Award-winning and provocative playwright Mike van Graan engages in conversation with author and critic Brent Meersman about What it means to be a playwright in South Africa in the 21st Century.

“Playwrights who actually manage to see their work staged are thin on the ground in South Africa. Van Graan is one of the few practicing playwrights who has had significant success in the past decade with a dozen acclaimed works. He constructs morally complex situations and dramatically layered scripts dealing with highly controversial socio-political topics” comments Meersman.

In this staged conversation, Van Graan and Meersman consider what role and function theatre has in the new South Africa, asking if the “well-made play” has become an arcane activity, and how the playwright negotiates a culturally diverse audience and country.

Mike van Graan is the Executive Director of the African Arts Institute (AFAI), a South African NGO based in Cape Town whose two-fold mission is to help develop leadership for the African creative sector and to build regional markets for African artists and their creative works. Until recently, he also served as the Secretary General of Arterial Network, a pan-African network of artists, cultural activists, creative enterprises and others engaged in the African creative sector and its contribution to human rights, democracy and development on the African continent.

After the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, he was appointed as a Special Adviser to the first minister responsible for arts and culture where he played an influential role in shaping post-apartheid cultural policies.  In 2011, Van Graan was appointed by UNESCO as a Technical Adviser to assist governments in the global south to develop cultural policies aligned to the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. He was appointed as Artscape’s Associate Playwright and is considered as one of South Africa’s leading contemporary playwrights, having garnered numerous nominations and awards for his plays that interrogate the post-apartheid South African condition. Van Graan received the Standard Bank Standing Ovation award at the 2012 National Arts Festival for his sustained contribution to the Festival as a writer and activist.

Author Brent Meersman has had an eclectic career, spanning the arts, commerce and political arenas. He is a compulsive traveller; at last count he’d been to 50 countries and travelled around all the continents, including the Antarctic. Since 2003, he writes for the national weekly, the Mail & Guardian. He has written extensively for New Africa Analysis magazine, London, reviewed work for the BBC and the London Financial Times, and contributed to the Sunday Independent, Business Day, The Witness, Cape Times, Die Burger, The WeekenderThe Wry RepublicPoliticsweb, and as a M&G Thought Leader. Meersman is also on the editorial board of Critical Stages, the journal of the International Association of Theatre Critics.

His first novel, Primary Coloured, was published in 2007, followed by Reports Before Daybreak; and his latest novel Five Lives at Noon will be published in June 2013. Meersman’s poetry collection Ophila and the Poet and other poems (2010) includes poems that have appeared in New ContrastNew ContactBotsotso, and Green Dragon. His short stories have appeared in What Love Is (2011), and his first published story was in The Invisible Ghetto (1993).

Great Texts lectures take place on Tuesdays for the month of April. This lecture will take place on Tuesday 16 April 2013 at 17:30 at Hiddingh Hall, University of Cape Town (UCT) Hiddingh Campus, Orange Street, Cape Town, and is free. Refreshments will be served from 17:00; no booking is necessary. For more information on the Great Texts series, please contact +27 21 480 7156 or

Mike van Graan & Brent Meersman audio recording available for download.

Venue: Hiddingh Hall

Address: Google Map UCT Hiddingh Campus, 31 Orange Street, Cape Town, Western Cape, 8001, South Africa