For the greater part of Mike van Graan’s life, he has been a cultural activist.
His family was classified coloured and although they lived in Athlone, they chose Harold Cressy School for their children because of its academic reputation. The school was in District Six which at the time was being decimated by the government’s notorious forced removals. What had a greater impact on Mike in those formative years, however, was the 1976 Student Uprising.
After school, for him to attend UCT to avoid the designated University of the Western Cape, an apartheid university with a poor academic standard, he had to make special application. A condition of acceptance was that he choose among his subjects one not offered at UWC. By choosing Drama his destiny was written.
As a cultural activist, finding his voice, his affiliations, his friendships, meant being marked by the police as a dissident, dodging arrest and witnessing friends being detained without trial. It meant sitting in endless committee meetings, deciding on policy, hearing another agenda, organising cultural festivals that would be shut down when they were seen to ‘threaten national security’. It has meant having an active hand in fighting corruption, abuse of power. It has meant looking back on a life and seeing that the racism then is little different to the corruption now. It has meant finding a new brand of leadership. Recently he established TADA – Theatre and Dance Alliance which envisions a society in which all citizens can enjoy the arts, where the dignity, values and rights of creative workers are recognised and upheld.
Mike is an award-winning playwright having written over 35 plays. (33 of them since 1994). South Africa’s theatre’s golden years grew from a common fight against apartheid. He believes that in the context of the democratic society we are trying to become, we are fraught with many contradictions, ironies and complexities which steers us to many stories to tell. With a country in transition, what is happening to our writers? Mike has clear thoughts on how our theatre and culture is evolving. He is worth hearing.