Dr Ismail Mahomed receives Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the arts sector

Dr Ismail Mahomed. Picture: Supplied

Dr Ismail Mahomed. Picture: Supplied

Published Mar 8, 2024


Multi-award-winning theatre icon and director at the UKZN Centre for Creative Arts, Dr Ismail Mahomed has been honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

The prestigious award was presented to the playwright by the 14th kykNET Fiëstas Awards committee, along with legendary Afrikaans actor, Tobie Cronjé.

Each year, the awards honours exceptional work presented at arts festivals like Suidoosterfees, KKNK, Innibos, Vrystaat Kunstefees, Toyota US Woordfees, and Momentum Beleggings Aardklop.

The ceremony was held on March 7, at The Lookout at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.

While Mahomed has won a number of accolades throughout his career, this award honours the cumulative contribution he has made to the South African arts landscape.

“I am both humbled and honoured by this recognition. It allows me to reflect on the journey that I have travelled from working as an artist before 1994 when opportunities were few and restricted, and to the contributions that I could make in a post-1994 era where our country’s Constitution guarantees Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Creativity to all,” he said.

Mahomed started his illustrious career in the ’80s during the State of Emergency years, after he had realised the power that the arts holds in healing societies and building progressive communities.

“Before 1994 I worked mainly in political theatre that challenged apartheid. Post 1994, I have been able to work across all forms drawing on the arts to build a more cohesive society but also working towards positioning the arts as a dynamic contributor to our nation’s economy,” he said.

Looking back at his four decade-long career, Mahomed recalled working as the artistic director of the National Arts Festival in Makhanda as his career highlight.

“It gave me the opportunity to work with an extensive array of South African and international artists. During my career I have been inspired by both new and established artists. The artists that I remember most are artists who have shaped my world view.”

Currently the award-winning theatre icon serves as the director of the Centre for Creative Arts (CCA) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where his role is to reposition the CCA to serve the growing needs of the University’s arts and cultural community locally, nationally and internationally.

“Apart from continuing to present the major festivals for which the CCA is known, I work with a small but dynamic team at strengthening the Centre as a dynamic hub that can contributes to the knowledge economy of the university, serve as an incubator and training ground for new graduates and be an active defender of how the arts can make a contribution to advancing human rights.”

Mahomed, a true champion of the arts, believes that it is our multi-cultural diversity that makes us a “uniquely colourful and inspiring nation”.

“Arts and culture plays a vital role in our country. We are a nation that sings and dances at every opportunity. We tell stories from the cradle to the grave.

“We honour our immediate traditions and we respect the new evolving cultures that are being birthed through engagement and participation in our new democracy.”

He added that apart from the social contribution, the arts also makes a positive contribution to our nation’s economy.

To keep the arts sector alive for decades more, he suggested, putting pressure on government to make some urgent changes.

“We need to increase pressure on government to develop policies, systems and institutions that will enable every child in South Africa to have access to the arts through libraries, visits to the theatre and galleries, opportunities to have artists visit schools, training in playing musical instruments and growing their own talents.

“We also need to ensure that government creates policies, systems and infrastructure that can enable those who graduate in the arts to thrive in a vibrant cultural and creative economy.”

On the evolvement of theatre, he said: “Before 1994, theatre was powerful because it represented our nation’s aspirations. It was politically loaded but it was also artistically vibrant and outstanding in quality.”

Now, he said that artists no longer have the same “political crutch” to lean on.

“They have to create new stories that resonate with a new audience. While the stage may not serve the same purpose it did before 1994, the artists who are most successful are those who have learnt how to adapt their work, reach out to newer audiences, integrate their work with digital technology and speak to multi-cultural and international opportunities that have been birthed post 1994.”