Indigeneity and Theatre in the New South Africa

Arifani Moyo

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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In recent decades, the emergence of a global indigenous peoples’ movement has renewed the significance of indigeneity as a theme of pan-Africanist ethnology. This thesis looks at the semiotics of indigeneity in post-apartheid South African intercultural theatre, focusing on four high-profile works of the first decade of the twenty-first century. The study of theatrical examples helps to ascertain what ‘indigeneity’ means for creativity and subjectivity, thus sensitising both the empiricism and the critique of ethnology. The method of study combines comparative and dramaturgical approaches, focusing substantially on subtext in order to philosophically develop theatre’s poetics of indigeneity for both dialectical and didactic engagement. I argue that South African indigeneity is most palpable through the metaphysics of filiation, which theatre narrates through the themes of nativity, orphanhood and adoption as progeny desire intimacy with progenitors, closeness to origins and belonging in milieus. The examples include Richard Loring’s dance-musical-percussion pageant, African Footprint (2000), Magnet Theatre’s avant-garde dance-drama, Rain in a Dead Man’s Footprints (2004), Isango Ensemble’s post-classicist opera-film, uCarmen eKhayelitsha (2005), and Yael Farber’s post-naturalist drama, Mies Julie (2012). These aesthetically and ideologically diverse works show that the poetics of filiation is very malleable to different ends; thus it beckons a fresh humanistic turn in the pan-Africanist critique of cultural performance. Such a turn could treat creative outputs as works of ontology, while subjectivity is centrally the articulation of crucial affinities through which peoples formulate identities.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Gilbert, Helen, Supervisor
  • Cohen, Matthew, Advisor
  • Goddard, Lynette, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date7 Mar 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016


  • South Africa
  • indigeneity
  • pan-African studies
  • postcolonialism
  • critical ethnology
  • filiation
  • Interculturalism
  • Richard Loring
  • African Footprint
  • Mark Fleishman
  • Magnet Theatre
  • Rain in a Dead Man’s Footprints
  • Isango Ensemble
  • uCarmen eKhayelitsha
  • Yael Farber
  • Mies Julie
  • post-apartheid
  • theatre studies
  • opera
  • drama
  • avant-garde
  • heritage pageantry
  • performance studies
  • cultural studies
  • African studies
  • African philosophy
  • indigenous peoples

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