Elizabeth Sneddon

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Elizabeth Sneddon (1907-2005). Pioneering and celebrated speech and drama specialist, educational and academic leader, lecturer and director.


Born in Durban on 26 October 1907, Sneddon showed early ability, gaining the highest marks in the elocutionary section of the London College of Music exams at Durban Girl's College where she later became head girl and dux. She studied English at Glasgow University where she received a Master of Arts in 1932, and then did postgraduate studies in education at London University. She also did a study course at London's Royal Academy with a L.R.A.M. degree. Returning to Durban, she taught at Sastri College where she was one of the first educators, along with Doctor Mabel Palmer and Florence Macdonald, to start university-level teaching for black, coloured, Indian and Chinese students working towards Bachelor of Arts degrees at the University of South Africa. Out of this organisation grew the University of Durban-Westville.

She also opened her own speech training studio in the City.

In 1949 she established a Department of Speech and Drama on the university campus in Durban, fighting official disapproval to do so.

She is said to have been the "co-founder of the Performing Arts Council of SA in 1958", though the existence of such an organization at that time has not yet been discovered. In 1984 she helped to found the Durban Arts Youth Festival, an educational project designed to stimulate a deeper awareness & interest in the creative arts. In 1995 the Festival became known as the National Creative Arts Youth Festival.

Many of South Africa's top theatrical talents passed through Sneddon's hands in the years before her retirement in 1972. She continued to work in the field, promoting speech and drama as a subject for matric and, in 1989, founding the National Creative Arts Youth Festival.

She founded i.a. the first Department of Speech and Drama in South Africa (Professor and Head until 1972), the Speech and Drama Association of South Africa, the Theatre Audience Guild (1949), the Natal Theatre Workshop Company, the Face to Face Festival (1990), and a founder member of National Theatre Organisation (being appointed as a member of the first board in 1948), of the Natal Performing Arts Council (1961) and Durban Arts Association (1980).

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

She was the first head of the first university department of drama in South Africa. She introduced Speech & Drama as part of the curriculum and as a result of the student enrolment she became the first professor of Speech and Drama at the University of Natal.

She started the Natal Theatre Workshop Company in 1949. Numerous famous names resulted from that: Yvonne Bryceland, Athol Fugard, Richard Haines, Ian Steadman, Dorothy-Ann Gould, Ann Wakefield, Allen Auld, Bill Flynn, David Horner, Francois Swart, Robert Gordon & Colin Spence.

Responsible for creating 8 theatres in Durban, including the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at the University of Natal, Durban.

On occasion acted as adjudicator for the FATSSA Play Festival.

Directed more than 70 productions, principally classics, including André Huguenet in King Oedipus (in 1952) and Leon Gluckman in King Lear (in 1954).

In 1970 she collaborated with Welcome Msomi to create and present the hugely popular Umabatha, Msomi’s Zulu version of Macbeth, which successfully toured Britain.

Through her endeavours, Speech and Drama was accepted by the Joint Matriculation Board in 1977.

She served on the NTO Board of Control together with Marda Vanne.

Awards, etc

Recipient of numerous awards i.a. the first Nuffield Dominion Fellowship (1950), Carnegie Foundation Fellowship (1951), Honorary Doctorate from University of Natal, Durban (1979), Vita Award for Contribution to Theatre (Moira Fine Award) (1986), the State President's Award (1989) and Civic Honours from the City of Durban (1991).

She was Life vice-President of the Guild of Speech & Drama Teachers in SA & received the Critics’ Award for excellence as Director and for her services to Drama in SA. Durban Arts Association run by Dennis Schauffer & Elizabeth Sneddon.


Tucker, 1997.

Obituary published in The Natal Witness, 1 December 2005.

(Mervyn McMurtry)

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