Home » General » South Africa Theater Puts on a Show for the World With Online Season

JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s Market Theater is one of several African cultural institutions that has recently gone entirely online because of coronavirus restrictions that prevent large gatherings. But for this small institution often known as the “Theater of the Struggle” for its flouting of apartheid-era laws, obstacles are nothing new. Now, the theater hope its artistic message — which touches on local and global events — will resonate beyond the African continent.
Johannesburg’s Market Theater is no stranger to struggle. It opened in 1976, at the height of South Africa’s racist apartheid system, and made a point of flouting segregation laws.
And so now, as a global pandemic has made live shows impossible, the institution’s artistic director, James Ngcobo says the show must go on — even if that means it goes online.
He told VOA the acclaimed theater, which has received 21 international awards for its work, is now seizing the opportunity to spread its stories well beyond this country, by streaming its entire season online.
Not only that — it is writing brand-new, topical shows that touch on the issues many South Africans — and people across the world — are facing right now. Ngcobo said he cooked up the plan shortly after South Africa’s government announced a strict total lockdown in late March, shuttering pretty much all non-essential businesses.

“I then said to my team, ‘we are going on a long pause that we don’t know the pause is going to last for for how long. But our stories can never be on pause.’ And my team said to me. ‘So what do we do?’ And I said, ‘well, we are going to commission some of our finest playwrights to create works for us, that, at the moment, these short plays that are between 20 and 25 minutes, that we are producing for the virtual space.’”
South African actor and playwright Paul Slabolepszy says it is more important than ever that art continues to be made. He spoke to VOA on the Google Hangouts platform.
“Without art, we are, we are nothing,” he said. “We explain ourselves, our conversations come through storytelling. If we were living just with the struggles that we have with no hope, life would be terrifying. We need stories all the time. We need to connect in any way we can to feel human.”
National theaters in Algeria and Egypt are also doing live shows online, and Somalia’s National Theater recently reopened for Independence Day celebrations —and hopefully more.
Meanwhile, major theaters on New York’s Broadway and London’s West End have also gone online.
Ngcobo says the Market Theater has gotten an enthusiastic response to its online offerings from people in the U.S., Europe and other African countries.
But he laments that the continent’s artistic houses could do more. His theater is communicating with institutions in Ghana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to help them go online.
“In most places around the continent, it’s very sad because some places might not have the infrastructure that you find in other countries that I’ve mentioned, and South Africa. And so we are always looking at an idea of working with countries — especially Anglophone countries,” he said.
At the small theater in central Johannesburg, the doors may be closed, and the lights may be off, but the curtain will still rise.

Source: Voice of America
WHO Urges African Countries Resuming Air Travel to Take Safety Measures
The World Health Organization called on African countries Thursday to take comprehensive safety measures to “mitigate a surge” in COVID-19 cases, as nations resume air travel.
The African economy, which is heavily reliant on travel and tourism, has been struck hard by the global pandemic.
“Air travel is vital to the economic health of countries,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, said Thursday in a press release. “But as we take to the skies again, we cannot let our guard down. Our new normal still requires stringent measures to stem the spread of COVID-19.”
Earlier in the pandemic, 36 sub-Saharan African countries closed their borders to international travel, with eight more blocking flights from the worst-hit countries. Now, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania and Zambia have resumed commercial flights, and the 15 members of the Economic Community of West African States will open their airspaces on July 25.
The WHO recommended that African countries implement “comprehensive” entry and exit screening, maintain social distancing where possible, encourage “cough etiquette,” register incoming passengers and follow up with them to track the outbreak.

Thursday’s press release came hours after Amani Abou-Zeid, the African Union’s commissioner for infrastructure and energy, said that the continent had lost nearly $55 billion in travel and tourism revenue in just three months because of the pandemic. Africa had previously expected revenue jumps in these sectors this year.
“We have 24 million African families whose livelihood is linked to travel and tourism,” Abou-Zeid said. “The blow is very hard, between the economic losses and the job losses.”
African airlines, she added, have experienced an $8 billion, or 95%, drop in revenue, alongside other economic losses.
The International Monetary Fund projected last month that the sub-Saharan African economy would shrink by 3.2% this year, revised from a 1.6% contraction in April.
The WHO, however, pressed countries to weigh the financial costs of maintaining closed borders with the costs of a more severe outbreak, and asked nations to decide if their health care and contact tracing systems could handle an increase in COVID-19 cases.
Temperature screening at points of entry is relatively well-established in Africa because of the continent’s experience with Ebola, Moeti said Thursday at a WHO-World Economic Forum press conference. Ebola outbreaks have also primed COVID-19 contact tracing efforts, she said.
As of Thursday, Africa had over 414,000 confirmed infections and nearly 200,000 recoveries, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over 10,000 people have died. South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria have reported the most cases in the region by far.
About 22% of destinations worldwide had eased travel restrictions as of June 25, up from just 3% in mid-May, according to the U.N. World Tourism Organization. Most are in Europe.
On Tuesday, the European Union released a list of 15 countries whose citizens would be allowed to enter the bloc, provided the gesture was reciprocated.

Source: Voice of America