This period has seen the emergence of many individuals and groups. The cultural boycott that the country faced in the 1980s meant that influences from outside were drastically reduced. Local puppeteers learnt from each other via the two UNIMA branches and from personal contact. The period has also seen a surge in work with a local content.
As a developing art form, South African puppetry has come to the fore in the global visual performance scene largely due to the groundbreaking interdisciplinary work of The Handspring Puppet Company in collaboration with physical theatre director and fine artist William Kentridge since the early 1990s. In 1981 a group of former art students formed The Handspring Puppet Company in Cape Town. After touring South Africa with a series of original plays for children, the company moved to Johannesburg in 1986 and worked in television and with directors of ‘straight’ theatre. Their work in collaboration with artists William Kentridge, such as Woyzek on the Highveld, Faustus in Africa, and Ubu and the Truth Commission, has been touring internationally since 1991. Their contribution to South African puppetry since the 1980s has been not only to develop an indigenous form of iconic South African multimedia performance rooted in a skilled puppetry design and performance but also to put adult puppetry on the local map. Their experimentations in crossover multi-disciplinarity with William Kentridge have set the standard for contemporary puppetry performance both locally and abroad. In the vaguely documented and defined puppetry traditions of South Africa, their work has stood as the guiding canon of contemporary South African puppetry for adult audiences, for the past twenty years.
In 1983, Gary Friedman’s Royal Puppet Company produced Puns and Doedie (Puppet Against Apartheid). There was a street theatre production in several cities in South Africa and abroad. He moved his base to Johannesburg in 1986 and formed AREPP, a puppetry-in-education project that initially centered on the importance of HIV/AIDS education. Performances and workshops have been held throughout Southern and Central Africa and further afield in Canada, Germany and France. Subsequently the project broadened its field into abuse/domestic violence/voter education and work in prisons.
Margaret Auerbach began performing in 1971 and formed her company, Spellbound Puppets, in 1976. In the eighties and nineties, she was a constant performer locally and internationally with projects ranging from adult feminist themes to educational work for preschoolers. She also collaborated regularly with other puppet, stage and television producers. The Puppet People, formed by Jacqueline Domisse and Cathy Dodders in 1991 in Cape Town, are well known for their original African stories using rod and string puppets and masks and their highly theatrical adaptations of Native American, Aboriginal Australian and other world stories.