Archive | July, 2018

Oxford University Press Southern Africa exploits actor.

29 Jul


For centuries, artists, actors, singers ​, ​and performers have been subjected to all forms of exploitation​n. When I hear of a story of how Oxford University Press Southern Africa has used an image of an artist without his permission and have capitalized​ from the use of the image, I had to share the journey and see how we can assist him.

I met Vaneshran Arumugam whilst studying at Wits University, where we both studied Dramatic art. After graduation Vaneshran went onto to excel is his studies and career, both on the continent​ and globally​​.

Who is Vaneshran Arumugam?

Vaneshran is an independent artist and advocate for the role of the Arts in social justice through Storytelling in its many formats. Alongside achieving degrees  from Wits, UCT and Columbia University to the Masters level Vaneshran has created and played various characters that have enjoyed great success with audiences of all ages and cultural backgrounds across South Africa, being well known for his television roles in SOS, Suburban Bliss, Scandal and Streaks.  His work in television during South Africa’s early democracy until now has meant challenging boundaries and demanding more space for black and marginalised artists to play lead roles, to co-write and to produce and so that even those very categories may be interrogated.
Through his work with this philosophy, which included building a theatre and community venue in District Six, he was awarded a Ford Fellowship and afforded a unique MA study at major institutions. Some of Vaneshran’s traditional theatre roles include  Hamlet, which he has played twice in noteworthy productions at the Wits theatre in 1999  and in 2006 for the Royal Shakespeare Company under the direction of Dame Janet Suzman, for their Complete Works Festival.
Vaneshran’s work as a practitioner and researcher in the field of Consciousness and Performance earned him a Fulbright Scholarship in 2013, which based him at St Francis College in New York City, developing his own curriculum and teaching and performing at various institutions across Manhattan, including designing and facilitating an experiential arts programme for learners with Special Needs through the Hungerford Institute. In 2011 Vaneshran presented his work at the World Conference of Consciousness in Performance, Theatre, Literature and the Arts at Lincoln University in the United Kingdom in collaboration with writer and educator, Professor Kriben Pillay from the University of Kwazulu Natal.


The facts: This is what he had to say:

In 2016 I was informed by a cousin teaching high school English that I was on the cover of the Othello textbook they (and the entire province) were using. I went online and found that indeed I was on the cover of that textbook and also a study guide published by Oxford University Press Southern Africa. The production was a major project of my MA output in 2008 and was directed by my supervisor, Geoff Hyland, and staged (semi professionally) at the Baxter theatre. A photographer, a ​personal friend to Geoff, was asked to take some photos for us during our final rehearsals. No waivers were ever signed and the photos were not for any use but our own as cast and crew who were all students of mine and Geoff’s in undergrad Drama at UCT.
I immediately wrote to Oxford University Press to inform them that they couldn’t possibly have permission for the use of the photo because no waiver was ever signed. 

A few years before I was approached by Bedford St Martins (USA) to please give permission for the use of my image on their newest edition of the well-respected Bedford Shakespeare. They were unable to go into print without my permission and went to some lengths to procure it, offering me an apologetic token sum and begged that I consider the educational value of the volume. I naturally accepted their offer and the great respect they were affording my portrayal of Hamlet (from the 2006 play that we performed at Stratford upon Avon for the RSC Complete Works festival). So I had some idea of what might be expected from publishers wanting to use my face in character on their books…or so I thought.

When I wrote to Oxford University Press Southern Africa​ and stated my case their response was that they would have to verify the matter and that they would take it very seriously. I then received a call from their CEO who offered to meet to discuss. I met with Steve Cilliers where I discovered that their books with my portrayal of Othello on the cover had been in print for 7 years already and had run through 14 impressions​ and that they had bought the image from a stock library (and I never signed any waiver for that to even be possible). In an email correspondence that followed between Cilliers and myself I made a calculation based on the token that Bedford paid for my image (with my permission) and arrived at a figure which I then proposed we could reduce to a fraction thereof if Oxford University Press Southern Africa were to publicly remedy the situation by acknowledging my contribution to education materials and perhaps enter into an engagement around education and Shakespeare. This offer was refused and I was formally asked do sign a standard waiver to the rights to my image with the attached remuneration of R 2000. I refused and warned that I would not be letting the matter go, although I would need proper support to apply pressure to have them rectify the situation. Oxford University Press Southern Africa came to the end of the 7/8 year run of that cover shortly after that and no remuneration was ever paid nor any permission ever given…although the books are still in circulation. I believe they were distributed all over SADC region, and possibly farther afield.

In the case of Cambridge University Press and Hamlet, I only found out last year that they have been using an image of me playing Hamlet ( the very same image that Bedford had used) since 2014, on the cover of their textbooks In countries like Tasmania and Australia and who knows where else, since I have not made any contact with them or their representatives. I can confirm that I never gave any permissions for any photographs to be used outside of publicity for the staging of our play at the RSC festival and the Bedford St Martin’s needing my permission to go into print confirms this. Cambridge University Press has made no attempt to contact me about this and i have been advised that they too obtained the rights to the photo from a stock library. 

My argument is that I was a working actor, deriving my livelihood from my image, well before either of these huge corporate entities decided to use the respective images to no doubt earn lots of monies in territories where my face garnered their publications good access…ie brown territories in the global South.  But no attempt was made to pay my life work any regard or respect because somehow the photos found their way into stock libraries. Could the same have happened if I were white or famous? How is the Baxter Theatre responsible, since they were the producing entity of both plays concerned. And if the law protects these corporations from literally making money on the back of my hard work (it takes a lot of it to not only play Shakespeare’s two most demanding roles but then to do it at the level and the critical success I have managed -collaboratively- is no mean feat).
They would not have and did not use a poor, uninteresting or visually boring portrayal of the roles to adorn their covers. And yet I was neither made aware that they were doing so, or ever asked for my permission as a fairly well known Black Actor to do so. And yet I am told the burden of proof is on me to show an injustice. When I have spent years since these plays (and their earning hundreds of thousands of multiple currencies through those very same years) struggling to find equitable employment ands an actor and often being confronted with denied opportunity for the colour of my skin or straightness of my hair, or the bizarre concept that as a black actor I have had enough of the limelight. 
I worked and studied at mine and my family’s own expense to be in a position to have played those parts and yet parties removed from the concern of my livelihood or my children’s get to barter with my image and my work therein for their own enrichment while I get nothing. And ” I should be happy that I was chosen to be on their cover at all”…something is rotten here! 

Too many artists that I have known and worked with are being disrespected in similar or worse manners for this to be simply ignored. I have buried friends who might have died in better conditions had they gotten a modicum of what they deserved instead of what is deemed fit for us as “blacks” or artists or “black artists”.

And I have a history of fighting for what is right been at risk to my own well being…It’s part of why I am even an artist at all, and makes me the kind of artist I am. 

Vaneshran has acted alongisde many celebrated and revered artiosts, such as Dr. Jon kani from South Africa.

More on Vaneshran.
His philanthropy:

In line with his profession and desire to give back to society,  Vaneshran has also lent his time as a TV celebrity to worthy causes as a public speaker and activist for such organisations as POWA (People opposing Women Abuse), Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre, Ashoka Innovators for the Public, The Men’s March.
Vaneshran was a founder member and trustee of The Turning Point Foundation, an organisation born out of teaching and training Performing Arts in Pollsmoor Prison and provides a platform for creating access and training in the Performing Arts to create social change and justice. This in addition to being inducted into the prestigious Ford Foundation International Fellowship Program Alumni Association, which is also an agency for social justice; and of whose Western Cape chapter, Vaneshran was Chairperson until the end of 2012.
Vaneshran finds deep reward in those contributions and collaborations that occur on the fringes of the performing Arts and creative industries, conceiving of interventions such as the Robben Island Bible Project, which  tells the unique, true South African story of Shakespeare on Robben island; a specific smuggled copy being shared among our most iconic personalities: Mandela, Kathrada, Sisulu and the like, and the story of Sunny Venkatratnam, former political prisoner and the man who owns this book that has been so significant.  The project brought together artists from various disciplines, teachers and students, and engaged collaboratively with different organisations, public institutions and city structures to create an immersive and layered experience of Story and History – and embodied well the principles of creativity, collaboration, relevance and excellence which have become hallmarks of Vaneshran’s work.

What else can Vaneshran do?
Presenting, Compèring and Programme directing
Directing (stage and camera)
Creative Writing (screen/scriptwriting  and poetry)
Music (guitar incl.  multiple instruments and vocal styles)
Visual Arts (drawing, graphics, painting)
Facilitation, Teaching, ​and Training (incl. Performance and Voice)
Sound and Lighting
Languages and Accents
Self Defence and Martial Arts  (various disciplines)
Meditation (various traditions)
Stunt and fight choreography for stage and screen
Basic stunt driving
Horse riding
Basic weapons training, Fencing
Sports and fitness: Football, tennis, squash, frisbee, athletics, boxing, volleyball

What languages does he speak?
English, Afrikaans, German, conversant in isiXhosa. Have performed in Hindi, Portuguese, French German, Zulu, Tswana and other languages

How do we stop other institutions such as Oxford, form exploring him and other artists?

Contact information for writing or castings, contact

The force of Janna!!!

15 Jul


My three passions in life are Women, Africa and the arts. My passion for women and children empowerment started over 15 years ago when I trained through POWA,, to understand the intricacies and realities behind what abuse is, why so many women and children suffer and we also learnt how to unpack the patriarchal ideologies that have driven so many laws regarding women and children, which leads to the archaic myths and misconceptions that surround abuse.

Throughout my career, activism has become my other job and a way of life for me. I have worked with other non-governmental organisation from all around the world. A few years back I got into a heated debate with a friend regarding the Palestinian and Israel issue, with a lot of thought I began to investigate the realities of the political situation. I am not a politician and so I do not choose to analyse it from that point of view but from the humanitarian point of view. My investigations have been trying to work with women organisations on the ground and see how activists around the world can assist them. When I worked for a Jewish radio station a few years back, I had the opportunity of interviewing a woman, who worked for an NGO based in Israel. As I began to unpack what they do, my main interest was the well being of the women and children and the more I asked the more the representative kept on trying to sway the conversation to her hatred for arab men. I knew then that perhaps that organisation would is not a great synergy for me. This year I have made contact with a number of organisations range that from NGO’s to art spaces to women’s groups. We are working together on a number of projects and campaigns which should be unravelled within the next year.


In December 2017, the world woke up to the news that Ahed Tamimi had been arrested. The reason for the global outcry was due to the fact that Ahed was only 17 years old. She was arrested for slapping a soldier outside her home. She was sentenced to eight months in prison and will be released on July 29 2018. Naturally, I needed to understand the details of the arrest and how we could assist in having her released. I was then led to “2 Suns Shamsaan”, an initiative which aims to capture the voices of children. The initiative was founded by Nadia Meer. The South African project has documented about 200 Palestinian children through interviews and art – drawings that they made that reflected their life stories. “Shamsaan in Arabic means two suns,”. It is a platform for Palestinian children to send their message to other people in the world. The idea came from the drawing of a 5-year-old Palestinian child who was recovering in the hospital for almost a year after his family home was attacked by Israeli settlers. The settlers petrol-bombed the home in the middle of the night, killing the boy’s parents and his 18-month-old baby brother.
“This child did a drawing of two suns in the sky. When he was asked why​ he just said ‘I want the world to be extra sunny and bright’,” Meer said. “Generally a sun to a child is a life force. This clearly stood for the two parents that are now missing.”
Meer said 2 Suns Shamsaan was also working on a child prisoner campaign as there are currently almost 400 children in jail.

The initiative boasts many ambassadors from Palestine and form South Africa. Janna Jihad, named as the worlds youngest journalist, is one of the ambassadors and has visited South Africa talking on their work as well as explaining and highlighting the realities of life on the ground in her village.
On her recent visit to South Africa, I was fortunate to attend the film screening of her documentary, called Radiance of Resistance. I also had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Janna for a few minutes.


Who is Janna?

Janna Tamimi, more commonly known as Janna Jihad or Janna Jihad Ayyad, was born on 6 April 2006. She is a Palestinian youth activist and journalist. Janna is a member of the Banu Tamim tribe and is from Nabi Salih, a village on the West Bank in Palestine. Her mother, Nawal Tamimi, is the director of Women’s Affairs in the Palestinian Ministry of Development. She is the niece of activist Bassem al-Tamimi and cousin of activist Ahed Tamimi. Janna began her journalism career when she was seven years old after she saw that nobody was reporting on her West Bank village of Nabi Saleh.

“I saw there were not enough journalists to cover things that happen in Nabi Saleh – like when my friend Mustapha had been killed and my uncle Rushdie had been killed.”

“A lot of things started to happen and the world didn’t know about it … so I wanted to cover everything that happens with us as Palestinian children living under occupation and to send our message to the world.”

She has been called “The Youngest Journalist in Palestine” and is referred to as one of the youngest journalists in the world. She originally started using her mother’s iPhone to capture videos of protests near her home and uploading them to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube. Eventually,​ she began covering events and marches in Jerusalem and Jordan. She is fluent and reports in Arabic and in English. She has over 270,000 followers on Facebook.

In 2017 she, hosted by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, came to South Africa to spread awareness about the violence in occupied Palestine as part of the Pals4Peace tour with the Shamsaan Children of Palestine.
Janna has been handed the International Benevolence Award, by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The ceremony took place in Istanbul, Turkey.


The documentary Radiance of Resistance.

The documentary was filmed and produced when Janna was only nine years old. The documentary starts with visuals of a war torn Palestine, we follow the foot steps of two young activists who walk proudly, holding the Palestine flag, chanting what could be identified as a struggle songs, these two characters are Janna Jihad and her cousin Ahed Tammim. We see visuals of Janna visiting a beautiful and sacred place know as the Al-Aqsa mosque, to children playing soccer, revealing her love for the game. We also witness these brave children going up and facing the soldiers and demanding their rights be heard, with the soldiers either retaliating by laughing at them or throwing grenades back at them.
We are made aware of some of the opposition tactics of shooting women in the legs, thus crippling and disarming them, however,​ these attacks have not stopped their sprint and fight.
I particularly like the fact that the filmmaker showed us that despite the children living under such violent circumstances, they still find the time to be children. We follow the protagonist as she goes to school performs her daily activities of waking up, brushing her teeth and brushing her hair. We follow as she still allows her tradition and culture to be rooted in her existence through her learning and practising traditional and cultural dances.

Janna the voice.
When asked who she wants to become, she proudly said, “There are five things that I will become. First is to study political science, so I can learn about the governments around the world, second to become a journalist, third is to be an artist to illustrate what has been happening to children in Palestine, fourth is to become a fashion designer to keep the Palestinian culture and tradition alive and the fifth thing she will become a soccer player. Her favourite player is Neimar.

She would like to work for CNN or Fox News one day so that she can “show the truth, because they do not show the truth”.
“Or I can make my own channel – JNN News,” she laughed.

Jihad said life under Israeli occupation was extremely tough.
“There are lots of difficulties like seeing people getting killed in front of you, getting injured, getting arrested, and issues like child prisoners … It’s a very hard life living under occupation.”
Even getting to school can turn into a nightmare. Jihad’s school is about 25 minutes from her home, but with the Israeli army’s checkpoints, the journey can take three hours.

Janna’s mother, Nawal Tamimi was also present and I asked her how she felt about her daughter doing the work that she does, I also asked her how she felt about the fact that many people criticised them for allowing their children to be at the forefront of a war and that they had been named as bring reckless parents.
Her answer: She was afraid for her daughter’s safety but she supported her.
“For me,​ Janna is a baby, but I am going to support her. I am really proud of her,”. In relation to allowing her children to be at the forefront, she said it has been a brave decision to educate their children about the realities of war so they are not shielded or have a clouded view on it. Their lives are a ticking time bomb and the reality is that at any time, a grenade, missile or bomb can be launched on them, so they need to be woke and ready. The reality of police raids on their homes has become a way of life. These children have seen murders and violence at face value and being part of the solution also helps them in the journey. Tamimi was also worried about Jihad being arrested now that she was 12-years-old and viewed as an adult by the Israeli army.

That is Janna at the film​ screening with her mum.

Speaking on her cousins arrest, Janna said:
“Ahed is my cousin and my best friend, she was arrested for trying to defend her home and not letting soldiers come into her home and shoot [gas] canisters at children who were playing.”

Despite the difficulties she faced, Jihad firmly believes there will be peace in Palestine.
“We can live together … under one government, one law, with the same equal rights,” she said.
And to those who believe that Israel was not an apartheid state and that the Palestinians were the problem, Jihad had this message: “You’re welcome to come to Palestine and see for yourself.” “I don’t want to say we are victims. We are victims in many ways, but mostly we’re freedom fighters and just people who want to live in freedom and peace and equality.”

Her parting words were:
“Let every child live in peace, live in love, live in equality. Let every child know what a childhood means,”.
I had to grab a selfie, with this powerful warrior.

For more information on 2 Suns Shamsaan: