Grahamstown goes into Festival mode

Grahamstown is being draped in red, white and blue as it prepares to welcome thousands of visitors to this year’s National Arts Festival, which runs from 29 June to 9 July.

This is the 43rd installment of the annual event, billed as Africa’s biggest and boldest celebration of the arts. Showcasing more than 700 shows the programme features theatre, dance, music, visual and performance arts, film, illusion, cabaret and more. This year’s comedy is particularly strong, with the biggest names in South African comedy performing alongside visiting talents such as UK comedians Stephen K Amos and Louise Reay.

“We are ready! Put down what you are doing and come to the National Arts Festival,” says National Arts Festival CEO Tony Lankester. “In times like these the need to reflect, revitalize, engage and reimagine is critical. It will all unfold at the Festival this year.”

Last year, an audience survey showed that 99% of Festival goers would recommend the experience to others. “So take it from them, not me – it’s 11 days of amazing,” says Lankester.

Jazz will be celebrated with a sensational programme of South African greats – including Judith Sephuma, Afrika Mkhize and Zenzi Makeba Lee, Kyle Shephard, and Benjamin Jephta –collaborating with international legends such as Andy Narell (USA) and the James Morrison Quartet (Australia) for the 20th anniversary edition of the Standard Bank Jazz Festival.

Families will be happily entertained with a full programme of fun that includes children: Festival favourites include RAT RACE, JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH and GRANNY SUSAN INCREDIBLE. After successful runs in Cape Town and Johannesburg, Grahamstown’s production of THE GRUFFALO is set to run for the full 11 days of the Festival. Free performances of WHEN LION HAD WINGS and other child-friendly activities are events to look forward to. Parents can enroll their children (ages 4-13) into the Children’s Arts Festival, hosted by St Andrew’s Prep school.

Think!Fest, a series of lectures, workshops and seminars, will include a spotlight on children to mark the 100th anniversary of Child Welfare in Grahamstown. The daily programme draws in a mix of high emotion and cerebral ruminations with speakers and audiences unpacking topical issues such as fake news (with Verashni Pillay), climate change, the “lost art of listening”, land acquisition and redistribution as well as focus on collaboration and growing the arts industry . In a jam-packed programme, there’s something to meet every interest, including the launch of the latest Short, Sharp Stories collection Trade Secrets.

Dr Pemmy Majodina, the Eastern Cape MEC for Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture, says of the National Arts Festival: “It is an event we guard and value. And it has a role beyond what happens on its stages. It is a cornerstone of our province’s economy, contributing R 377-million annually to our GDP. That translates into jobs, tourist spend, visitors buying the work of our crafters … A myriad activities that help our people enhance their lives. It is an example of how the arts can play a meaningful role in the reconstruction of our economy and country.” 

Research* commissioned by the National Arts Festival and South African Cultural Observatory revealed that the global attendance (the number of times performances and exhibitions were seen) at the  2016 National Arts Festival was 225 634 and that the average number of shows seen by a visitor was 10 (over and above free performances). Visitors stayed at the Festival for an average of six days.

*The Social Cultural and Economic Impact of the 2016 National Arts Festival by J. Snowball and G. Antrobus.

Image Caption: Vanessa Cooke as Dorine and Vuyelwa Maluleke as Mariane in Tartuffe



The National Arts Festival’s programme is online and available for booking on the site


The National Arts Festival is grateful to: the Department of Arts and Culture, Eastern Cape Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture and the Office of the Premier, and Standard Bank of South Africa. Media partners include MNET and City Press.


Now in its 43rd year, the National Arts Festival is the largest and longest-running celebration of the arts on the African content. It is held annually in the small university city of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, 130km from Port Elizabeth.

The programme comprises drama, dance, physical theatre, comedy, opera, music, jazz, visual art exhibitions, film, student theatre, street theatre, lectures, craft fair, workshops, as well as a children’s arts festival.


The Artistic Committee, comprising experts in various disciplines, selects the content of the Main programme. Work from both within and outside South Africa is considered, with the following criteria in mind: the artistic merits of any submission; the creation of a varied and balanced programme; and the costs involved.


Sascha Polkey
Rabbit in the Hat

083 414 0552
021 300 0052

Application for media accreditation will be available at the beginning of May via the MEDIA page on



About National Arts Festival

The National Arts Festival is an important event on the South African cultural calendar and the biggest annual celebration of the arts on the African continent.

The 2017 National Arts Festival runs for 11 days from 29 June - 9 July and is held in the small university city of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, 130 km from Port Elizabeth.

The Festival consists of a Main and Fringe programme both administered by the National Arts Festival Office. The full programme comprises drama, dance, physical theatre, comedy, opera, music, jazz, visual art exhibitions, film, student theatre, street theatre, lectures, craft fair, workshops, tours (of the city and surrounding historic places) and a children’s arts festival.

The event has always been open to all regardless of race, colour, sex or creed. As no censorship or artistic restraint has ever been imposed on works presented in Grahamstown, the Festival served as an important forum for political and protest theatre during the height of the apartheid era, and it still offers an opportunity for experimentation across the arts spectrum. Its significance as a forum for new ideas and an indicator of future trends in the arts cannot be underestimated.

The National Arts Festival is grateful to the Department of Arts and Culture, Eastern Cape Provincial Government, M-Net and Standard Bank of South Africa.

National Arts Festival
National Arts Festival
PO Box 304
Grahamstown, Ec 6140
South Africa