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Muthal Naidoo

The Order of Ikhamanga in

Muthal Naidoo Awarded for:
Her excellent achievement, contribution to and role in the field of arts, culture and literature in South Africa, and for giving voice to the issues of the downtrodden in South Africa through literary means.
Profile of Muthal Naidoo

Dr Muthal Naidoo, age 76, has excelled in the fields of arts, culture and literature in a career spanning more than 50 years. She did pioneering work in drama, co-starting a drama society in Durban in the early 1960s, and writing and directing plays. As playwright, she has written 14 plays that have been published in an anthology entitled WIP (Work in Progress) Theatre Plays.

She joined the Durban Academy of Theatre Arts in 1963, with among others, Devi Bughwan, Pauline Morel, Fatima Meer, Ronnie Govender, Kessie Govender and Welcome Msomi. This company, which collaborated with Union Artists in Johannesburg, staged productions for mixed audiences. The Government banned it when it brought the American production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf to Durban.

In 1964, she co-founded the Shah Theatre Academy with Ronnie Govender, and as a result of her work as director of the group, was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study in the United States of America. She secured a joint appointment in the Black Studies Department and Performing Arts Area at Washington University in St Louis where she lectured and produced plays by African and African-American playwrights.

Before this appointment, she worked with the Black Artists’ Group of St Louis. Their story is told by Professor Ben Looker in his book, Point from which Creation Begins: The Black Artists’ Group of St Louis. Naidoo returned to Durban in 1976, worked with Kessie Govender and then Ronnie Govender, and wrote one-act plays for the Shah Theatre production of Three for Tea in 1979. In 1981, she wrote and directed Of No Account, which depicted ordinary black people beginning to resist authoritarian control.

The play, nominated for a Critics Circle Award in Durban, was also performed at the Laager at the Market in Johannesburg. After her success, Muthal resigned from teaching and wrote and produced several plays. Her first big success was We 3 Kings (1982), a send-up of the South African Indian Council elections. In 1982, her play Coming Home, which starred Madoda Ncayiyana, Etienne Essery and Pippa Dyer, was nominated for a Critics Circle Award. Ncayiyana won the Best Newcomer Award. The opening performance was a fund-raiser for the Detainees’ Parents’ Support Committee in Durban.

In 1983, she established the WIP Theatre Company for which she wrote several new plays. WIP Theatre Company affiliated to the United Democratic Front on its establishment.

Dr Naidoo’s contribution to the South African arts and culture landscape through drama and theatre as playwright, director and producer deserves celebration. She used her talent and passion for the theatre to advance the struggle for liberation by bringing controversial and progressive topics to the stage and creating opportunities for transcending racial barriers.

She wrote a set of short stories based on the lives of mostly rural women from Limpopo, a book depicting the rituals of the Tamil religion as well as a set of stories of the life and times of people of the Asiatic Bazaar in Marabastad, Pretoria. Through her writings, she depicts the lives and stories of people not often covered and featured. Her writings have been published in various collections, which place her work with the best in the country.

She continues to write and has published a book of short stories, Gansie in Kammaland, in 2011, children’s stories in 2012, and a biography, The Keshwars from Dundee, in 2012.