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Oh to Believe in Another World

- Wits University

South African premiere of the new topically relevant film by Wits alumnus and world-renowned artist, William Kentridge, will take place at Wits in July.

It happens once in 100 years - at a time when our world is in need of hope, of goodness, of courage, of inspiration, and solutions to global issues - Wits University is celebrating a century of academic and research excellence, social justice, and the advancement of the public good. 

In honour of its centennial anniversary, the University has launched the Wits Centenary Campaign which aims to raise R3 billion to support teaching, research and innovation, students and infrastructure development. To date, the campaign has raised R2.1 billion.

Wits alumnus and world renowned artist, William Kentridge.

A key part of its centennial celebrations is a partnership with alumnus and internationally renowned artist, William Kentridge, to present the South African premiere of the film Oh to Believe in Another World, accompanied by Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10, which will be performed by the Mzansi National Philharmonic Orchestra, on 28 July 2022 (public show) at the Wits Linder Auditorium (see booking details below). Renowned artistic conductor Joseph Young from the USA will conduct the newly formed Mzansi National Philharmonic Orchestra.

Kentridge, who is the mastermind behind the film, explains that the key task in making the film was to ensure that the symphony did not turn into “film music”, that the series of images and narratives did not overwhelm the music itself, and that it didn’t run as a series of anodyne backdrops.

“Rather, the aim of the film is to tell the story of Shostakovich and his complicated relationship to the state in the Soviet Union, from its early days just after the 1917 revolution, all the way through to Stalin’s death in 1953. It provides the material for thinking visually about the trajectory that Shostakovich had to follow, from the early days of the Soviet Union to the writing of the symphony.”

The production takes a retrospective look at the four decades of the 1920s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, from the perspective of 1953 when Stalin died and the first performance of the symphony was presented. The 1920s were marked by the death of Lenin; the 1930s by the suicide of Mayakovsky; the 1940s by the assassination of Trotsky; and the death of Stalin in the 1950s – and here we are, almost 70 years later.

“The report that remains of these decades is in the music of Shostakovich, the one who against expectation got away and survived,” adds Kentridge.

The film is set inside what appears to be an abandoned Soviet museum, which is in fact made of cardboard, on the table in the artist’s studio. Using a miniature camera, the viewer moves through the different halls of the museum, which also includes a community theatre hall, a public swimming pool, a quarry at the side of the main halls, and a corridor of vitrines holding stuffed historical figures.

Kentridge has also donated an edition of prints on the occasion of the Wits Centenary, the proceeds of which will go to deserving Wits art students. Wits vice-chancellor and principal Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, says the university is grateful for this donation from one of its world-renowned alumni. He also recently met with William’s father, Sir Sydney Kentridge, in London, who coincidentally turns 100 in October this year during Wits’ birthday month.  

The next 100 years - A new world filled with possibilities

Wits’ Centenary Campaign, explains Vilakazi, is an opportunity for the university’s global community to celebrate the impact that Wits has had on their lives, a chance to reflect and to look to the future. “Our aim is to attract top teaching and research talent in order to provide the best education to our students while ensuring that we also tackle some of the biggest challenges, both social and technical, that the present and future will bring,” says Vilakazi.

The Centenary Campaign consists of eight priority areas: advancing society, governance and justice; future proofing national treasures; catalysing innovation and entrepreneurship; developing the next generation of leaders; energising alumni support; driving digital transformation; ensuring better health for all; and solving global challenges.

Inviting the people of SA to celebrate this momentous year with Wits, Vilakazi says, “This is an opportune moment for the university to pivot into a new world filled with possibilities, not only to work hard to transform lives today, but to lay the groundwork to ensure that Wits remains a leading, sustainable university for the next 100 years.”

“We must harness the talent and the resources that we have at our disposal to craft a new future for Wits, and to ensure that it benefits and advances humanity. Oh to Believe in Another World, is just the start of this journey,” he concludes.

Read more about the Wits Centenary Campaign at


To book your ticket for the public show on 28 July 2022 at the Wits Linder Auditorium, visit the Webtickets event page: Oh To Believe in Another World

'Oh to Believe in Another World' - a new film by Wits alumnus and world renowned artist, William Kentridge

Role of universities as public interlocutors of dialogue

- Senior Executive Team

STATEMENT: Universities have an important role to play in upholding democracy, in speaking truth to power, and in facilitating debate.

Institutions of higher learning are also crucial in providing a platform for diverse voices to be heard.

For 100 years, Wits has participated in the intellectual debates of the day which have enabled robust engagement between parties and entities with differing views, ideas, and ideologies.

As an institution, we remain committed to:

  • academic freedom, autonomy, accountability, tolerance of difference of opinion, and transparency,
  • democracy, justice, equality, and freedom from racism and sexism as enshrined in the Constitution,
  • promoting freedom of enquiry and the search for knowledge and truth,
  • fostering a culturally diverse, intellectually stimulating and harmonious environment within which there is vigorous critical exchange and communication, and
  • freedom of speech and public debate, through facilitating dialogue and interaction between different parties, with the goal of increasing mutual respect and trust, amongst others. 

It was in this context that we invited the Minister of Public Enterprises, Mr Pravin Gordhan to speak on campus at a public event on the Reform and Governance of State-Owned Enterprises, as part of its efforts to discuss critical issues around governance and public policy. The Minister completed his speech and was then regrettably heckled during the Q&A session. Rather than engaging constructively, a few attendees made derogatory remarks and began shouting and insulting the Minister, thus not allowing him to respond to questions, which led to the facilitator ending proceedings. Notwithstanding the frustrations that everyone feels regarding the current energy crisis, the nature of the engagement subsequent to the delivery of the speech was not constructive.

As this was a public event open to all, including students from other universities, the University is in the process of reviewing the video footage in order to determine the next course of action.

The University will continue to encourage critical debate and the tolerance of diverse views, whilst providing an opportunity for different voices to be heard in a respectful manner. 

Thank you


8 JULY 2022

Covid-19 Update 87: Masks are voluntary

- Senior Executive Team

Return to campus plans and the way forward.

In keeping with the latest COVID-19 regulations, we would like to advise that:

  • the wearing of masks is no longer compulsory, although high-risk individuals are encouraged to continue wearing masks, especially when infections start to increase, and
  • all venues, including work spaces, can now be filled to capacity.

Until further notice, the University’s restrictions on student gatherings and events, particularly during the examination period, remain. The July graduation ceremonies will now return to the Great Hall.

Return to Campus Plans

The relaxing of the national regulations removes all restrictions that prevent professional and administrative staff from returning to work. Therefore, unless approved by their line manager, all professional and administrative staff are required to return to their respective workspaces on campus.

Schools are required to update and submit their blended teaching and learning plans to accommodate increased face-to-face contact with students for the second semester, after consultation with their respective Heads of Departments, Heads of Schools, and Faculty Deans.

Going Forward

These protocols may change as the virus evolves, as regulations change, and as the science develops. We will review our policies, rules and regulations, and in particular our Mandatory Vaccination Policy, based on the best scientific evidence on hand, and following engagements with the relevant structures within the University.

We will also monitor the power supply situation on campuses and in the City of Johannesburg over the next few weeks, to ensure that it does not compromise our return to campus plans.

Keep warm during these cold winter days.

Senior Executive Team

#GradnGive on Mandela Month entrenches ubuntu

- Wits University

Students graduating in July are urged to spread joy by bringing non-perishables to restock the Wits Food Bank.

Graduation students July

The Wits July 2022 graduation season falls on the week of Nelson Mandela International Day, celebrated globally on 18 July to encourage the world to embrace and live the values of the global icon Nelson Mandela. The first president of a democratic South Africa, Nobel Peace Prize Winner and a Witsie, Mandela is recognised for his humanity and reconciliation to promote care, especially for vulnerable members of society.

As the Wits 2022 graduates celebrate their graduation, the University invites graduands to participate in the #GradnGive initiative, in the spirit of Mandela Day. #GradnGive challenges graduates to donate to the Wits Food Bank on their graduation day. The Food Bank, launched more than a decade ago, addresses student food insecurity and hunger on campus.

“We are calling on our graduates to show up and help another Witsie to get to where they have by giving students peace of mind through food security. The Wits Food Bank is a lifeline to thousands of students on campus who do not have enough financial resources, and often sacrifice essentials, in order to make it through university,” says Karuna Singh, Senior Programme Advisor: Wits Citizenship and Community Outreach (WCCO), which manages the Wits Food Bank and similar initiatives.

The Wits Food Bank provides food parcels to more than 5 000 students per year, while the Masidleni Daily Meal Project on campus provides 1 000 hot meals per day and up to 20 000 meals per month.

Graduates are encouraged to bring tins of non-perishable food and toiletries on their special day. These donations can be dropped off outside the Great Hall where graduations will be hosted for the first time since 2020.

“The theme for Mandela Day 2022 is ‘Do what you can, with what you have, where you are’ and reminds us that we can all make a difference,” says Singh.

The drive to restock the Food Bank will culminate in an event on Friday, 22 July, when Wits staff and students who are on campus during the winter break can bring their own tins of food and toiletry donations that will be used to build a ‘Wits 100’ Mandela Day image on a canvas on the Library Lawns and then photographed with a drone. The Wits 100 image is a visual representation to commemorate the University’s centenary and contribution to society.

The call to support the Wits Food Bank is not only limited to the July Graduating class and is open to everyone.

Monetary donations can also be made safely online through a gateway managed by the Development and Fundraising Office.

Read more:

Wits alumni gives R1.5m to students facing hunger

Been there, felt the hunger

Great Hall gets a facelift and this is why it's a big deal

- Wits University

The iconic Great Hall is back after Covid-19 lockdowns and extensive renovations – ready to celebrate Wits' centenary.

The Wits Great Hall celebrating Wits' centenary

It's been said before. You're not a Witsie until you've shared your favourite graduation picture in front of the famous Great Hall.

This iconic landmark has seen thousands of graduates pass through its doors and this year, a century after coming into existence, the restored look is a reminder of the institution's academic success.

This neo-classical structure boasts towering columns leading up to its temple façade

that poses as the backdrop of the building. Today the Great Hall is a national monument and the eight majestic pillars represent Wits values:

  • Excellence
  • Leadership
  • Diversity
  • Collegiality
  • Integrity
  • Accountability
  • Academic freedom
  • Social engagement

Opening of the Wits Great Hall after it underwent extensive renovations

So why the facelift?

Shortly after Covid-19 forced students and staff to desert campus and take up online learning for their safety, the façade of the Great Hall started to show imperfections.

Pieces of concrete started falling from the pediment and column capitals onto the Great Hall steps. This was due to weathering conditions coupled with waterproofing faults. It was clear that restoration was needed.

To the disappointment of graduating students excited to share pictures of their success inside the famous building, the university’s Library Lawns later became the temporary venue for graduation ceremonies.

Thanks to new-age pre-casting techniques, professional and heritage architects were able to closely match the building's stone, restoring it to its initial look.

This saw the installation of new precast modillions at the top of the façade and copper roof sheeting to ensure that the roof is resistant to corrosion material. It now loses less than 0.4 mm over a 200-year period.

The restored structure was opened by Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, on the first day of July graduations. The remarkable event saw the return of jubilant graduates celebrating their academic success on the steps of the iconic building once more.

“Wits is a national treasure that occupies a special place in the hearts and minds of South Africans,” said Vilakazi earlier this year. “It makes a disproportionate impact in society in multiple spheres. We will continue to use our intellectual prowess, social leadership and innovation, to tackle the complex problems of the 21st Century, be it the climate emergency, inequality, pandemics, the future economy, or ensuring better healthcare for all.”

Did you know?

  • The Wits site, known then as Milner Park, used to be a farmland, quarry and rubbish pit shortly before the Anglo-Boer War in the 1800s.
  • Barrow Builders, founded in 1897, was responsible for the construction of the university. Architects Frank Emley and Frederick Williamson won the bid to design Central Block, now officially named Robert Sobukwe block which incorporates the Great Hall.
  • Wits was home to about 1000 students when it first opened.
  • On Christmas Eve in 1931, wooden structures forming part of the Great Hall burnt down, miraculously leaving its famous pillars unscathed.
  • One of the most famous musicals performed in the Great Hall was a production called King Kong. Former president Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie were in the audience when the curtain lifted.

Healthy boost for Wits Food Bank

- Wits University

Wits staff step up on Mandela Day for food-insecure students.

Wits Food Bank replenished for the second semester

The rising cost of living has resulted in many counting their cents with no room to give, however, Wits staff have demonstrated care despite the gloomy economic environment.

Driven by a commitment to students and to the values of Nelson Mandela, Witsies helped to replenish the Wits Food Bank which supports thousands of students in need.

Refilling the Wits Food Bank on Mandela Day is part of the annual acts of care undertaken by the University community to promote student wellness and ensure food security for students.

Food insecurity is an unfortunate reality for some students, both local and international, due to financial backgrounds amongst other factors.

Wits Vice-Chancellor Professor Zeblon Vilakazi joined staff in the endeavour to fill the Food Bank ahead of the second semester, which starts next week. Thanking staff for their contributions Vilakazi said it gives him great pride to lead people who care.

Friendly competition

The Wits community is known for its friendly competitive spirit and eyes are always out for the department that collects the most contributions for the Food Bank.

Pride and team spirit was high as the Registrar’s Division, under the leadership of Carol Crosley, hauled their contributions in a trolley. Student Enrolment Centre, the  Academic and Information Systems Unit, and the Payroll Office maintained their pre-pandemic record of mobilising noteworthy donations. Of the Parktown campuses, the School of Governance was exemplary.

The event also doubled as a fun team-builder around the University’s 100 years of existence. Staff used their contributions to craft a Wits 100 image on a canvass. Participants were also quizzed on Wits facts and milestones and winners walked away with Wits shop vouchers.

Congratulations to: Nodene Sheik (Student Enrolment Centre), Gita Patel (International Office) and staff members from the Central Record Office, the custodians of history who had the upper hand in the quiz - Kgopotso Mohlolo and Molatelo Pampa. 

Foundation to rejuvenate democracy in Africa and France

- Wits University

“We must nurture tolerance, collective wisdom, and democracy.” – Nelson Mandela

Prof. Vilakazi and French Ambassador

The safeguarding and promotion of democracy in Africa, France and Europe was enhanced this July through the establishment of the Innovation Foundation for Democracy (FIDEMO), which aims to rejuvenate democracy in Africa, particularly amongst young people, through innovative democratic projects.

Globally recognised scholar and public intellectual, Professor Achille Mbembe from the Wits Institute for Economic Research recommended the establishment of the Foundation in a report which he handed to French President Emmanuel Macron at the New Africa-France Summit in Montpellier last year. The report proposed 13 recommendations to recast an equitable relationship between African countries and France, including the creation of FIDEMO.

The objectives of the Foundation are to educate, inform and capacitate young people to reflect on democratic change in Africa, France, and Europe. It further aims to gather new insights and actionable knowledge about democracy across these regions; to design and develop collective and innovative projects for democracy; and to enable an understanding of the roles that the rule of law, equality, individual and collective freedoms play in a democracy.

“It is our hope that the Foundation will become a major continental hub for the new cycle of research and other initiatives which aim to rekindle the democratic agenda on our continent,” says Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, the Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal. “We recognise our collective role in solving global challenges, advancing society, governance and justice, whilst developing the next generation of leaders.”

The auspicious occasion was attended by the French Ambassador to South Africa, Lesotho and Malawi, His Excellency Mr Aurélien Lechevallier, and esteemed guests from across the continent who will serve as management or executive committee members of the Foundation.

“Europe and Africa are facing similar challenges, and we are seeing a widening gap between the youth and the political scene,” says Ambassador Lechevallier. “There is a growing trend of fake news and the rise of extremists’ thoughts and political ideas. We need this Foundation to generate new innovative ideas, to think out of the box, to support successful stories and to ground our findings in strong scientific information.”

FIDEMO will be hosted at Wits University from where it will serve the continent. The Foundation will be led by the distinguished Senegalese philosopher and literary scholar, Professor Souleymane Bachir Diagne who will serve as the Committee President; Johannesburg-based Advocate Nicholas J Tee who will serve as the Secretary General; and Lesley Donna Williams, the CEO of the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, who will serve as the Treasurer.

The establishment of this Foundation is timely and will undoubtedly benefit both continents. It is also significant for Wits, a University known for its values and commitment to democracy. It celebrates its centenary in 2022, and seeks, from its vantage point in the Global South, to establish mutually beneficial relationships with entities in the North. 

From chemistry to commerce: School learners get the ‘Wits experience’

- Wits University

Learners enjoy a fun-filled Wits Integrated Experience of academic and student life on the Braamfontein campuses.

The Wits Integrated Experience kicked off with its fifth short course this year, designed to expose grade 11 learners to skills and knowledge within its various Faculties.

The fun-filled programme allows learners across Gauteng to partake in an integrated problem-solving exercise within the five disciplines of Science, Engineering and the Built Environment, Humanities, Health Science, Commerce, Law and Management.

This year, learners were tasked with a preliminary investigation into a plane crash, using all the elements provided by each Faculty. They went from mixing fuel elements in Science to understanding the effects of fake news and the psychology of the pilots in Humanities.

Wits Integrated Experience

"We hope that the learners immerse themselves in university life," said Suresh Naicker, Student Recruitment Manager at Wits University.

"It's not just about what you learn inside the classroom, at Wits it's also about what you can learn outside the classroom. Hopefully, they can see what a wonderful place this is and essentially that this could be their premier destination of study."

This interactive course assists learners in making better-informed decisions about subject choices, careers, and higher education opportunities, leading to the world of work.

"I've learned so many new things, it's incredible. We started in the chemistry lab and experimented there. Our school doesn't have a lab like that, it was massive, really something to see," said Muhammad Khan, a grade 11 learner from Auckland Park Academy of Excellence.

Wits Integrated Experience

Apart from access to the world-class technologies and resources at Wits, learners also got to experience student life at the Braamfontein Campuses.

"It was amazing because I got to be inside this university. I have always wanted to come to Wits because it's considered to be one of the most popular universities in South Africa," said Lindiwe Khoza, a grade 11 learner from Lebohang Secondary School.

Khoza said that she hopes she can be part of the Wits community after she matriculates.

Wits Integrated Experience

Learners will return to campus at the end of August to complete part two of the short course. Thereafter, team-based project work will be presented to a panel of “experts”, which will take place on Friday, 26th August 2022.

This will culminate in an awards ceremony on the same day, where certificates and prizes will be handed out.

Wits hosts winter camps for high school learners

- Wits University

Wits University hosted grade 9 to 12 learners from across the country as part of its intervention programmes aimed at boosting their educational outcomes

TTP learner image

Approximately 600 learners took residence on main campus. The first group forms part of the Targeting Talent Programme, which marks 16 years of existence in 2022. The second group belongs to a new programme called Next Engineers, a global programme currently taking place in Johannesburg, the first city in Africa to host the programme.

A decade of supporting learners from disadvantaged communities

Wits University celebrates 16 years of the Targeting Talent Programme - a pre-university enrichment programme for grade 10-12 South African learners. Since its inception, the programme has supported 3022 learners from across the country, and primarily targets academically deserving learners from rural and township schools. Participating learners are selected in Grade 10 and are nurtured until they matriculate. TTP’s grade 12 learners have a history of achieving high results and gaining access to programmes of their choice due to academic excellence.

The TTP pass rate for 2021 was 97% with 90% of TTP learners achieving a bachelors pass. This is compared to the 76% pass rate of the NSC matric class that achieved 36% a bachelors pass.

The programme consists of three residential sessions a year, one week each in the autumn and spring vacations and two weeks during the winter break.

The programme is designed to help learners develop their strengths that underpin successful performance at university level. Learners spend their days engaging in a holistic development programme by attending lectures in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), social research, English, computer sciences, critical diversity, sports as well as wellness programmes like yoga, pilates and dance.

The programme aids learners with critical university-level skills through the use of information technology, library resources, time management and the capacity for self-directed learning.

Educators and families to drive academic excellence

The involvement of families and the communities that the learners come from, is transformative and an integral part of the programme, says Zena Richards, Director of Student Equity and Talent Management Unit which oversees the programme. TTP maintains relationships with parents, educators, principals and provincial education authorities through annual provincial family workshops.

In addition, mathematics and physical science educators from targeted schools become part of the Educator Enrichment Programme. The teachers trek to Wits during the July break to build subject-specific and curriculum- specific knowledge.

The success of TTP speaks for itself as TTP alumni go on to secure placement across various South African universities and other institutions of higher learning, and ultimately secure employment.

Nqobile Mkhize is a TTP alumni currently studying towards her Masters in Finance at Wits and is volunteering as a TTP mentor. “I saw the role TTP mentors played in my life. I became a mentor because I wanted to pay it forward,” says Mkhize. She commends the programme for giving her a voice and helping to build her confidence.

Next Engineers programme

The Next Engineers programme is a partnership between Wits University, General Electric (GE) and PROTEC. The programme is tailored towards young learners to encourage an uptake of science, STEM subjects to address the global shortage of engineers.

Open to grade nine learners from various schools in Johannesburg, more than 60 % of the participants are females, a positive development considering the low numbers of women in the field.

During the winter residential camp, learners got to explore different fields of engineering and were exposed to practical engineering problems. The camp complements other parts of the programme presented throughout the year.

Lebogang Chiloane from Letsibogo Girls' High School in Meadowlands, Soweto was ecstatic following a lab tour, saying she is excited about what she has learned on campus and looks forward to pursuing a career in mining engineering.

Chiloane does not dismiss the possibility of changing from engineering to other fields of the discipline as she has much to discover before she exits the programme in Grade 12.

The Next Engineers programme is a global project running in 25 cities. Johannesburg is the first and only city in Africa selected to join the programme this year. It is envisaged that upper grades will be included in the coming years.

Wits University believes in another world

- Wits University

It was a night of suspended reality, imaginative film, and sophisticated symphony at the SA premier of William Kentridge’s Oh to Believe in Another World.

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi with William Kentridge at the SA premier of his work: Oh to Believe in Another World

A world-renowned artist, Kentridge is also a Wits alumnus. Oh to Believe in Another World combines stop animation film, puppetry, artistry, and an orchestra in a masterful production to reimagine the lives and loves of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

Historically set in Soviet Russia circa the Russian revolution of 1917, and spanning the 1920s through 1950s, the colourful cast of characters include the communist leaders Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, and Leon Trotsky. The composer Shostakovich himself features in symphony and film, as does his muse, Elmira Nazirova, the revolutionary yet suicidal poet laureate, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and avante-garde author and socialite, Lilya Yuryevna Brik.

Shostakovich (1906-1975) premiered his 10th Symphony in 1953, the year of Stalin’s death. Kentridge’s Oh to Believe in Another World – which is a line from Mayakovsky’s poem which articulates the symphony – aims to show in film some of the ambiguities Shostakovich had to negotiate both in his music and the historical context in which he lived.

The South African premier of William Kentridge work: Oh to Believe in Another World

The Russian Revolution more than 100 years ago gives Kentridge’s film historical and temporal context. This both enables immersion in a soviet epoch arcane to Africa and provokes reflection of a Brave New World a century later. Similarly, Wits University in its centenary year, in a post-pandemic, politically tumultuous and socio-economically devastated South Africa, imagines and believes in another, better, world.

Addressing the audience at the Wits Linder Auditorium ahead of the performance, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, said: “Just as William Kentridge draws us from the outside into a new realm, navigating through complexity, interacting and intersecting with different periods, places and people, imagine if we could for just one moment, believe in another world? A more equal world filled with hope and possibility, a world in which the arts are treasured and curated for the benefit of future generations, a world in which education and innovation is properly valued and funded. Imagine if we could make this our new reality? As we turn 100, we are reimagining the future of Wits University, and the future of our society, and we invite you to walk this journey with us.”

In addition to premiering Oh to Believe in Another World as a Wits centenary event, Kentridge has also donated an edition of prints for sale, the proceeds of which will go towards deserving Wits art students.

Another world at the Wits Linder Auditorium

William Kentridge’s Oh to Believe in Another World hosted by Wits for its centenary year.Download and read the programme (PDF)

The conductor, Joseph Young, visiting from the US to conduct the Mzansi Philharmonic Orchestra in performing Shostakovich's Symphony No.10, held his baton utterly still in mid-air before the first violins of the orchestra opened the show. In suspense, the audience waited until finally they were bathed in the music, framed by the Auditorium's perfect acoustics.

Just then, Kentridge’s film, Oh to Believe in Another World, appeared on the screen above the orchestra and transported the audience into what seemed like an abandoned Soviet Museum. The museum (in reality made from miniature cardboard boxes) comprises various rooms such as a community theatre hall, a public swimming pool and a quarry, all of which hold the stories of the Soviet Union's complex past, but reimagined by Kentridge and his team of local and international collaborators.

Historically, Shostakovich was twice renounced by Stalin who kept a tight grip on the arts, dictating its aesthetics and its political position. Somehow, Shostakovich managed to appease the dictator and despite the composer’s renouncement, avoided the gulags and other fatal punishments. However, Shostakovich's disillusionment was latent until he could begin to pry open his authentic creativity on the occasion of Stalin's death in 1953. The Symphony No. 10 was thus born and lauded as Shostakovich’s most bold and expressive composition. 

Masterfully, Shostakovich and the other central figures of the film appear as puppets but they are performed by actors. These puppet-actors are shown as origami shapes, moving in jarring and often comical ways, but their relationships with one another, and indeed history, illuminates their pained and complicated existences in an unrelenting, brutal regime. Sorrow and angst still lingers in Kentridge’s museum, despite the cast’s seeming liberation from Stalin. The haunting sound of the oboes and timpani in the final movement of the symphony reveals not only the characters’ grief, but history’s trauma.

Kentridge’s artistic form is one of collage, because history is comprised of such. The film incorporates the artist’s signature stop-motion animation style, as well as traditional special effects. An important part of Oh to Believe in Another World is the concept of “erasure and re-drawing.” Here, the audience participates in re-making the artistic production, as Kentridge draws and erases characters, and the puppet actors swop masks. The orchestra is itself an interpretation.

The production is participatory and multi-disciplinary, and somehow evokes hope right at this historical moment. Today, as the Russia-Ukraine war lingers, and the world staggers towards something new after a brutal two years, Shostakovich’s Symphony No 10 is prescient. It does what great art should and that is transcend time and geography to expose the precarity and beauty of the human condition.