The 2023 Toyota SU Woordfees would like to challenge and inspire staff, students, alumni and visitors to explore new perspectives of our lived worlds. The Woordfees programme offers a rich variety of opportunities, not only to escape into worlds of beauty, humour and drama, but also to reflect on the complexity of our realities.
The Toyota SU Woordfees takes place in and around Stellenbosch and on campus from 7 to 15 October. With 640 unique presentations in 14 genres the Woordfees is one of the biggest arts festivals in Africa. Productions are offered across 50 venues across various communities including Jamestown, Idas Valley, Kayamandi and in the heart of our own campus. The University will welcome festivalgoers, alumni, students and staff to the Victoria Hub, the Endler and Fismer Halls, the Adam Small Theatre Complex and the Eendrag Theatre.
Social Impact and Transformation
The Toyota SU Woordfees resides within the Social Impact, Transformation and Staff Responsibility Centre at Stellenbosch University (SU). Since its inception, the Woordfees has been an important contributor to the ways in which we give shape to the University’s commitment to be of service to society and to offer a transformative experience.
This commitment to a transformative experience is reflected in the topics and genres on the festival programme; the way in which the town and community are involved in festival activities; the development imperatives that drive the programme; and the ways in which these impact on the lives and experiences of all the residents of Stellenbosch.
The arts are critical contributors to building social cohesion together with strong, resilient societies that are founded on understanding, cooperation and mutual respect. Through the arts, the bond between individuals and communities is strengthened and a sense of our enduring human connection is reinforced. The arts are often a catalyst for change and social awareness, bringing to the fore complex themes, calling attention to social injustice, and fostering dialogue on burning issues.
The schools outreach initiative of the Woordfees, the WOW project, celebrates 20 years this year. It has reached over one million learners and their teachers with projects that promote reading and language literacy. More than 1 000 schools across South Africa have already signed up for the multilingual WOW Spelling Festival, which is presented annually with the support of Sanlam. WOW and SU also offer 35-50 scholarships to learners each year and provide several other programmes that support and assist students from underserved communities to realise their dream of becoming a student at SU.
The festival programme: Something for everyone
During the run of the festival (7-15 October), the Toyota SU Woordfees offers a wide-ranging programme of book discussions, theatre, classical music, choral performances, pop, folk, rock, jazz, hip-hop, current affairs discussions, comedy, dance, art, films, and everything that can be enjoyed in the Winelands.
The complete festival guide
is available here, in the form of a PDF in both Afrikaans and English. These can be downloaded free of charge. Tickets can be bought via Quicket
If at first glance, the sheer volume of offerings seems overwhelming, please visit this page
where you will find tips and recommendations to help your festival choices.
For people who are not fluent in Afrikaans
The Woordfees also offers a variety of items for friends and colleagues who may not understand or be fluent in Afrikaans. The 70 films from 20 countries shown at the Neelsie Cinema all have English subtitles. The items that make up the music, dance and visual art programmes mostly do not require any knowledge of Afrikaans. For more tips on theatre productions in English, see the “My friends don’t understand Afrikaans but want to try the Woordfees” section on the recommendation page.
For example, the short documentary, Langafstand [Long Distance], about Deon-Lee Hendricks of Cloestesville, is shown twice for free in the Neelsie Cinema. It has recently been awarded a Silver Screen Award for best direction. Don’t miss this inspiring film about Deon-Lee’s preparation for the cross-country trials in Australia.
The acclaimed Maynardville production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a delightful, fresh, young take on Shakespeare’s breezy play about love and the trouble it can cause and can be seen at the Oude Libertas Amphitheatre.
SU staff will get discounts on 67 festival productions. Various other discount packages are also available, with reduced prices for students and pensioners. The Bly Vrydag [Happy Friday] initiative also offers reduced prices on tickets to select productions so that as many people as possible who live in and around Stellenbosch can join the festivities.
For general enquiries, contact the Woordfees office at: 064 815 6418.
The Woordfees theme for 2023 is “Bubble”, which encompasses a variety of associations and meanings. According to Saartjie Botha, director of the Toyota SU Woordfees and WOW, the theme refers to “a playful effervescence; a sense of drifting, floating and dreaming; the innocent fun of children with soap bubbles; the Dutch word for party; and of course, the sparkling bubbles to be found and enjoyed in the sparkling wine of the Boland”.
“But there is also a more serious connotation. According to some critics and concerned residents, Stellenbosch and SU operate within a ‘bubble’ that allows for the privileged denial of the realities of greater South Africa. However, unlike the fragile membrane of a bubble, the transparent micro-thin border that briefly determines the difference between inside and outside, Stellenbosch’s dividing lines are historically drawn and financially entrenched.”
The Woordfees and SU staff
The activities of the Toyota SU Woordfees are closely aligned with SU’s ideals for making a real difference in society. In addition, the festival provides a valuable public platform for experts and others within the University to bring to the attention of the public and media the value of the work and research that takes place within our precincts.
Participation in discussions and festival productions by SU staff, students and alumni allows us to utilize the campus as a space where the SU community can share their talent, expertise and ideas with the world. This year’s festival programme includes several staff members from different faculties who showcase how we assist in finding solutions to challenging issues and revitalise our spiritual lives.
The Toyota SU Woordfees provides exceptional opportunities for students from the Department of Drama to showcase their skills to a festival audience. This year, performers from the department’s Premiere Theatre Festival will be featured in various presentations, and the multilingual, educational children’s theatre production, Stars – Iinkwenkwezi – Sterre, will entertain and inform young festivalgoers.
A gallery of excellence
In its long history, the University has produced alumni who, through their careers in the arts, have expanded boundaries within the South African cultural environment. Some of these artists and cultural workers were nurtured and shaped as students by our institution, and we are proud of the way in which they have enriched the lives of our citizens.
A glance at the Woordfees programme reveals alumni whose names form a gallery of excellence, including the following writers and artists who are associated with the University in various capacities: Antoinette Kellermann, Anton Kannemeyer, Bettina Wyngaard, Bibi Slippers, Cintaine Schutte, Cole Wessels, Conrad Botes, Dawid Minnaar, Dean John Smith, Devonecia Swartz, Eben Genis, Francois Toerien, Jaco Bouwer, Jacobus de Jager, Jenny Stead, Kabous Meiring, Marie Vogts, Marita van der Vyver, Marlo Minnaar, Marthinus Basson, Megan-Geoffrey Prins, Nina Schumann, Mercy Kannemeyer, Nicole Holm, Pieter Odendaal, René Cloete, Tinarie van Wyk Loots, Veronique Jephtas, Wian Taljaard, Wilma Cruise, Wynand Kotze (aka Tollie Parton), Zorada Temmingh – and many more.
A number of luminaries who received honorary doctorates from SU are also on the festival programme, including Diana Ferrus, Max du Preez en Sandra Prinsloo.
Several SU faculties, from Arts and Social Sciences to Natural Sciences and Agriculture, have established exceptional partnerships with Woordfees over the years and present discussion series and lectures that have proven immensely popular. Some highlights from this year's program are listed below.
The popular Philosophy Café is sold out every year. Members of the Department of Philosophy debate and share thoughts with thinkers, poets and sages, in a presentation that is not only fun, but also brings to light interesting perspectives. This year, Amy Daniels, Prof Jacques du Plessis, Prof Stan du Plessis, Dr Leslie van Rooi, Dr Susan Hall, Prof Louise du Toit, Prof Vasti Roodt, Dr Alfred Schaffer, Prof Hannes Smit, Dr Andrea Palk and Prof Anton van Niekerk have all booked seats at the philosophy discussion table.
Vasti Roodt from the Department of Philosophy describes how this event has evolved over the years: “From the first Philosophy Café in 2001, when philosophers and writers entertained the audience with rum balls and impromptu singing, to later years of chat verses, limericks, opera arias, poking fun at one another and occasional profound insights, the Philosophy Café is a highlight of the Woordfees.”
Department of Afrikaans and Nederlands: A Century
The Department of Afrikaans and Nederlands is 100 years old. According to the Chair of the Department, Dr Amanda Marais, “former and current colleagues, students and alumni will talk about the subject and the ways in which people find a home for their thinking in and through Afrikaans.”
Emeritus Professor Louise Viljoen, who was recently honoured with the Jan H. Marais Prize for her contribution to research on Afrikaans literature, will also share her views on the Department’s history, its vision and its role in a changing world.
Die vegetariër, writer and dramatist Dr Willem Anker’s translation of Han Kang's Booker-winning novel, is included in the Woordfees theatre programme. Willem is also a member of the Department of Afrikaans and Nederlands. He will lead a discussion about the production with the director and the actors during one of the Theatre Conversations on 13 October.
Ongehoord [Unheard Of]
The Ongehoord discussion series focuses on topics from various research fields. Panellists such as Dr Nadia Sanger, Dr Louise du Toit, Athamile Masola, Dr Azille Coetzee, Prof Stella Viljoen, Dr Mbali Mazibuko and Dr Ijeoma Opara tackle selected topics that highlight the diversity of research disciplines at the university. Prof Louise du Toit from the Department of Philosophy says: “In its sixth year, this discussion series presents unique ideas: ambivalent legacies, the politics of kitsch, experiences of rejection, mourning, and hope in despair.”
As in the past, SU’s Department of Music brings a wealth of talent, experience and fun to the festival. Felicia Lesch remarked on the spirit of the SU Jazz Band, the mouthpiece of the part-time Certificate Programme in Music Literacy offered at the music department: “The leadership that has been developed in the different sections of the jazz band is wonderful to witness. Some of our students come from places like Steenberg, Pacaltsdorp and George, where opportunities like these are not readily available.” This year The Jazz Band will perform in Effervescence: Xamisa, iKapa, Cape Town.
Ramon Alexander, one of the driving forces behind Cape Djêz, Goema & Beyond, agrees with Felicia's enthusiasm: “This production brings a unique perspective on the people who gave shape to improvisational music during and after apartheid. Our young music students here at the university pay tribute to the forefathers of Cape jazz who fought for the freedom we enjoy today.”
Prof Nina Schumann is playing the piano in three productions this year: Clara, Mary Has/Had a Little Lamb: A Glass Full of Music, and Rachmaninoff's 150th Birthday Piano Bash. Nina is very excited about all three: “Celebrating my beloved Rachmaninoff alongside two former students, the pianist Megan-Geoffrey Prins and conductor Jacobus de Jager, is a privilege and joy. Mary Has/Had a Little Lamb is a playful yet challenging exploration of works in minor keys, and Clara, which tells the story of the composer-pianist Clara Schumann with music and drama by Carla Smith, always moves me to tears.”
The Eendrag residence has joined the Woordfees with great enthusiasm and have taken ownership of a new project at the festival. Dr Pierre Viviers, residence head, explains how the residence’s new space will be used: “No less than 19 productions will be presented in the Eendrag Theatre during the Woordfees. It includes acting, music and conversations. This facility supports SU's goal of creating a transformative student experience, and the partnership with the Woordfees contributes to a unique experience outside of the classroom that brings Eendrag residents and other campus communities together in a friendly and bubbly atmosphere.”
SU Botanical Garden: 100 years
As part of its centenary celebrations, the SU Botanical Garden, the oldest academic botanical garden in South Africa, is hosting the Flora Festival in partnership with the Woordfees. Original works by botanical illustrators and artists, as well as a sculpture by landscape artist Strijdom van der Merwe, will be on exhibit.
Visitors can visit the gardens daily from 08:00 to 17:00. A R60 entrance ticket entitles the ticket holder to:
• A Botanical Art Exhibition: a curated collection of original works by South Africa’s top botanical illustrators and artists, many of which will be for sale.
• Rare plant sales: native and exotic succulents, carnivorous plants, rare aroids, bulbs, and many speciality plants, including special releases of USBT’s rare plants.
• A contemporary art exhibition of works by well-known South African painters, ceramic artists, printmakers and woodturners.
• Ceramic art, sculptures and plant art throughout the garden.
• The Botanical Garden Gift Shop where you can purchase botanical-themed gifts, homeware and decor, including high-quality reproductions of previously unreleased historical plant illustrations.
• Live lunchtime music.
• Wine and gin tasting.