It’s all systems go for the opening of the 45th National Arts Festival in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) this week, with the curtain going up an a wide array of productions and performances on Thursday 27 June.

The Festival is an important event in South Africa’s arts eco-system and provides a vital platform for artists to express themselves and read the heartbeat of the nation. As NAF Acting Executive Producer Nobesuthu Rayi says, “Artists are like the imbongis of our culture. Just as a chief might traditionally hear from the imbongi about the mood of the people, so our artists are now reading the mood of the nation. They are our interpreters and we need to value them and let them be heard.”

The voices of this year’s artists are loudest on topics such as identity, place and land. These themes run through many productions, and are treated in many different ways to form a picture of a country fighting to claim a positive identity that encompasses the many things we are, and to begin crafting a new narrative for our future.

Endless creativity

With over 500 productions on the programme and thousands of shows, talks, workshops, artists walkabouts, street performances and more, audiences are spoiled for choice as they face an 11-day programme packed with endless creativity and inspiration.

The town has also been hard at work preparing for the Festival with scores of volunteers and special service providers from the private sector working with the local municipality to set the scene, and ensure a safe and comfortable stay for the visitors.

Says Festival CEO Tony Lankester: “Our planning for the Festival is year-round and so, after many days and nights of preparation, we are now ready to receive our visitors. Many have asked about the water situation and we would like to assure everyone that we are confident that we will meet the needs of both residents and visitors during the Festival. It’s time to celebrate and to go on a journey with our artists.”

The Festival will open with a flag raising ceremony and Khoisan and pantsula performances from 8:00 on Thursday 27 June outside the Monument in Makhanda.

Opening weekend

Just some of the highlights of the first weekend include Brett Bailey’s epic new play SAMSON, Irish comedian Dylan Moran  bringing his DR COSMOS world tour to Makhanda, the exciting and innovative series of plays DEURnis/Uzwelo in which audience members will have one-on-one experiences of the play, and the first Festival performances of German/Chinese choreographer Hannah Ma’s dance piece SYLPHIDES.

  • Browse the programme by day here

2019 Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Dance Kitty Phetla performs with former Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz (2015) Nduduzo Makhatini in an innovative exploration of ancestry and ritual GOING BACK TO THE TRUTH OF SPACE. The final performance of this show on Saturday 29 June differs slightly with a live performance by Phetla and a sound recording of Nduduzo Makhathini with a surprise twist.

Also catch 2019 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz Mandla Mlangeni in the TUNE RECREATION COMMITTEE and Magnet Theatre’s highly anticipated G7: OKWE BOKHWE.

The Fringe is bursting with great work too. See 2019 Fringe highlights here.

Planning a Festival programme

The diversity of shows, talks, workshops and experiences at the National Arts Festival can be a little overwhelming but there are several ways to explore what’s on offer.

  • The 2019 National Arts Festival programme can be browsed on this website or viewed as a PDF.  
  • The printed version can be bought for R75 plus delivery to your door via Takealot.com, or at outlets across Makhanda (Makana Tourism, Handmade Coffee, Postnet, Monument Box Office.)
  • The Festival app is another way to enjoy effortless browsing and booking on-the-go. Available for Android and Apple’s iOS. Search for ‘National Arts Festival’ to download the latest version.