Union of South African Artists

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The Union of South African Artists, often referred to simply as Union Artists, was founded in 1952 by Alf Herbert, Solomon Linda, Ian Bernhardt, and others, to develop African performance by fusing “African native talent with European discipline and technique” (Nkosi 1965: 19) and help African performers in South Africa obtain training, royalty contracts and fair payment. They also sponsored the initiatives such as the production of King Kong (1959), the training of performers at the Rehearsal Room, a venue at Dorkay House, the founding of the Phoenix Players, and ***. Bernhardt was the first chairperson and held the position till 19**. Union Artists ceased operations in 19**.

Among the enormous number of people who trained and worked there were Gibson Kente (whose two earliest works, Manana the Jazz Prophet and Sikalo, were first produced by Union Artists).

Union of Southern African Artists: John Bolon called a meeting of black entertainers, 300 people came, and so the Union was established in 1953. It was an organisation which assisted African artists to get their own shows together for township audiences, and in arranging special performances by visiting artists like Emlyn Williams, and occasional productions of local plays for black audiences. Ian Bernhardt abandoned his position in the commercial world to run this Union. No-Good Friday, Athol Fugard’s first play, was staged at the Bantu Men's Social Centre in conjunction with the Union of Southern African Artists. Fugard himself appeared in the play, together with his black cast – Bloke Modisane, Dan Poho, Steve Moloi, Ken Gampu, Gladys Sibisa and Zakes Mokae in 1958.

They staged King Kong, which was directed by Leon Gluckman at the Wits University Great Hall in 1959. Stanley (Spike) Glasser was the musical director, Arthur Goldreich did the design and Arnold Dover did the choreography for this musical starring the trumpeter Hugh Masekela, Nathan Mdledle in the lead role, band vocalist Miriam Makeba, Joe Mogotsi and Peggy Phango.

They staged Eugene O'Neill’s powerful tale, The Emperor Jones, directed by Leon Gluckman and starring Joe Mogotsi in 1960. It had an all-black supporting cast of thirty actors and was staged at the Wits Great Hall. Later they staged it in a tent in the Showgrounds in Pretoria after much hostile negotiation.

They brought the Indian director Krishna Shah to South Africa to mount Rabindranath Tagore’s King of the Dark Chamber in 1961. It starred Indian stars Surya Kumari and Baskhar and opened in Durban before playing at the Wits University Great Hall. ****


Lewis Nkosi, 1965:19.

Tucker, 1997.

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