It is, as always, a very real pleasure to welcome you, and to deliver the annual report of the Speech and Drama Association with you present for the first time in two years at this, its seventy-ninth Annual General Meeting.

As a focal point for this report, I want to begin by speaking about the young people we serve; in particular, those presently at school from Grade R to Grade 7.  They have been labelled the iGeneration, those who were and will be born between 2010 and 2025.  2010 is an apt year as it “was the same year the iPad was first released, that Instagram was born and that ‘app’ was word of the year,” according to Mark McCrindle, who also refers to the same young people as Generation Alpha.

What can we expect of this generation and their needs?  Because they were born in the digital age, they have been immersed in technology for their whole lives.  They want everything “on demand,” according to Monique Verduyn.  They can instantly access anything online, whether a new movie or any topic; it’s no longer the norm for them to have to wait, or know how to wait.  Because they are so accustomed to and feel most comfortable in the realm of social media, their “social life takes place online”.  They also “prefer video.  They’ll read messages but will respond with video messages rather than text.”  E-mail is already a foreign concept to them.

Their education cannot be “chalk-and-talk” based; they are learning by and from other means: their lives have already been influenced by Artificial Intelligence (AI), and they are already learning from a wide range of AI devices and toys, from interactive robots to dolls.  Grant Thorton’s Higher Education in 2050 report concludes that in a world increasingly dominated by Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, the iGeneration will naturally become specialists, “each drawn to a niche, with very specific educational needs to serve”.  In a hyper-connected world, educational systems must be transformed, with “greater use of online streaming and digital resources”.

To meet the needs of this “fast-paced, visually oriented, nonlinear, always-on digital” generation, Verduyn states that teachers need to “embrace personal devices: iPads, smartphones, apps and digital learning platforms… encourage learning through online resources and chatrooms.  Digital technology is already the infrastructure of their learning and it needs to become the infrastructure of the classroom too.”  Among a number of suggestions to personalize and share learning, she suggests that pupils use Tik Tok, the mobile video app, to “show what they know, in their own language and their own way of speaking”.  They could also publish work online, such as an essay or a video presentation, to create an opportunity for peer-to-peer learning and assessment.

The information above was published in 2020.  Just two months after its demand that education change to address the needs of the younger generation, the world itself had changed and continues to change.  The Annual General Meeting of our association was held on Monday 16 March that year, a day after President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster, as a result of the 61 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in South Africa, and outlined protocols and prohibitions necessary to curb the spread of the virus, affecting our entire lives and livelihoods, including, of course, the education of our young people.  A Level-5 lockdown was put in place, initially for twenty-one days, and then extended for an additional fortnight, and schools closed from 18 March until 14 April 2020, the first of a number of closures, then phasing-in of grades and a rotational school day approach, while adhering to social distancing protocols.  Grades 5 and 8, the last to return to school, missed 81 days in 2020.

Globally, teachers and teaching, as we know, had to change.  The adoption of digital technology in education was forced by the pandemic and, as internationally, in South Africa the change to blended learning was fairly quick, with the provision of hardcopy and online resources, including public radio and TV support programmes in a limited number of subjects and grades.  Teachers and learners and parents had to adapt to a process few had experience in, and to learn to use new means such as Google classroom and Zoom, both when face-to-face learning was not permissible, and also alongside face-to-face learning when that was made a choice for learners.

However, while remote learning was useful for some learners, access to the devices, data and skills necessary to navigate online resources was not possible for the majority, “the most vulnerable in South Africa”, claimed Christine Muhinga, UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) South Africa Representative, in a UNICEF report released sixteen months after the Covid-19 outbreak, in July 2021.

The report revealed the devastating impact of rotational attendance and repeated school closures: learners had lost 54% of learning time, and were between 75% and a full year behind the required grade level.  400 000 to 500 000 had reportedly dropped out of school altogether, mostly those from informal urban and rural environments, owing largely to unemployment and poverty.  They did not have the devices, financial resources, adequate nutrition, or support necessary to learn from home, nor the command of English in which most material was delivered.

Educational achievement in South Africa had always and continued “to be linked to race, socio-economic background, and geographic location”, as Crain Soudien, Vijay Reddy and Jaqueline Harvey contend.  But the pandemic served to highlight the divide.  As at 9 February 2022, the level of unemployment in South Africa stood at 46,6%, which includes those who have stopped looking for work.  The youth unemployment rate was 66,5%.  Some 14 million people are living below the food poverty line, now R624 per person per month.

As disturbingly, more than 2 000 schools were looted and damaged during the hard lockdown, and in the same month the report was released in July 2021, a further 140 schools were vandalized in the unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

During the January 2022 Basic Education Sector Lekgotla, the Minister of Education, Angie Motshekga, outlined a three-year recovery plan for the education system, including a pared-down curriculum, alternative protocols for assessment, increasing creative and problem-solving skills, further developing teacher skills, and psycho-social support.  Additional tutoring, mandatory school attendance and additional homework were also proposed by the minister.

To Louise Schoonwinkel of distance education provider, Optimi Home, South Africa’s education system will benefit from hybrid classrooms: “We need to bridge the two – traditional and modern teaching methods combined with in-person and remote teaching – together and set a new standard in our quality of education.”  She also foresees a necessary focus on mental health as an additional educational trend: “Whether it be back in traditional school classrooms or at home, there are ways that institutions and parents can monitor learners with technology, such as wellness and mental health tracking apps and solutions built into online learning platforms.”

Research prior to the onset of the iGeneration showed that we retain 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we hear and see, 70% of what we say, and 90% of what we say and do.  But the iGeneration’s social life is largely taking place online; they are communicating more with their fingers than by their vocal cords.  Digital communication has eclipsed the spoken word in leisure time and work.

One would imagine that these young people would be ready and able to cope with the loss of face-to-face interaction in their learning, both by their teachers and from their peers.  But individual development cannot take place in isolation.  Education authorities have produced statistics to show the effects of learning loss caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, especially in the so-called benchmark subjects.  They are aware that young people suffered anxiety.

And there are few hard facts concerning the adverse effects of the regulations that prohibited culture and sporting programmes and activities, that prevented the learning that takes place on the playground, on the sports field, in the drama, music and art class.  Sociocultural relationships, interactions and supports are essential for individual development and for learning.  The iGeneration has lost a part of their childhood.  And their future will be reshaped, too.   

In 2016, the World Economic Forum listed the ten skills for the future, looking forward to 2020: complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, co-operating with others, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision making, service orientation, negotiation and cognitive flexibility.

A number of these are fostered by the mission of our association.  But the Coronavirus pandemic has caused a change in priorities for the future, with even more emphasis on digital transformation and automation.  The World Economic Forum predicted that, in 2020, the ratio of automation was 67% human and 33% machine; by 2025, the prediction is 53% human and 47% machine.

With the double impact of job losses owing to increased automation and, from 2020, the economic impact of the pandemic, the World Economic Forum altered the top skills necessary for the future.  These include analytical thinking and analysis, complex problem-solving, self-management skills such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility.  For the first time, the list of skills features technology use and design.

It is becoming more and more important for us to consider the value of what we do, and make others aware of that.  To ask, what is unique about the performing arts?  What makes all the arts vitally necessary now, as in the past, when digital technology has altered our perception of time, because everything is instant?  When it has challenged our sense of values because everything is accessible, and therefore seemingly less valuable?  When it has changed the way we think, has made it difficult for us to read long pieces of writing, when the complex potential of language, particularly language that is ‘heightened’, like poetry, has been eclipsed by images?  When the subtleties of face-to-face communication are becoming difficult to appreciate?   

Remember, we retain 90% of what we say and do.  As you know, the word drama comes from the Greek drao, “do”, it is about acting or action, “something done”.  The word theatre is also derived from Greek, from the word theatron, a “seeing place”.  Drama and theatre refer to something being done, something being seen.  The words ‘audience’ and ‘auditorium’ are derived from the Latin word audire, meaning ‘hear’; they refer to the people who hear in a place for seeing, which reminds us that the ‘something done’ can be seen and heard.

As you no doubt know, too, drama in performance is not dependent on scenery, or a script, or costumes or make-up, or a stage.  There are only two essential elements: the actor and the spectator; somebody to do something, and somebody to watch and hear that person doing it, something done and something received.  Being a totally live form, performance always keeps its humanity; it is a living event that has to have the live presence of both audience and performers, together, interacting in the same space.  Because, often, in a theatre situation (before Covid, that is) there are a number of spectators to watch and hear the action, performance is a social form of art, one that provides its audience with a collective experience.  Let us hope that we can return to that vital socio-cultural interaction and relationship soon.

Drama is a way to demonstrate ideas in action, of exploring human behaviour and the human condition through action.  And because dramatic activities are holistic – involving each individual physically, intellectually and emotionally in a variety of situations – drama enables people to understand themselves, empathise with others, and know the world in which they and others exist.  This makes it an invaluable means in every vocation.  As valuable as the WEF’s top skills.  Drama is also a collaborative activity – one that depends on the participation of every individual, encourages participants to cross social and cultural barriers, to lead and to organize, to develop skills in mediation and facilitation – again, all essential life-skills that are vital to everyone.

Speech and Drama empower everyone, not just those with a talent in performance, with the skills to read and hear and see and say, and, most importantly, to “do” in the fullest sense of the word, and that is why we must continue to uphold our mission to as many young people as possible, why we must encourage schools to participate so that we can return to the 120 festivals we used to hold annually.

What then, did we, the Speech and Drama Association, ‘do’ in 2021, despite the challenges we have had to face?  As in 2020, several schools cancelled their festivals after booking, due to changes in Covid restrictions for schools.  49 schools held festivals, but as some have two separate festivals for Junior Primary and Senior Primary, the number of actual festivals for the year numbered 56.  This is approximately 50 % of the average number of festivals we held only a few years ago, but twice the number of festivals we were able to hold in 2020.

The breakdown was as follows: 43 festivals in Junior and Senior Primary, only 1 High School took part (Dundee High), and 5 Primary and High Colleges or Academies.  No Studios entered the festival during last year.  While I have spoken of the threat of digital technology to social communication, and despite the loss of direct, live face-to-face interaction, I am grateful that three festivals were held online as virtual adjudications.  Guidelines for online adjudications are to be included in the syllabus rubric in future, should schools wish to still enter, or are forced to by new regulations, in that manner.

With the decrease in the number of festivals, correspondingly fewer adjudicators were needed; nevertheless, we – and the schools and the entrants themselves – were privileged to benefit from the guidance of those who adjudicated the festivals.  We are indeed fortunate to have a loyal and dedicated panel of adjudicators who can provide their services throughout our region.  To each of you, our grateful thanks; you are one of the principle means by which the value of speech and drama is fostered and maintained.  We welcomed a new adjudicator last year, Cherry Yallup, a former drama teacher at Crawford International Preparatory School, La Lucia.

In 2021, one staff workshop was held at Sagewood Preparatory School, in Gingindlovu, conducted by Ida Gartrell, our adjudicator from Eshowe.  We extend our thanks to her for so willingly sharing her expertise, and look forward to its value in the school’s participation in the festival.    

Six bursaries were awarded, with donations to the bursary fund received from Durban Preparatory High School, Manor Gardens Primary School, Westville Junior Primary School and Westville Senior Primary School.

Most regrettably, for the first time since its inception in 2003, there was no award for the Bruce Piper Monologue Competition, as there were no high school monologues entered in the 2021 festival, and there were therefore no nominations for entrants.

While we try to keep entry fees as low as possible, we continue to depend on external funding.  In April an application was submitted to the National Lotteries Commission, but not approved.  The reason supplied was that “the Arts and Culture Budget has been depleted”, which was to be expected, given the theme of my previous AGM report.  Even so, the Association subsidized two schools – Berg Street Primary and Rosehill Primary – to an amount of R7 705.  In addition, an amount of R2 590 was granted for 74 free entries for individual items.

The first committee meeting scheduled for the year (February 2021) was postponed due to late opening date for schools, and further meetings were also disrupted.  The Annual General Meeting was held on 10 May via email, due to Covid-19 restrictions; with no changes necessary for the Committee. On 21 August, the Executive held a meeting (Mervyn McMurtry, Margie Marnewick and Vyvienne Ball), to set the fees for 2022 and discuss other office matters.  The only ‘live’ Committee meeting for the year was held on 22 November, at Montpelier Road, where the 2022 fee structure was approved by the committee.  Then, as now, we are especially grateful to Philippa Savage, who has been so very generous in inviting us to make use of her beautiful home as a venue for our meetings.

In relation to office matters, it became necessary to deliver post to schools via courier, as Post Office deliveries proved to be unreliable, with late or no delivery or reposting of report pads and syllabi, among other necessary festival items.  With Vyvienne Ball’s relocation to Ballito, we now work from two offices, one in Durban and one in Ballito, and the dual system works extremely well.  The SADASA website, with its new logo, was updated towards the end of the year, and is not only attractive and contemporary in appearance, but even more user friendly.  As in the past, we are very grateful to Fenella Rivalland and her company, Loud Crowd Media.  Again, I have to acknowledge the benefits of digital technology in relation to our website, not only for the access to entry details, but the meticulously edited and interesting editions of ‘The Platform’, now in its twenty-first year, thanks entirely to Vyvienne Ball.

As Chairman I pay tribute to my colleagues on the Executive Committee for their loyalty and support, not only to me as Chairman, but also to the Association, in so many ways.  During their two-year term of office, each person has brought some unique quality and perspective to make it an excellent team.  I thank you, each and every one, for your expertise, your dedication, and the sacrifice of your time: Margie Marnewick, who, as Vice-Chairman, is so willing to assist and offer the benefits of her experience, and, alphabetically by surname, Brett Beiles, Rosanne Hurly-Coyne, Mbali Nguse, Helana Olivier, Loshani Puymann, Philippa Savage, David Spiteri, and Jean van Elden.

Regrettably, two of our stalwart members have decided to not stand for re-election: Loshani Puymann and Helana Olivier.

Loshani began her association with us as an adjudicator in 1999, until she began teaching full time and, as a member of the Executive Committee since 2012, her knowledge of the High School Speech and Drama syllabus proved extremely helpful over the years.  Besides being the super-efficient Festival Convenor for Grosvenor Girls’ High School, the quality of her teaching is evidenced by the number of her learners who were selected for their excellence as entrants in, and worthy winners of the Bruce Piper Monologue Competition.  Loshani, it has been a delight to have your support, and that of Oliver, and to watch your daughter grow, and while we will all miss your calm gentility, we wish you the very best for the future.

Helena is one of the busiest people I know, a tennis player of note, an author who has published a number of books, a consummate hostess and proud home owner, and now an adoring grandmother.  In addition to this impressive list, she has been a dedicated member of the Executive Committee since 2004, has adjudicated in English, Afrikaans, and isiZulu, and has been the sole compiler of at least six Afrikaans syllabi.  Just to add to her accomplishments, as an adjudicator for more than 25 years, she has travelled all over KwaZulu-Natal, and her complete commitment to the Association is proved by the number of times she filled in at short notice when there was an emergency; in fact, one year she drove to Ladysmith High School to adjudicate with a broken nose.  Baie, baie dankie, Helana, ons sal altyd jou kundigheid en vriendskap waardeer, en alhoewel ons jou sal mis, wens ons jou en Pieter gesondheid and geluk in die toekoms.

To both of you, we greatly appreciate everything you have done for us over so many years, the way you have always offered such well-reasoned and sensible advice, your loyalty to us, and your belief in everything we ‘do’.  We cannot imagine the Association without you.

Every performance needs a person with vision to control its many elements, and to assist the performers in realizing the ‘action’:  a director, a conductor, a choreographer.  In the case of the Speech and Drama Association, we owe the success of our performance in this and every year to one person in particular: Vyvienne Ball.  Vyvienne connects us all, Chairman, Executive Committee, adjudicators, correspondents, and every entrant.  She is not only our Festival Director, but also our public relations officer, ambassador, accountant, editor, applications-for-funding writer, and a true friend.  Every year we place more responsibility on her, and she has never, ever complained, despite the fact that these have been especially challenging times for her.

Everything you do, Vyvienne, you accomplish with absolute commitment, elegance, and generosity of spirit.  I have said it before, and must repeat that I am exceptionally fortunate, by virtue of my position, to have the pleasure to work very closely with you.  The Association is deeply indebted to you, so personally and on behalf of everyone you connect us with, I extend our sincerest appreciation.

And thank you, too, to you for your very kind attention.  May we, through the Association, continue to ‘act’ so that others can experience all the benefits of being able to ‘say’ and ‘do’.


Professor Mervyn McMurtry

22 March 2022


2021.  “Learners in South Africa up to one school year behind where they should be.”, 22 July.

Johannes, Lesley-Anne.  2022.  “What to expect from education in 2022 and beyond.”, 11 February.

Verduyn, Monique.  2020.  “Forget chalk-and-talk.  We need to rethink education for fast-paced, visually oriented, nonlinear, always-on digital natives.”  Sunday Times, 12 January.

Soudien, Crain, Reddy, Vijay, & Harvey, Jaqueline.  2021.  “The Impact of COVID-19 on a Fragile Education System: The Case of South Africa.”, 15 September.