The advent of television in 1976 gave an immediate boost to puppetry. Suddenly puppeteers were performing for millions of viewers and this encouraged the productions of more technologically developed puppetry techniques as well as relatively well-paid and continuous employment for a number of talented puppet makers and manipulators. Television also lifted the profile of the puppetry arts. Below, a small selection of puppetry programs produced since 1976 are outlined.
Les Subcleve was one of the earliest television producers with Adoons-hulle (Afrikaans), Radio Buza (Zulu) and Marimba (Zulu). By far the biggest pioneer in this field was Louise Smit, who started producing puppet programs within the national broadcaster and then become an independent producer. Her company, Louise Smit Production Trust, produced well over 3000 episodes of programs for children in Afrikaans, English as well as African languages. The most important productions include Haas Das se Nuuskas, Mina Moo and Professor Fossie. This production house took over from the Civic Theatre as a regular employer of puppeteers and puppet makers including Alida von Maltitz, Dawn Leggat, Hansie and Thea Visagie, Adrian Kohler, and Basil Jones.
There have been several other initiatives both in-house SABC productions and from independent producers. In 1994 a voter education television production, Puppet Election ’94, was produced to help inform the electorate about their right to vote. AREPP devised Puppet Election ‘94, a TV campaign with Muppet-style puppets, interviewing live politicians including Nelson Mandela. Spider’s Place, a multi media science education series produced by Handspring Trust for Puppetry in Education, represented a departure in the way TV programs were funded and developed. Funded by international donor agencies, the producers were able to conduct exhaustive research, consulting widely with a variety of stakeholders, develop parallel programs for radio and comic and conduct an ongoing teacher development program which assists teachers to adopt new teaching strategies.
ZA News, a political satire based on Guignol des Infos and Spitting Image, uses caricature puppets designed by Jonathan Shapiro (Zapiro) South Africa’s leading political cartoonist. Produced by Both Worlds Productions, it is seen online and was the recipient of the Handspring Awards for Puppetry’s Best Puppet Design category 2010.