2016 marks the 20-year anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) first hearing. There have been mixed views on the commission’s success as well as increasing questions regarding amnesty and whether or not some recipients were justified in receiving it. This anniversary also raises questions of the legacy of the TRC and what work still needs to be done.

The 2016 National Arts Festival was riddled with plays about racial tension and prejudice, a tangible reflection of some of the racial tension that has arisen during past months on social media. Many plays explored themes surrounding the nuances of race, racism and prejudice in a way that encouraged audiences to critically engage with their own subliminal prejudices. One play in particular, ‘Race trouble’ explores themes of crimes, racial tension and prejudice. The writer of the play, Devashna Moodley, in writing the play wanted to create a space to allow the audience to explore issues of racial prejudice and crime. Moodley also wanted to explore whether crime does affect racial perceptions and cultivate racist ideologies in the minds of those affected by it and if this exacerbates pre-existing racist beliefs? It also makes an effort to explore racial tensions from different racial perspectives. Plays like ‘Race Trouble’ create a platform for South Africans to ask themselves difficult questions about race without fear of being ‘outed’ as racists.

‘Some Mother’s Son’ is a gut-wrenching portrayal of some of the atrocities committed during the apartheid regime. The co-director of the play, Godfrey Manyeye believes there is a strong correlation between South Africa’s violent political past and the present. He went on to draw links between the current political unrest and what he believes is the lack of closure from the TRC and how the arts are a way of people filling in the gaps left by the TRC.

The arts play a crucial role in a society. They are the heart aches, frustrations, tears and groans of a nation in the form of melodies, dance, stanzas, and monologues. They allow issues as sensitive as race to be critically engaged with in a non-threatening, yet confronting way. Perhaps the arts are the therapeutic tools our country needs right now.

Written by: Cindy Fumbata