National Arts Festival

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National Arts Festival
National Arts Festival logo.svg
GenreArts Festival
DatesJune/July annually
Years active45
Founded13 July 1973
Attendance209 677 [1]
Patron(s)Standard Bank, MNET, National Lotteries Commission, City Press, Department of Arts and Culture, Eastern Cape Government
WebsiteNational Arts Festival

The National Arts Festival (NAF) is an annual festival of performing arts in Grahamstown, South Africa. It is the largest arts festival on the African continent[2] and one of the largest performing arts festivals in the world by visitor numbers.[3]

The festival runs for 11 days, from the last week of June to the first week of July every year. It takes place in the small university city of Makhanda (previously known as Grahamstown),[4] in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa.

The NAF comprises a Main programme and a Fringe festival, both administered by the National Arts Festival Office, a non-profit Section 21 Company. The Festival programme includes performing arts (theatre, dance, stand-up comedy and live music), visual art exhibitions, films, talks and workshops, a large food and craft fair and historical tours of the city. The NAF runs a children's arts festival over the same period and a number of other festivals take place in Makhanda over the period of the NAF, such as the National Youth Jazz Festival.

Performances take place across the city in approximately 60 venues (such as theatres, churches, schools) as well as in various outdoor locations for the street performances.

The Festival attracts significant numbers of local and international visitors and is one of the biggest contributors to the economy of the region.[5]

The main programme[edit]

A committee of curators in the various disciplines selects the content of the main programme. The planning process takes into account what is available locally and from outside South Africa. Three considerations that influence decisions are the artistic merits of any submission, the creation of a varied and balanced programme, and the costs involved.[citation needed]

The fringe[edit]

Today, the Fringe is on an equal footing with the Main Festival. Seasoned performers and famous directors can just as easily be found on either programme, and a slot on the main programme one year does not preclude a return to the Fringe the next. The distinguishing feature of the Fringe is that it is open to all and exempt from the selection process that applies to the main programme. Fringe participants are responsible for their own costs and 85% of their box office sales accrue to them directly. They are liable for certain payments for venue hire and registration fees.[citation needed]

Subsidiary festivals[edit]

A number of subsidiary festivals take place as part of the National Arts Festival:

Young Artist Awards[edit]

The Young Artist Awards, sponsored by Standard Bank, are presented by the National Arts Festival Artistic Committee to emerging, relatively young South African artists who have demonstrated exceptional ability in their chosen fields but who have not yet achieved national exposure and acclaim.

Festival Committee members, fellow artists and interested members of the public, nominate artists. The NAF Committee, a group of experts in the various arts disciplines, decides on the final recipients.

Designed to encourage the recipients in the pursuit of their careers, a key aspect of the awards is that they guarantee the artists a place on the main programme of the forthcoming National Arts Festival. Apart from a cash prize, each of the winners receive substantial financial backing for their Festival participation whether this involves the mounting of an exhibition or the staging of a production.

A maximum of five awards are made annually in any one of the disciplines of drama, music, jazz, visual art, dance and film. Since the inception of the awards in 1981 more than 150 awards have been presented plus five special awards to artists in recognition of their contribution to the National Arts Festival and the arts of South Africa. A complete list of previous winners is as follows:[9]

Year Music Drama Dance Jazz Visual Art Other
2020[10] Nthato Mokgata Jefferson Tshabalala Lulu Prudence Mlangeni Sisonke Xonti Blessing Ngobeni
2019[11] Megan-Geoffrey Prins Amy Jephta Kitty Phetla Mandla Mlangeni Gabrielle Goliath
2018[12] Guy Buttery Jemma Kahn Musa Hlatshwayo Thandi Ntuli Igshaan Adams Chuma Sopotela (Performance Art)
2017 Abel Selaocoe Monageng 'Vice' Motshabi Thandazile Radebe Benjamin Jephta Beth Armstrong Dineo Bopape (Performance Art)
2016[13] Avigail Bushakevitz Jade Bowers Themba Mbuli Siya Makuzeni Mohau Modisakeng
2015 Musa Ngqunqwana Christiaan Olwagen Luyanda Sibiya Nduduzo Makhathini Kemang Wa Lehurele Athi Patra Ruga (Performance Art)
2014 Njabulo Madlala Greg Homann Nicola Elliott Kyle Shepherd Hasan & Husain Essop Jahmil XT Qubeka (Film)

Donna Kukama (Performance Art)

2013 Runette Botha Prince Lamla Fana Tshabalala Shane Cooper Mary Sibande Anthea Moys (Performance Art)
2012 Kelebogile Boikanyo Princess Mhlongo Bailey Snyman Afrika Mkhize Mikhael Subotzky
2011 Ben Schoeman Neil Coppen Mamela Nyamza Bokani Dyer Nandipha Mntambo
2010 Samson Diamond Janni Younge Mlu Zondi Melanie Scholtz Michael MacGarry Claire Angelique (Film)
2009 Jacques Imbrailo Ntshieng Mokgoro Thabo Rapoo Kesivan Naidoo Nicholas Hlobo
2008 Zanne Stapelberg Jaco Bouwer Dada Masilo Mark Fransman Nontsikelelo Veleko
2007 Bronwen Forbay Acty Tang Shannon Mowday Pieter Hugo Akin Omotoso (Film)
2006 Sylvaine Strike Hlengiwe Lushaba Concord Nkabinde Churchill Madikida
2005 Andile Yenana Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom Peter John Sabbagha Wim Botha Ramolao Makhene (Standard Bank Special Award for the invaluable contribution to and significant achievement in Theatre – posthumous award)
2004 Tutu Puoane Mncedisi Baldwin Shabangu Portia Lebogang Mashigo Kathryn Smith Moses Taiwa Molelekwa (Standard Bank Special Award for the invaluable contribution to and significant achievement in Music – posthumous award)
2003 Angela Gilbert Yael Farber Moya Michael Berni Searle Dumisani Phakhati (Film)
2002 Prince Kupi Sello Maake Ka-Ncube Gregory Vuyani Maqoma Brett Murray
2001 Fikile Mvinjelwa Brett Bailey Tracey Human Walter Oltmann
2000 Gloria Bosman Zenzi Mbuli Alan Alborough
1998 Bongani Ndodana-Breen Aubrey Sekhabi David Mudanalo Matamela and Debbie Rakusin Nhlanhla Xaba
1997 Sibongile Mngoma (Opera) Geoffrey Hyland Lien Botha Alfred Hinkel (Standard Bank Special Award for invaluable contribution to and significant achievement in Dance)
1996 Victor Masondo Lara Foot Newton Vincent Mantsoe Trevor Makhoba
1995 Abel Motsoadi John Ledwaba Boyzie Cekwana Jane Alexander
1994 Michael Williams (Opera) Jerry Mofokeng Sam Nhlengethwa
1993 Sibongile Khumalo Christopher Kindo Pippa Skotnes
1992 Raphael Vilakazi Deon Opperman Tommy Motswai Kevin Harris (Film)
1991 Peter Ngwenya Andries Botha Darrell Roodt (Film)
1990 Robyn Orlin Fée Halsted-Berning and Bonnie Ntshalintshali
1989 Johnny Clegg Marthinus Basson Gary Gordon Helen Sebidi Pieter-Dirk Uys (Drama) (1820 Foundation Special Award)
1988 Mbongeni Ngema Margaret Vorster
1987 Hans Roosenschoon William Kentridge
1986 Andrew Buckland Gavin Younge
1985 Sidwill Hartman Maishe Maponya Marion Arnold
1984 Ken Leach Peter Schütz Lamar Crowson (Music) (Standard Bank / 1820 Foundation 10th Anniversary Special Award)
1983 David Kosviner Paul Slabolepszy Malcolm Payne
1982 Janice Honeyman Lindy Raizenberg (Ballet) Neil Rodger
1981 John Theodore Richard E Grant Jules van de Vijver

Fringe awards[edit]

In 2010, the National Arts Festival launched a new set of awards for Fringe productions – the Standard Bank Ovation Awards. These awards recognise excellence on the Fringe, and aim to seek out those productions that are innovative, original and creatively outstanding. At the end of the Festival, Gold and Silver awards are selected from the list of winners, rewarding the best productions in the categories theatre, dance, comedy, music.

Recipients of the Standard Bank Ovation Awards benefit from the recognition provided by the acknowledgement, with companies or artists often being offered extended tours, international opportunities to perform, increased opportunities for funding, and an invitation to submit a proposal for the following year's Arena programme. Artists who win Gold and Silver awards receive modest monetary incentives.


In 2014, the Festival launched the Adelaide Tambo Award for Human Rights in the Arts to "honour an artist or company whose work on the Fringe programme embodies Adelaide Tambo's passion for the arts and her deep commitment for human rights."[15]

Featured Artists[edit]

Since the Featured Artist Programme was launched in 2012, the National Arts Festival has celebrated and showcased established artists who have built up a substantial body of work that has contributed to South Africa’s national discourse on race, class or gender in a significant way.

Recipients of this award are:

  • 2020: Madosini, traditional musician [16]
  • 2019: Bernie Searle, visual artist
  • 2018: Mamela Nyamza, dancer and choreographer [17]
  • 2017: Neo Muyanga, musician and composer
  • 2016: Lara Foot, playwright and director
  • 2015: Satire (The genre was chosen as the programme centrepiece)
  • 2014: Sylvaine Strike, actor and director
  • 2013: Mike van Graan, playwright and director

Growth and development[edit]

The NAF has grown since its inception. In 1974 there were 64 events on the main programme. (Events refer to productions, exhibitions, workshops, lectures, tours and so forth. A drama or dance production is counted as a single event irrespective of how many times it may be performed.) The Fringe started in 1979 with 10 events. As of 2010 the National Arts Festival comprises more than 350 events with over 1,200 performances.[18]

The Village Green craft fair was introduced in 1989 with approximately 90 stalls. Now it attracts close to 1,000 stallholders. The fair offers visitors the chance to buy an array of goods, from pure wool sweaters to handcrafted beadwork, and there are stalls offering a various exotic foods. In addition, there are Craft Villages at Fiddlers Green and on Church Square.

Social responsibility[edit]

The National Arts Festival claims to be a socially responsible festival, this however, has been contested.[19]

The Hands On! Masks Off! programme focuses on strengthening the entrepreneurial skills of the arts community by bringing together arts entrepreneurs to share skills and knowledge with a new generation of arts managers.[20]

In 2010 the Remix Laboratory saw a 120 community-based artists from around the country participate in a residency programme during the NAF. The scholars attended workshops, seminars, performances and visits to galleries while being mentored in arts practice and arts appreciation.

The Art Factory teaches local marginalised and vulnerable youth performance skills such as juggling and acrobatics and combines this with a strategic focus on building the life skills and confidence of the youth. The Art Factory functions as a year-round project in Makhanda.

As part of the ArtsReach Programme the National Arts Festival takes the arts to hospitals, clinics, old age homes and rural areas. A number of artists on the Fringe volunteer their performances for the ArtsReach programme during the NAF.[21]

The Arts Encounter Project distributes a number of tickets to indigent individuals to enable them to enjoy productions from the NAF's main and fringe programmes.


The National Arts Festival publishes a printed booking kit or programme every year, which includes artistic and schedule information about the shows as well as tips on how to book tickets, getting to Makhanda and where to stay. A full PDF of the programme is available online via the NAF's website at


A computerised booking system was introduced in 1989. In 1997, for the first time in the history of South African theatre, the National Arts Festival introduced internet bookings. The NAF website, which was launched in 1994, acts as an online registration vehicle for artists in the build-up to the Festival, and as a ticket booking hub for the Festival. A free-to-download mobile app has also been developed, which allows visitors to browse shows and book tickets.


The National Arts Festival has a small permanent staff comprising around 10 full-time staff members. Nobesuthu Rayi is the Executive Producer [22] and Rucera Seethal the Artistic Director.[23]

Former radio presenter and sponsorship manager Tony Lankester served as CEO for over a decade, stepping down in 2019 to take up a position in the UK.[24] During Lankester's tenure, respected arts administrator Ismail Mahomed served as Artistic Director until 2016. Mahomed was responsible for overseeing the curation of the NAF's artistic content. He was replaced by playwright and arts administrator Ashraf Johaardien,[25] who left at the end of 2018.

During the Festival, the staff complement grows to around 400, including technical staff, largely drawn from the local community of MMakhanda.

International partnerships[edit]

The National Arts Festival is a member of the World Fringe Alliance,[26] a grouping of 10 Fringe Festivals from different countries. It is also a member of the African Festival Network (AFRIFESTNET). CEO Tony Lankester is chairman and Treasurer of the two organisations respectively.[26][27] The NAF embarks on numerous partnerships with foreign embassies and presenting institutions, staging several high-profile international works each year.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "National Arts Festival reports positive results for 2018 Festival". 2 August 2018. Retrieved 9 May 2019.
  2. ^ "Grahamstown Festival – MSN Encarta". Archived from the original on 24 August 2005. Retrieved 26 September 2009.
  3. ^ "World Fringe Alliance". Retrieved 15 June 2017.
  4. ^ Ben Fogel (13 July 2012). "A Festival of Resistance". Mahala. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  5. ^ Antrobus, Geoff. "National Arts Festival Drives the Economy of Grahamstown". Media Update. Retrieved 15 June 2017.
  6. ^ "Think!Fest". Think!Fest. Retrieved 26 October 2018.
  7. ^ "Spiritfest – Cathedral of St Michael and St George". Retrieved 26 October 2018.
  8. ^ "Rhodes University-Where Leaders Learn". 20 July 2011.
  9. ^ "Young Artist Award History". Archived from the original on 29 October 2014. Retrieved 28 October 2014.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  10. ^ "The 5 artists changing the face of the creative industry".
  11. ^ "Meet the 2019 Standard Bank Young Artist Award winners".
  12. ^ "Everything you need to know about Standard Bank Young Artist Awards 2018 winners". 2 November 2017.
  13. ^ "The 2016 Standard Bank Young Artist Awards winners have been announced". 29 October 2015. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  14. ^ BWW News Desk (11 July 2017). "2017 National Arts Festival Honours Winners of Standard Bank Ovation Awards" (Press release). Retrieved 15 November 2017 – via BroadwayWorld.
  15. ^ "National Arts Festival announces new award for advocacy through arts". National Arts Festival. 24 June 2014. Retrieved 21 September 2020.
  16. ^ "National Arts Festival names Madosini as featured artist".
  17. ^ "Mamela Nyanza First Choreographer To Be Named NAF Featured Artist",
  18. ^ "National Arts Festival reports attendance of almost 186 000" (Press release). 6 July 2010. Retrieved 6 September 2014 – via Grocott's Mail.
  19. ^ A Festival of Resistance, Mahala, Ben Fogel 13 July 2012
  20. ^ "National Arts Festival sets social responsibility trends". Grocott's Mail. 14 June 2010. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  21. ^ VAN ZYL, CINÁ; BOTHA, CHRISTEL (1 January 2004). "MOTIVATIONAL FACTORS OF LOCAL RESIDENTS TO ATTEND THE AARDKLOP NATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL". Event Management. 8 (4): 213–222. doi:10.3727/1525995031436818. ISSN 1525-9951.
  22. ^ "National Arts Festival CEO steps down". 11 July 2019. Retrieved 5 November 2019.
  23. ^ "New Arts Fest director is up for the challenge". DispatchLive. 3 October 2019. Retrieved 5 November 2019.
  24. ^ "National Arts Festival CEO Tony Lankester steps down after 12 years". TimesLive. 12 July 2019. Retrieved 5 November 2019.
  25. ^ "Ashraf Johaardien Named as New National Arts Festival Executive Producer". 14 July 2016. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  26. ^ a b "World Fringe Alliance". Artsmart – arts news from kwazulu-natal. 7 October 2011. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  27. ^ "AFRIFESTNET Now Launched". AfricAvenir International. Retrieved 6 September 2014.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 33°19′10″S 26°31′10″E / 33.31945°S 26.51933°E / -33.31945; 26.51933