November and that night is sold out but tickets are available for all other performances from 17-21 November. Book online now at https://artstown.co.za/) and what she achieves is innovative and refreshing; Niël Rademan’s contemporary cabaret Die Sondige Sewe managed to revive a tired and now neglected genre with smart writing and snappy performances with a simplistic execution which benefits the script.

What We Wish For by Mike van Graan

The other magnificent move was the inclusion of a series of plays which formed part of the Suidoosterfees Nati Rising Star Project. As the name implies, these are young playwrights who attended a writing school in the Eastern Cape led by Abduragman Adams through the Jakes Gerwel Foundation.

They dovetailed smartly with the Teksmark and addressed issues such as bullying and sexual predators on the one hand, while on the other there were two delightful comedies; the issue-driven farcical Al Dra ‘n Aap ‘n Goue Ring and Die Workshop, with playwright  Fabian Rainers finding a tongue- in-cheek way to tackle universal issues.

As in previous years, the playwrights keep moving the goalposts for the following year’s  crop – and this time it feels as if a closed world allowed everyone to break down all existing barriers!

Viva the arts!




Featuring Both Old Worlds and New As European Film Festival 2020 Goes Virtual

Polish film Sweat

It’s movie bonanza in November with the annual European Film Festival going virtual for free. The movies are premiere productions from different European countries with topics ranging from serious to silly, depending on your mood. DIANE DE BEER takes a closer look:

In the ‘70s and ‘80s, European movies were commonplace on our screens. Not so much anymore – sadly. But it has been remedied, the blow softened by the emergence of the annual European Film Festival from November 12 to 22. And in the past couple of years, the contributions have been quite extraordinary.

Not much good has come from this year, yet trust the innovation of the arts to save the day every once in a while. This year’s European Film Festival goes virtual and the good news is that it comes for free – bar one which many will gladly pay to see.

With a diverse line-up of 12 brand new films, all of which are premiere screenings in South Africa, for those who have been lost without movies it’s a bonanza with a wide range of topics and performers from different European countries.

Making a personal pick of four films to watch in advance, I started with two very different war movies – a sign of the times:

Belgian contribution Home Front directed by Lucas Belvaux is set in a small French village where the 60th birthday of one of its female inhabitants is being celebrated.

But times stops when her estranged brother (in the imposing yet almost brutish form of Gerard Depardieu) suddenly interrupts the festivities.

The implosion is almost immediate but apparently also not unexpected. That he turns up with a gift is what surprises everyone, but he quickly eradicates any possible goodwill by upending the proceedings – and thus the film unfolds in a horrific story of war set in the past but with the present of this small community held in a vice grip that seems immovable.

It’s a thoughtful and beautifully wrought film, unexpected in its powerful storytelling of a past that is hidden, mostly in shame, but also in denial as happens with war and the atrocities (in this instance mostly) men do, in situations of entitlement and terror.

Delicately told, it also unveils a story of racism between two countries of which everyone is aware but the victors rarely acknowledge – and those times are illuminated by a harsh spotlight that cannot be ignored – and hopefully allow people to move on .

It’s of its time yet perfect for our current times when marginalised lives matter.

War is also the subject of Lithuania’s In The Dusk directed by Sharunas Bartas and part of the Official Cannes Selection 2020.

It is post-World War 2, 1948, but it is as if no one has noticed that the war has ended. “You can find the same war in Ukraine – and its happening today,” says the director by way of explanation. And it is exactly that.

Imagine that the rest of the world is still in shock and recovering from a world war but yours is still ongoing. Yet no one cares, they’re done. And that’s when those who want to invade find fertile ground. “It’s a world of real wars, not Cold Wars or hybrid wars,” the director elaborates.

Lithuanian film In The Dusk

Living in the forest near the family farm to which the  19-year-old Unte returns from the war, is a partisan group resisting Soviet occupation. While the invaders are promising better times, having just come through a long period of war, those defending their country are suspicious. They know not to trust and are determined to stick it out.

It’s a grey and grim reality for those who can hardly survive in peaceful times and now have to keep fighting for their homeland. But that’s what war is.

And perhaps these two films want to make exactly that point. There are no winners. For those dying to keep the fight going all around the world, what is the end game?

But again it is hauntingly shot, the performances detailed and emotional, especially from the young Unte and his father, and the harsh reality simply cannot be kept at bay.

Talking about marginalised people, especially with extremists again causing mayhem and murder in Europe, they don’t come more targeted than the British Pakistani rapper in Mogul Mowgli starring the extraordinary Riz Ahmed, such an exciting young actor who makes such interesting role choices.

British film Mogul Mowgli

As Zed, he is on the cusp of a huge career breakout tour, but is suddenly struck down by a terrifying illness and forced to move back into his conservative family home. Here he has to battle not only the disappointment but also the traditions of his parents which are far removed from what he hoped his life would be.

Quite a few films and TV series have been made about second generation immigrants who have to balance the imbalance between their land of birth and the traditions of their parents, but this is a novel approach and one that reaches across genres and generations.

It’s the UK’s offering and a smart one at that, with the whole world trying to come to terms with shifting borders and identities. Directed by Bassam Tariq, it won the Fipresci Prize in the Panorama section of the 2020 Berlinale. It’s both thought-provoking and cunningly told with rap playing a vital role.

Herman Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund could sound quite daunting, but I was quite fascinated as I wasn’t familiar with the book but had seen director Stefan Ruzowitzky’s Oscar-winning film The Counterfeiters.

This is something completely different and even though the film disappointed, I was pleased to engage with the story.

Austrian film Narcissus and Goldmund

This Austrian entry is set in the dark Middle Ages where two very different characters meet in a monastery, become close friends, but choose very different lives. Narcissus prefers to spend his life in prayer and meditation even though he has fallen in love with his adventurous friend Goldmund. He in turn decides to escape into the more enticing life outside of the restrictions of religion to lead a more hedonistic life.

The problem was in the script rather than the filmmaking. It felt as if the scope could have been narrowed down to bring more substance instead of a sketchy retelling of the basic storyline. Too much information and too little enquiry.

Despite the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, EU Ambassador to South Africa, Dr Riina Kionka, said: “Twelve films in 11 days shows the determination of this European partnership to overcome difficult circumstances. Since my arrival in South Africa this is my second European Film Festival:  I can tell you that it is a cultural highlight not to be missed. In addition, I invite you to participate in the various special events lined up during the Festival!”  

Dutch film Becoming Mona

Other films include: 

  • Marco Bellocchio’s award-winning film The Traitor  about an ‘80s whistleblowing  mafia boss-turned-informer who triggers the largest prosecution of the Sicilian mafia in Italian history.
  • The German film Curveball is a sober warning about how terribly easy it is to slip into war, with this fact-based story about how a lie regarding chemical weapons sets in motion a chain of events that results in the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, forever changing the global political landscape.
  • The Spanish film One Careful Owner tells how a woman buys a new home with a certain ‘inconvenience’, namely that the 80-year old current owner will remain living in it until she dies. It’s a story filled with tenderness, emotion and much laughter. 
  • Also honing in on female relationships, the French film Proxima, by director Alice Winocour, is about a French woman astronaut who is forced to consider her priorities of family versus career. *
  • Becoming Mona, directed bySabine Lubbe Bakker and Niels van Koevorden, deals with Mona’s struggle to break free from the stifling constraints of a life lived in service of other people’s egos.  
  • The Polish film Sweat by director Magnus van Horn focuses on a fitness motivator who has become a social media celebrity and influencer, highly pertinent issues in this modern digital era.

 The line-up also includes two powerful documentaries.   The Irish representative, The 8th, is about the highly emotive and divisive topic of abortion and women’s reproductive rights. And Nathan Grossman’s deeply personal Swedish documentary I am Greta follows the teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg from her one-person school strike to her astonishing wind-powered voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City. 

The festival is accessible online across South Africa only. The film screenings are free, except for I am Greta, whose entry fee of R50 serves as a fundraiser for a climate action group that will be awarded screening proceeds after the festival.

Look out for the full programme of screenings and special events as well as bookings on  https://films.eurofilmfest.co.za/ only available for viewing in South Africa.

Reluctant Author Zoë Wicomb Gets It Right Time After Time With A Story Of Its Time

Author Zoë Wicomb has a tough time writing, but once she has an idea, she works at it relentlessly, which results in a read that sits masterfully in its time and plays with the reader’s imagination quite magically. She tells DIANE DE BEER about her latest work, Still Life (Umuzi):

BK StillLife-small

What struck me first and stayed with me while reading Still Life (Umuzi), is the originality with which the story is told.

 Zoë Wicomb, a South African-born author living in Scotland says she has for a long time been interested in Thomas Pringle, “not so much as a poet, but rather in his writings about being a settler and his encounters with native people.”

The blurb on the back of her book describes the Scotsman as an “abolitionist, publisher – and some would say – Father of South African poetry. A biography of Pringle is in order, and a reluctant writer takes up the task.”

But what really captured this reluctant writer’s imagination were his political conflicts in the Cape which seem to embody the problems and contradictions of colonialism.

“But as always my ideas about a subject, in spite of research and knowing much about them, remain inchoate, and with Pringle I really did not know how to write about him,” she explains.

And that is what makes her, reluctant or not, an extraordinary writer. It is in the solution that she tells a fascinating tale.

 “After several false starts, self-reflexivity offered a solution –– I decided to exploit my inability to write, to fictionalise the writer herself, and to make the actual writing of Pringle’s history the framework of the novel.”

And that works magnificently.

What she does is ‘create’ three characters and through them tell her story, which is one smartly centred on colonialism, something that one might think would have been more written and talked about with perhaps much more resolution (and understanding) than currently exists.

She tells the story mainly through Mary Prince, a West Indian slave whose history Pringle had published, the ghost of Hinza Morossi, Pringle’s adopted Khoesan son, and the time-traveller Sir Nicholas Greene, a character she exhumes from  the pages of a book.

Author Zoë Wicomb

How she arrives at this motley crew she explains thus:

“Hinza Marossi, Pringle’s adopted son, was of interest from the outset. Not only is his story recorded in a poem, but I wanted to explore the question of interracial adoption under colonial conditions as well as what that story looks like from Hinza’s point of view.

 “The character Mary Prince was an obvious choice because her slave narrative was the first by a woman. It was published in London by Pringle in spite of opposition and litigation by British people who  benefitted from slavery. He was also reviled by fellow Scottish settlers at the Cape, who persisted with the myth that slavery in South Africa was an altogether more benign affair.

“Nicholas Greene, a character from Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando (one of my favourite novels) is a more controversial choice, and really I don’t remember how he entered the story. But I was drawn to the fact that he is a time-traveller and to his fictionality as opposed to the other real historical figures. Thus he enabled me to address yet another level of the real within my fictional account. Given that the novel is about the writing of Pringle’s story, Greene also offered another version of the writer.”

Then there also a young woman, Vytjie, a character from one of Pringle’s poems. “According to his notes, she is based on an actual servant. Her perspective on the man therefore differs from that of Hinza who occupies a more privileged position in that household.”

Zoë Wicomb

If that doesn’t have you salivating, this isn’t your book. Even though Zoë notes that the publishers see this as a “difficult book”, that’s not the way it reads.

What she found with her chosen route of exploring Pringle is that the variety of characters enables her to represent different aspects of his life. But she underlines, “although the nature of the story itself is such that no comprehensive picture of the poet emerges; in fact, in my novel the project of writing his history fails.”

But that’s again the reluctant novelist protesting. I beg to differ. What emerges is a far more imaginative reflection on our past with a clutch of characters whose voices of that time are never heard. And for some of us, given the superficially privileged colour of our skin, questioning that is something that only began in larger numbers very recently.

Ask  Zoë about writing and she’s quick to respond how difficult she finds the process. “I’m drawn to a subject, do the necessary research, and then the problem of how to represent that subject arises. A struggle of trying to write something that may or may not lead towards a solution, and really it’s a matter of faith, of believing that something will come out of the daily routine.

“There are periods of giving up on the project, then inexplicably I return to wrestle with my material until finally the first draft shapes itself through the process of writing. Then follows many more drafts, less torturous than the first, in which I straighten out events and try to refine the prose, but doubts about the value of what I’m doing persist ––I am after all not read by many; in fact, my readership is more or less limited to students of Postcolonial Writing.”

But hopefully this one will change that … as it should. It is a tough topic for many but one we should engage and deal with – especially and finally in this time.

She makes it easy to start doing so if you never have. When I ask her about the lighter tone of the writing, her response is as amusing and direct as the banter between her characters: “It is impossible to overlook the comic aspects of white supremacy. Worth representing, I think.”

For readers, who like me, don’t know much about this writer, she left in the heyday of apartheid and made a life for herself elsewhere.

“But,” she says, “you can’t ever think of yourself as belonging in Europe. In terms then of an interior life, I remained South African, through teaching and writing about South Africa – both fiction and literary criticism. I returned for a few years and taught at UWC but then I couldn’t manage the family separation, and returned to Scotland.”

“I imagined that when I retired from teaching, I would live mainly in South Africa, but in the meantime the promise of liberation has been hollowed out and I’m not attracted to the pathologies of historical colonialism that persist. Still, I do spend a couple of months every year in the Cape and return to the north with great reluctance.”

For her sins, she says, she lives in Glasgow, where the awful weather is by no means the worst thing.

“Now having grandchildren means that I’m stuck here, although they’ve done much by way of ameliorating my stay here. I’ve worked at the University of Strathclyde, but have retired as Emeritus Professor.”

And she’s no less harsh about her writing and how she views it. “Having always had a demanding job, I saw teaching as my primary responsibility, so writing, both fiction and critical writing, was something that I did in the summer breaks or during sabbaticals. It is in that sense that I do not think of myself primarily as a writer. Then there is the fact that I find writing so very difficult, so dispiriting for much of the time, that I can’t help thinking that there must be a category of ‘real’ writers who find it less of a struggle.”

Read her book and see how you disagree. I was pulled into the lives of her characters but especially the way she found to tell this very important story of our time. There’s no longer a running away from the past.

And next on her agenda?

“I have not managed a book in the past without self-isolating for extended periods. But it is not a good idea to talk about a next book; in fact, given the difficulty I have with writing plus my faculties being impaired by ageing, who knows if I’ll manage another.”

Here’s hoping…

Changing Lanes, Hilary Prendini Toffoli Turns to Italy and Food for Debut Novel


With Covid19 hastening the demise of print media (in this country but also across the world) as we know it, journalist Hilary Prendini Toffoli knew she had to reinvent herself – and she has, in most intriguing fashion. DIANE DE BEER chats to the veteran journalist about her first novel Loves & Miracles of Pistola (Penguin):

“I worked on Pistola on and off for several years when I was a journalist, but it was only when the media industry was really crumbling that I decided to reinvent myself and complete the novel,” explains Hilary Prendini Toffoli (Penguin).

Yet it is something that started even before her journalism career. She had her first short story published in what was then The Cape Argus when she was about 20, a BA student at UCT. Later she joined The Argus and became the company’s first female sub-editor.

Then she moved to Joburg and ran the Star Woman with Sue Grant Marshall (another journalist turned author) doing the Woman’s Page.

Where I became hooked on her writing was during her time as  a journalist for Style (remember them?) from 1983 to 2006 covering everything “from social and political satire and profiles (21 eligible bachelors in one story), to features about high profile local murders and rapes, as well as writing edgy short stories.”

Then she went freelance doing features and columns for a wide variety of publications including Noseweek, Insig, Financial Mail, City Press, Business Day, House&Leisure etc.

For her the move from journalism wasn’t difficult. “Over the years I’d written a few terrible unpublished novels, both here and overseas in my twenties, living in Spain, France, England and Japan, trying to find myself, that old cliché enacted out by a lot of us those days.”

What also came into play were all these interesting characters she’s interviewed over the years which gave her a helluva lot of material. “I think much of it went into the subconscious, to come spilling out when I write. So the process of writing fiction is not for me a case of ‘Open a vein and bleed’ as someone once described it. My MO is more on the lines of what Stephen King says. ‘Put interesting characters in interesting situations and see what happens.’”

She does however make it sound easier than it is. Not all journalists have books in them even though it is also about writing, it is something completely different. Yet those familiar with her work will not be surprised. Hilary’s interviews were special. She had an acerbic eye but was never unkind – funny yes, and capturing the zeitgeist of her time, absolutely. And she never took life – or herself – too seriously.

She is right when she notes in our correspondence that Love & Miracles of Pistola came at the right time. “In these tricky Covid times the book’s nostalgic flavour has given a lift to readers. Plus they love the food angle because they’re all cooking more than ever before. And they love Pistola because he had his own battles and survived,” she reports.

Hilary in her kitchen

The characters of Pistola and his grandfather Nonno Mario first popped into her mind during the long stretches of an Eastern Cape road trip. “I’d wanted to write about the life of my husband Emilio who grew up in a post-war Northern Italian village in the fertile Po Valley with pigs as big as small Fiats, and where people have survived in spite of the battles that have raged for centuries over these maize and rice fields. This was a way to do it.”

But for local readers especially, it’s more than just looking back. It’s also the diversity of our  people – always a South African strength – that captures the reader’s imagination. We’re all lovers of Italian food (and that isn’t an exaggeration), and this is a story which gives us insight into some  of the roots of all that glorious Italian food … today still.

Hilary explains: “At first the story revolved around food and its importance in this place where the daily greeting is “So have you had a good meal?” Then I remembered the piece I’d written for Style magazine on the young Italians brought to South Africa in the fifties as train stewards by the Nationalist Government. I’d got great anecdotes from several who were still here running restaurants.

Hilary and her husband Emilio
Picture: Alex Moss

“So I put Pistola into this story and it really worked. I could show that repressive political era through the eyes of these naive young foreigners, most of them in their teens, with Pistola going to places like Sophiatown and the Malay Quarter. For an Italian village boy, South Africa’s increasingly racist laws were a challenge, but also a journey of self-discovery – Pistola’s miracles.”

And she says it herself: “What makes the story particularly interesting for South Africans is the fact that many of those Italians then stayed on and opened restaurants all over the country, introducing Italian cuisine to people whose only knowledge of Italian food was Heinz spaghetti on toast. Places like La Perla in Sea Point gave South Africans not only great pastas and pizzas but also a taste of Italy’s extraordinary range of culinary masterpieces.”

We can all agree when she says that it was the beginning of a love affair with Italy.

What is also evident is that her husband, Emilio, being a great cook, played no small role. At one stage he had a deli in Oranjezicht, and he made most of the takeaway foods. Lasagne, ravioli, cannelloni, gnocchi, parmigiana di melanzane, minestrone, osso buco, chicken cacciatore, pesto Genovese, and tubs of sauce – arrabbiata, amatriciana, napolitana. “Clients loved to come and talk to him about their Italian holidays. It was then I began to realise how South Africans love Italy. Not only the food. Also the art, the music and the picturesque towns and villages with their fountains, piazzas and romantic Roman ruins.”

Personally, she has no Italian blood. “My first encounter with Italians and their culture was on the Lloyd Triestino ships that used to sail between Venice and Cape Town in the sixties. Far cheaper than airflight In those days. Those two-week trips were heaven. Great food and music, and good-looking officers!

“I’m a WASP, born and brought up in Cape Town. My mother Constance Young was a prolific journalist for the old Outspan magazine. She also wrote short stories that won prizes on the radio. So for me writing has been a lifelong obsession. Especially fiction.”

Author Hilary Prendini Toffoli

The book has also been a family affair in other ways. “I was lucky to have my daughter Caterina, a graphic designer with Yuppiechef, do the vibrant cover. 

“Meanwhile I so enjoyed writing Pistola I’ve just finished the second in my Italian trilogy. Not a sequel to Pistola but the story of another young Italian migrant, Furio, an opera-singing romantic with a broken heart and a volcanic core, who finds himself working on the farm of a great white hunter in Kenya at the time of the Mau Mau. Challenging stuff he has to find ways to deal with.”

And that’s done in Hilary’s typical Sjournalist style! While still in the throes of doing publicity for her first, she has already completed the second – and I would not put it past her to be already working on the third.

So start where it matters, and get onto this first one. It’s a great read, informative, and captures a country and its people in a particular time.

Innovative Charl du Plessis Trio Play With Our Imaginations In Times of Stress

With a new album, in hand, it’s time for the Charl du Plessis Trio to launch their latest musical feast titled Imagine, apt for our times when the world has been turned upside down. But music will always be there to stimulate the imagination, Charl du Plessis tells DIANE DE BEER:

Because he works fanatically on so many different levels, it’s surprising to hear musician Charl du Plessis say that his jazz trio hasn’t released a CD for two years. He is someone who fast-tracks everything.

But this one wouldn’t have happened at this time either if they hadn’t been approached to record with Swiss speaker company as part of their Stenheim Acoustic Sessions which give artists the chance to record original tracks in unusual places and in exceptional acoustic conditions. “We were fortunate to record this project with their world-class acoustic treatment to ensure the most organic and powerful listening experience,” explains Charl about the sessions recorded at the Espace Consonance in Saxon, Switzerland.

These days with music recordings so problematic, no one is going to disregard this kind of invitation, but what really excited the trio was the quality inherent in the full process. Stenheim’s quality products are the guarantee of a superb recording in a state-of-the-art studio.

Charl du Plessis Trio

This is the first recording by the Charl Du Plessis Trio in its new format, following the departure of the former drummer for China. Peter Auret, one of Gauteng’s most sought-after jazz drummers, joins original members Charl on piano and Werner Spies on bass.

“It’s been invigorating,” says Charl, who with this album wanted to include tracks that share their respect for the original score which has always been their strong suit – a crossover between jazz and the classics, with Charl a master in both genres.

And he emphasises that with Peter joining their team, imaginative moves have been flourishing. One needs change every once in a while and when it is as positively organic as this one was, it can also be hugely beneficial. “We all work together extremely well,” adds Charl.

It also helps that Peter is an award-winning recording engineer and producer with his own studio while Werner adds techno buff to his skills. Charl, always someone who keeps adding yet another string to his bow (see Episode 2 of Toegang on kykNET), also recently added piano tuner to his repertoire. “One often battles to find someone at specific times,” he says and as the owner of two Steinways (being a Steinway musician), he can now do his own when required.

Peter Auret on drums

They say you have to know the rules before you can bend and  break them. That truly applies here and you will hear that immediately as you start listening to their music which seems to have taken on a world in trouble while offering an easy escape – for just a while.

Their music reflects their passion. These are musicians who travel the world with their special brand of music, something that translates well and appeals to both jazz and classical audiences – and that isn’t always a given. Think of the way classical or jazz music has sometimes been dumbed down for a more general audience. This is not that.

It’s about combining and infusing all their multiple influences but in a way that is smart, honours the original music and delivers a sound that is both fresh and refreshing. Included in the lineup, which should have you smiling, is Mozart’s Magic Flute, Beethoven’s Für Elise, Ode to Joy and the Adagio cantabile from Sonata Pathetique, Bizet’s Seguidilla from Carmen, Verdi’s Va Pensiero from Nabucco and to conclude, John Lennon’s Imagine!

Werner Spies on bass

They’ve been at it for 12 years and in that time while not stagnating, they know what works and how to keep it challenging. They wouldn’t have had this recording if that weren’t the case. This is a difficult area to make your name – and a living. You have to deliver for it to work and they do.

They have won major music awards including a Fiësta, two SAMA awards and a Ghoema for Best Instrumental Album. They frequently perform in Europe and Asia as well as at major music festivals in South Africa. Highlights include Grachtenfestival – the Netherlands, Musikdorf Ernen – Switzerland, and Standard Bank Joy of Jazz – Johannesburg as well as most recently digitally as part of the National Arts Festival platform. 

This launch of their new album Imagine will be held at the Atterbury Theatre in Pretoria on November 1 at 3pm. Tickets can be booked at iTickets. It’s all about familiar music with “daring textures, exciting rhythms and lush harmonic landscapes” which come together in their unconventional arrangements.

Charl on keyboards

And if you’ve never attended one of their shows, this is an ideal time to sit back (in controlled circumstances) with music that will be a balm for your soul.

The trio is constantly evolving in their quest to explore uncharted musical terrains in an imaginative manner and, like the title suggests, this is not borrowing from the extraordinary John Lennon but rather paying homage.

That’s the kind of music they make and I easily recommend. For those who cannot attend the concert (and I predict there will be more around the country as things start opening up in the new year), get the album. It’s one to cherish.

For more information visit www.charlduplessis.com

Charl du Plessis Trio with Peter Auret (drums) Charl (centre) and Werner Spies (bass)

Renée Rautenbach Conradie Perfectly Blends Storytelling and a Rich French/SA History

When you start listing al Renée Rautenbach Conradie’s skills and accomplishments, it becomes quite overwhelming, but there’s a common thread that runs through her many activities: an exuberant love of life. She tells DIANE DE BEER more about her debut novel, Met Die Vierkleur in Parys (With the flag of Transvaal in Paris, Protea Boekhuis):

How many people know about the South African participation in the 1900 International Exhibition in Paris? Or who De Villebois-Mareuil (after whom  a street in the east of Pretoria is named) was? Or that Paul Kruger and the Boer Republics had crept into the hearts of the ordinary French at the turn of the last century?

In fact says Renée Rautenbach Conradie, when she and her Foreign Affairs husband Leo Conradie spent time first in Marseilles and then in Paris late in the last century and early in this one, they discovered many links between South Africa and France in centuries past.

When they lived in Paris in 2000, many of the exhibitions were repeated to commemorate the 1900 world event. “Exhibitions of Rodin, the USA and Russia whose most memorable contribution was the landmark Pont Alexandre 111, which connects the Champs-Élysées quarter with those of the Invalides and Eiffel Tower,” she explains.

With more research, one of the passions of this long-time journalist, she discovered that we had a memorable pavilion, which included a gold mine and a pioneer’s house (very much like those still seen at the Pioneer’s Museum in Silverton still today) and that this was indeed one of the most visited features at the Show.

She had found her hook for the novel she wanted to write and the serious research began. The Anglo Boer War had always featured in her life as someone from the last generation to hear stories from those who were directly involved – starting with two grandmothers with very different world views: her paternal grandmother from Oudtshoorn looked down on the Voortrekkers and anything beyond the “colony” and her maternal grandmother was six when her mother died next to her in a tent in the Standerton Concentration Camp. Hér grandfather (72) was taken to St Helena where he later died and that same grandmother also experienced the day the sheep were set alight and pigs were mutilated with sables …

Renée also shared this Anglo Boer passion with both her father and her late husband Leo, who collected turn of the century newspapers when they spent time in France. “They included many pictures of Paul Kruger arriving in Marseille as well as etchings and pictures of the Anglo Boer War,” she notes.

Knowing that she wanted to write, a few years ago, she enrolled for a masters in creative writing at the University of Pretoria. It started with short stories but slowly her interest around a story set in 1900 in Paris took hold.

“Paris was at its wildest in 1900. It was the Belle Epoque, the Bohemian lifestyle amongst artists was accepted and the buzzword of the time was avant garde,” she says. “And I have always been fascinated that Pretoria was burdened by the strict mores of the Dutch Reformed and in addition, there was the influence of the Victorians who buttoned everything up to the neck, taking little pleasure in anything!”

It was this dichotomy of different lifestyles (with the accent on hedonistic pleasures versus the restrictive narrow-mindedness) that also had a huge impact on architecture, which captured her imagination as something she wanted to explore.

She elaborates that Art Nouveau was prominent in 1900 with artists like Toulouse-Lautrec and the theme of the Paris Exhibition was Progress. “That was a time of steel and glass which can still be seen in the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais. Unfortunately some of the other structures were pulled down when the Exhibition had run its course.”

It was a time of architectural curves rather than stark lines and her more than four years in this exquisite city gave her a chance to fully appreciate the architecture of Paris. “I also participated in history classes for four years,” she says.

Her main character with a name like Paul Roux and a profession in architecture meant that research became very important. “At that time you received inhouse training and because of the timing, I could incorporate Herbert Baker as his tutor. I could also showcase the influence of French architect Thibault in Cape Town,” she adds.

It also suited her story that Pretoria was extremely busy at the turn of the century (1900), typical of a ‘sudden’ capital city. “The old Department of Works was responsible for the buildings surrounding Church Square. The Beaux Art style was used with the department headed by Sytze Wopke Wierde with many French and Dutch architects,” she says

And all of this dominates Met Die Vierkleur in Parys with the plot centred on the dishy if dishevelled architect Paul Roux who was responsible for the Pioneer House at the South African pavilion. Of course there’s intrigue, a Jewish miss who has to flee Cape Town to escape a meddling mother and makes her way to England and closer to her prospective beau.

That’s the lifeblood but the intrigue is the wheeling and dealing around the exhibition, the time and the two cities and its people on two vastly different continents in a time now very distant and far away. Yet strangely familiar and appealing …

As a veteran journalist writing about a longtime passion, her research is impeccable and something that grabbed me from start to finish. I am not someone who follows a historic lead and will see a foreign name like DeVillebois-Mareuil and wonder but then forget to follow it up. To discover the person’s identity is a real thrill as are many other historical titbits Renée has cunningly woven into her story.

Because she lived in Paris and established her own historical background, she could incorporate the landmarks that are familiar, but with detail that informs, adding to the charm of the city and the story.

As an outsider, her main character appealed to her because “I understand and empathise deeply,” she says. “Especially in Paris. You lose your heart to the city, but the city is a character and you are not really engaged or accepted by the ordinary people. My disdain for affectation also becomes clear.”

As a journalist, she is also much more accustomed to flash writing in a fast-moving world. Yet she discovered when writing a debut novel at a more advanced age, you have a full hard drive with riches to explore. And if her laziness can be circumvented, she hopes to get stuck into another one.

She writes in Afrikaans, and if it is a language you understand, it’s an unusual read. It’s much more than just a love story, in fact, she had to work very hard not to make her historical background dominate – and that she has done masterfully. But it does give an edge to the storytelling which puts the book in a class of its own.

A perfect escape for this time.

A discussion of the book with the author Renée Rautenbach Conradie will be held on October 18 at Foxwood House in Joburg. Bookings at www.skybookings.net or with Theresa at theatre@foxwood.co.za.

A Cape Town launch will also be held in November.


Nataniel ToegangMany can argue about who suffered (s) most with the appearance of Covid 19 but few will disagree that artists, who make a living by performing to a live audience, have been hit hard. Even the world’s top concert halls are struggling with no end in sight. One of our most prolific artists, Nataniël, tells DIANE DE BEER how he tries to navigate his career during the pandemic:


 With NANTES KOOKBOEK finishing this week, Nataniël’s latest series, TOEGANG, starts the following week – but getting that done, as everything else during Covid, was no easy task.

“The series originally planned will hopefully be done next year,” explains the artist. “The concept was a logical follow-up to the series shot in Nantes, to be filmed on the original le Roux farm just outside Kuilsriver.”

Things kept changing but because of lockdown and the necessary protocol, Nataniël  had to do some quick thinking when he realised they had to shoot where they all lived. And that was Pretoria.

“The concept came from being alone in my house for months and realising how simply I actually live and how simple my meals were,” he says. For him, delicious food, made in just one pan, became the limit for for washing-up activities. That sorted the food for the series.

He also realised how many gorgeous buildings in the city would be deserted because of the pandemic, buildings he always wanted to spend time in, but not with the crowds that would usually be there. “So I took my pan and a very small crew and went there.”

Speaking about these lightning-fast changes and the way the series had to be shot, he admitted it suited his way of working. It actually meant a spike in his already high-powered creativity levels. “I loved it. We could do what we wanted, all these fantastic spaces gave us the opportunity to create beautiful scenes, film very dramatic visuals and work without disturbances. KykNET let me be, nobody looked over my shoulder and all the strict rules made me feel safe. I had a tough time with the make-up part, because somebody had to touch me, but I bit my lip and got through it.”

Those who have interviewed Nataniël  will know that getting info about an upcoming programme or concert is like pulling teeth. Not the gist of it, but the detail. He is a man who lives for surprises. When you sit down to watch a programme or enjoy a show, he believes the less you know the better. “I tell nobody about the places we went to, that will be revealed in every episode.”

“Tragically there are no surprises on TV since Oprah left, everything is blurted out for marketing, so there is nothing to look forward to.”

But he reluctantly admits that they work according to themes, every episode has an inspired menu for which he got his ideas from the locations, history, plus his life in isolation. (“Apart from going back on stage now, I am still in lockdown, because I love it. And I will wear the mask for the rest of my life, I look fantastic and it is much cheaper than Botox.”)

nataniel oils2

He also introduces artists who made things for the programmes, including artworks, ceramics, fabrics, prints, jewellery and, of course, some surprises. 

And another secret he allows to slip … Very often a local magazine series get an original theme tune, but there rest comes from a library of canned music. “This time I had the opportunity to write and produce a full soundtrack and be in the studio for all the sessions. (With a mask and bottles of sanitiser!) That was a great experience and fantastic to work with all the musicians after months without performing a single note.”

Shooting locally for the first time in some time following a revamp of the Nantes series, was quite strange. “The European visuals are very filmic, there’s a castle or a cathedral or a museum everywhere you turn and you need to do very little to make a scene beautiful. Also finding props here was a challenge as (at the time) many shops were still closed and nothing new had come into the country for months,” always a Nataniël requirement. He hates introducing and showing things people know.

Looking ahead, Covid has given Nataniël  time to think and make some decisions. “First of all I want to dress more wildly. I realised I am still scared of what people think, but the virus took that away.

Nataniel in full colour
Nataniël in full colour

“I will also stop dumbing down musically because of my fears that the audience will not like complicated or eccentric or sophisticated or unfamiliar songs. At the Woordfees in March I performed a very modern cover song with a very abrupt ending and there was absolute silence afterwards. Then I realised nobody in the audience has heard that song yet, although it was a worldwide hit. So I stopped singing it. During isolation I decided, to hell with that, that song will be back in the new show. Life is too short to compromise.”

It’s about time!

Nataniel gesels

Now he needs to get back on stage which, not surprisingly is what he misses most. “I start with GESELS, my lifestyle talk series, every Saturday in October at the Atterbury Theatre (in Pretoria) starting this coming Saturday. Bookings on iTickets.

“Then in November Charl du Plessis and I will finally do our gala concert to celebrate working together for 20 years.” TWINTIG, the gala Concert with Charl, Sunday November 15 at 3pm in the  Atterbury Theatre. Bookings on iTickets. “In December I will stage a new production, as always.” Bookings will also be on iTickets.

He has also launched the LIVE LIKE N collection of healthy cooking oils which can be ordered at https://liveliken.com/. And a new book (a collection of short stories) will be available in October. 

Nataniël has been working on his blog called SmallCoronation.com, which was quietly released recently. “It is all about simple food in beautiful settings, creating atmosphere. I see it as sharing my personal archive with others with all the food coming from dinners at my house.

“There’s no interaction and talking nonsense with people I do not know, just an online magazine to be looked at with a cup of tea when somebody needs a break. No strange ingredients, no modern techniques, just fun, ideas and hopefully inspiration.

“It will be launched with the TOEGANG series next Monday at 8.30pm on kykNET and the English version of all the recipes will also be available on the blog.”

And if you were wondering  in anticipation about the next memoir…

Nataniel boek

That will have to wait says the author. “Too many of the characters are still alive. And LOOK AT ME (KYK NA MY) still needs to get the attention it deserves. Everything stopped when I had to stop performing and touring.”

But for the moment, the new normal kicks into action and Nataniël in full colour steps into the spotlight with even more than his usual fanfare.

I’ll be watching for those outlandish costumes and outfits as well as the music he really loves to sing … whether they like it or not!

TOEGANG starts on Monday October 5 at 8.30pm on DStv’s kykNET.

The Sample Workshop is Stunning Example of Cool Capital’s Eye Catching Guerrilla Tactics

Cowmash showcasing her art

When architect Pieter Mathews gathered his coterie of Pretoria artists to stage a typical Cool Capital guerrilla exhibition in the basement of his firm, Mathews and Associates Architects’, most high-profile building to date, the Javett Art Centre at UP, they all leapt to participate. He shares the excitement of the event with DIANE DE BEER who encourages those visiting the Centre, which again reopens on Heritage Day (September 24), to also check what’s left of the glorious art in the basement parking area:

“A basement is an underground space…the humblest of spaces specifically in the Javett: UP”, writes Pieter Mathews in the explanatory notes of The Sample Workshop, the catalogue documenting the guerrilla exhibition. The exhibition took place under the radar of the conventional gallery space above. Many factors including the transient nature of art, the way art is viewed in the world and the fact that the artisans who participated in construction of the gallery would possibly never see the actual art, were the driving force behind The Sample Workshop.

Creative Carla Crafford.

The project initially grew from a practical need to test samples of ideas and patterns to be used in the building. It however evolved into a project in its own right which allowed Mathews to specifically honour Pretoria artists. It all started forming in his mind when the temporary building site offices, constructed from drywall, had to be shifted to the basement and while he was looking for possible sandblasting options for certain parts of the building. This space, a wet basement which is largely naturally ventilated and to some extent vulnerable to nature’s elements receives unique light through the voids.

As the white boxes (of the art centre) above ground offers opportunities for the often elite art afficionados and students to enjoy exhibitions made possible by curators, he believed that in the spirit of ‘art for the people’ it would be appropriate for an underground exhibition to be held in the area that only the construction team had access to.

Jan van der Merwe making art

He wanted to show temporary artworks by some of South Africa’s foremost artists from Diane Victor, Gordon Froud, Malose Pete, Dr Jan van der Merwe, Annette Pretorius (2019 runner up of the Sanlam Portrait award), Guy du Toit, Carl Jeppe, Eric Du Plan, Heidi Fourie & Alain Lang (2019 Ampersand fellows) as well as some of the hottest new kids on the block like Cowmash (2019 PPC Imaginarium  winner), Keneilwe Mokoena, Nazirite Tam and Helena Uambembe (2019 recipient of  the David Koloane Award).

As the instigator of Cool Capital, described as the “world’s first uncurated, DIY, guerrilla biennale which explores the possibility of creative expression that Pretoria has to offer”, he knew that the artists would understand the concept and buy into the transient nature of what they were creating.

In essence, they were going to create art in a building site which was at that stage of the process, under the custodianship of the main contractor. This meant each artist had to be inducted according to the health and safety act. It created huge excitement amongst the construction workforce who by the very nature of their work seldom have anything to do with the finished project.

Lukhanyo Dyasi stakes his claim for the worker posse.

This was going to be a joint project and the workers were also asked to contribute and nominate someone whose art would be representative of the group. The artistic individual, Lukhanyo Dyasi, is a crane driver guide who was personally involved in the construction of the basement, created an apt site-specific artwork of an excavator hand.

Excavator in hand played with the idea of his hand resembling the bucket of the machine simply stating that he and his co-workers “had a hand in its creation”.

Their contribution was further enhanced by the photographs (also seen here) of Alet Pretorius who was archiving the process of the building, but for this particular exhibition, did portraits of the construction workers and put them up on a temporary drywall a part of this gift economy. All of the workers who recognised their picture, got their own copy (of art) to keep as a memory.

Heidi Fourie at play with plastic

All of these interventions blurred the lines of what is seen as a traditional art and artists which included all the different issues floating around this almost clandestine artistic endeavour on a site that was soon to become an art haven in the capital city.

For his own interpretation of art, Mathews played with the construction site and found material and give a nod to similar work by Kendell Geers. “He was my inspiration,” explains Mathews, who took photographs of a composition of tyres and danger signage he discovered by accident on the site. In similar fashion, he paid homage to collaborating Swiss artists Fischilli/Weiss with a found composition of fire pipes scattered around the building site.

Carl Jeppe in action

Another fascinating aspect of the experimental exhibition is what artists do when they know their work will probably disappear sooner rather than later. Artist extraordinaire Carl Jeppe has been drawing large imaginary landscapes these past few years. His challenge was to find a way to do something larger than he’s ever done and in only one day. “Instead of my usual ‘Mythical’ landscape, I decided to draw from memory some of the iconic buildings that we see around Pretoria realizing that the Javett: UP will soon be regarded as iconic as well!” He was also intrigued by the notion that the work itself was not permanent but would remain on record as an event that took place.

Playing with that impermanence, Allen Laing’s work titled Fossil of Pedagogosaurus Defunctus, crushed under its own weight (wood found on site, olive wood, screw and nails) dealt with a fossil that was “discovered in 2018 by the acclaimed and highly esteemed Mr Allen Laing (MTech, BA, matric, etc.) at a depth of 10 meters below ground in Brooklyn, Pretoria. Although rivals and detractors of Laing’s career have claimed that the fossil is falsified, Laing’s outstanding academic credentials seem to solidly counteract these claims”.

Nazrite Tam reworks Pierneef

Hong Kong based artist, Nazirite Tam (UP Alumnus) decided to go fake Pierneef (a la station panels). Tam carved moulds, then melted sheets of plastic to make a permanent impression of the Pierneef moulds. Tam created five different panels for The Sample Workshop. The work is titled Station panel rip off (1-5), proudly proclaiming that a Chinese artist created fakes of Pierneef’s works.

Keneilwe Mokoena created a mural by stretching pvc tape on drywall. Her artwork creatively explored a single point in space-time, which is connected to everyone and everything else that exists and will ever exist.

Well known artist Gordon Froud created a piece related to his 2018 Standard Bank exhibition entitled Harmonia, Sacred geometry, the pattern of existence. This exhibition and the piece Metaron’s cube in bronze, silver and gold, investigated the platonic shapes as well as ancient geometries – through these he explored the interconnectedness of all things and how our perspective changes the way we see or interpret the world around us.

There are of course many more while these artists were seriously having fun as they allowed their imaginations to take flight in the spirit of the exhibition which was always tongue in cheek with the art establishment firmly in their sight.

But there was also a serious side with The Sample Workshop addressing some of the inequalities prevalent in a world that is constantly struggling with ‘us’ and ‘them’ on so many different levels.

Lynette ten Krooden’s art in the making

For architect/artist Pieter Mathews it was a way of bringing many worlds together and of adding the artistic to the architecture in a fundamental way. The Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria opened to the public on heritage day 24 September last year and again reopens to the public this Heritage Day 2020.

 While there are still remnants of art visible when you park in the basement at the Javett Art Centre at UP, the full body of work can be seen in The Sample Workshop catalogue available on ISSUU:



PICTURES: Lungelo Mbulwana DIANE DE BEER Life is slowly and almost silently returning to the Market Theatre – just in time to benefit from President Ramaphosa’s latest concessions doubling on the 50 seats already conceded. Artistic director James Ngcobo kicks off tonight (running until March 28 starting at 6pm but check opening times on specific … Continue reading ACTORS AND DIRECTOR COME OUT TO PLAY AT THE ANNUAL BLACK HISTORY PRODUCTION AT MARKET


PICTURES: Jeremeo Le Cordeur Professional theatre makers and dancers were hard hit by the Covid pandemic, which cost them not only income but also sense of community. The Take-a-STAND Dialogues presented in Stellenbosch from February 19 to 21 aimed to reinvigorate this community with panel discussions featuring a diversity of voices from dance and theatre … Continue reading ARTISTS REMAIN CREATIVE AND INNOVATIVE TELLING STORIES IN TIMES OF CRISIS AND COVID19


Architect/academic ‘Ora Joubert is adamant that her book celebrating young South African architectural students calls for a wider audience. She tells DIANE DE BEER why she feels the acknowledgement is important – and she’s absolutely right: As a former head of two architecture schools in the country and an outspoken critic of poorly considered architecture, … Continue reading BRILLIANT BOOK CELEBRATING STUDENT ARCHITECTS PREDICTS FINE FUTURE