The Distell National Playwright Competition

The Distell National Playwright Competition aims to showcase fresh storytellers and new voices. The competition, for debut playwrights who have not yet had their work staged, is a joint venture between the National Arts Festival and Distell. It is run in honour of Adam and Rosalie Small, who made a significant impact on South Africa’s literary, philosophical and educational landscape.

The competition gives emerging playwrights a rare opportunity to take their work all the way through the process of creating a play. As National Arts Festival CEO Tony Lankester says, “Theatre-making begins with an inspiring script, so we need to nurture our writers if theatre is to remain vibrant and exciting. Our partnership with Distell allows us the platform to do this.”

For the competition, debut scriptwriters are invited submit story ideas and writing samples. The selection panel then choses five finalists who are mentored to evolve their script ideas into a play that is ready for production. One overall winning play is selected and then produced and staged by the National Arts Festival at the following year’s event in Makhanda. The National Arts Festival is South Africa’s premier arts event and is a shop-window for producers and theatres from across the world. There is also a cash prize for the winners.

2018 Selection Panel

Anton KruegerAnton Krueger has been nominated for awards in a wide range of genres; including poetry, prose, drama and critical writing. He is an Associate Professor in the Department of Drama at Rhodes University, where he teaches Performance Studies and Writing for Performance.



Dr Hleze Kunju is a Creative Writing Lecturer at Rhodes University. He is a multi-awardwinning literary scholar, a speaker, a poet and a language activist. He has worked for various companies, including Ubom! Eastern Cape Drama Company (as a music director), East Cape Opera Company, Shakespeare SA Company. He was named as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young and Influential South Africans in 2018.


Malika NdlovuMalika Ndlovu is a poet, playwright, performer and arts project manager whose contribution to the promotion of African poetry and literature spans more than 20 years. Her words and productions have appeared on pages and stages all over the world – including South Africa, Austria, Uganda, the USA, the UK, Holland, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Ethiopia, India and the Philippines. Between 2007 and 2010 she was project manager, then guest curator/podcast presenter of the Africa Centre’s Badilisha Poetry X-Change, contributing to its evolution from a live international festival into, the first-ever Africa-focused poetry podcasting platform. Ndlovu has mentored many young poets in arts activism and transformation work, beyond the artistic or aesthetic value this art form provides. Her published work includes poetry collections Born in Africa But (1999) Womb to World: A Labour of Love (2001), Truth is both Spirit and Flesh (2008), Invisible Earthquake: a Woman’s Journal through Stillbirth (2009) as well as plays, A Coloured Place (1998) and Sister Breyani (2010) and CLOSE (2017).

Ameera Patel is in the storytelling business and received recognition for this, being named one of the Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 young South Africans in 2016. She read for a BA in Theatre and Performance at the University of Cape Town in 2005 and in 2013 she received a distinction for her Masters in Creative Writing at Wits. Patel is an active playwright and published novelist, and hopes to continue telling stories that stretch beyond her.


Hennie van Greunen is an award-winning playwright, translator, producer and director; he is also co-owner of Wordsmith’s Theatre Factory, one of the oldest and most successful self-sustaining theatre companies in South Africa. His theatre work moves from professional work to youth, festival and community theatre productions, to corporate workshops, public speaking and education. Van Greunen’s productions have toured to and won awards in Edinburgh, London, Amsterdam and New York. He has served on many adjudication panels, including the inaugural Adam & Rosalie Small Prize for Debutante Scriptwriters, where he mentored, produced and directed the winning script – the production of which has just been nominated for three Fiesta Awards. He has a deep belief that sharing our own stories is an important part of healing and building an empathic, unified South Africa.

Keitu GwangwaKeituletse Gwangwa is an artist, activist, writer, stage director and project manager who has explored most disciplines in the arts with ease and success, creating memorable works and experiences. Gwangwa has worked with high profile personalities and influential stakeholders in the corporate arena as well as the arts sector. The daughter of legendary jazz musician Jonas Gwangwa and social activist Violet Gwangwa, she has always been exposed to the best of the industry both abroad and in South Africa and she continues to collaborate on projects with her father. From radio host to operations manager, Gwangwa has played almost every role – including challenging society through the arts to drive conversation and change. In 2018, Gwanga was appointed as the head of the Windybrow Arts Centre in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. Inspired by the opportunities that lie in this space, she seeks to inspire an arts-led urban regenerative movement.