Sharp tongues, sharper debates: Think!Fest preview

by Nick Mulgrew

Cerebral, hard-hitting, and ever so slightly esoteric, Think!Fest returns again this Festival with a programme chock-full of sharp debate and intellectual might.

Going with the larger trend at this year’s Festival, Think!Fest’s programme focuses heavily on issues surrounding freedom of expression. The sharp-witted constitutions of Pierre de Vos and Albie Sachs will undoubtedly be the biggest draws of Think!Fest, with both appearing on the final weekend of Festival. Perhaps most exciting is a debate on the role of satire in the post-apartheid society, in which Sachs and De Vos will be in conversation with communications law expert Dario Milo, young theatre-maker Tara Louise Notcutt, award-winning journalist Jeremy Nell, and Dutch cartoonist Tjeerd Royaards.

Both men will make individual appearances, too. De Vos, whose blog “Constitutionally Speaking” has become a touchstone for criticism of South African legal issues, will ask whether certain kinds of expression should be more “free” than others. Later, Sachs will weigh in on the Rhodes statue debate, drawing on his considerable experience in activism and law in a conversation on colonial artwork in the South African public sphere – sparks are sure to fly.

Public space is also in contention much earlier in the programme, when Cale Waddacor will discuss graffiti and urban art, while award-winning spoken-word poet Iain “Ewok” Robinson shines a light on the relationship between performance and arts activism.

Laughs and politics will come together during appearances by comedians-cum-critics Loyiso Gola and Conrad Koch, of Late Nite News and Chester Missing fame respectively. In separate panels, both will consider how the satirical gaze can best be used to subvert and speak truth to power, and which powerful people make the most appropriate targets. Expect some nuanced discussion – especially from Koch, currently South Africa’s most populist puppeteer.

In a similar vein, Siviwe Mdoda from the Right2Know Campaign will discuss how government policy, surveillance and secrecy is harming both expression and access to information in South Africa – for everyone from entertainers, to journalists, to ordinary citizens.

Looking for something a bit lighter? Think!Fest also has plenty of options for relaxation and more gentle engagement. Richard Haslop’s Listening Lounge sessions at the Monument are an annual hit, with the veteran broadcaster and writer bringing his incomparably deep knowledge of music to meditations on rock ‘n roll, political songwriting, and bagpipes. The best of short fiction from South Africa is also in the spotlight at the launch of the 3rd National Arts Festival Short.Sharp.Story Awards anthology, Incredible Journey. Grab a copy afterward – these stories by SA’s brightest writers are a surprisingly excellent nightcap. Other notable literary indulgences include the launches of Tshifhiwa Given Mukwevho’s sophomore effort, The Violent Gestures of Life, as well as Anthea Garman’s new release on poet and journalist Antjie Krog and her influence on the public sphere of post-apartheid South Africa.

So while there isn’t exactly something for everyone at Think!Fest, there is at least something for most.

From Cue 2 July 2015: 18.

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