Top 10 must see events at Makhanda Festival

The annual National Arts Festival held in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) is back for an in-person festival after a two-year break due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The 11-day festival takes place in Makhanda — its home since 1974 — and runs from 23 June until 3 July.

Synonymous with dance, music and theatre, the National Arts Festival (colloquially known as Makhanda Festival) has attracted thousands of arts and culture lovers across the continent. Immersing themselves in the biggest celebration of arts in the African continent, culture lovers are descending to the Eastern Cape to revel in music, discourse and art.

Here are 10 things you can look forward to at this year’s Makhanda Festival: 

  1. Standard Bank Young Artists Awards: The awards 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. Previous notable winners in the past have been Johnny Clegg 1989 (music), Nduduzo Makhathini 2015 (music), Mary Sibande 2013 (visual Arts), Hlengiwe Lushaba 2006 (dance), Deon Opperman 1992 (drama) and Sam Nhlengethwa 1994 (visual arts), among others. 
  1. Celebrating 16 years in the comedy industry, veteran stand-up comedian Chris Mapane brings his first ever one-man show to the festival. The show promises to be filled with an abundance of his hilarious life stories.
  1. Join award winning musicians Amanda Black, Bongeziwe Mabandla and Ringo Madlingozi for a one night only concert. 
  1. Marikana 10 years on — Marikana and the law: A discussion that centres on the role of the law and the Marikana Commission in locating the truth about what happened at the Marikana massacre and the restoration of justice for those most affected and their communities. There are many other curated events to honour the massacre in Marikana – the Marikana: Ten Years On Exhibition by Mail & Guardian’s Paul Botes and Niren Tolsen; as well as an excerpted 15-minute screening of Strike A Rock, followed by a panel discussion facilitated by curator, Zodwa Tutani. The panel explores themes including mothering, unwaged labour and the effects of political mobilisation on families.
  1. The Cape Town Opera: Winners of the 2013 International Opera Awards “Chorus of the Year”, the Cape Town Opera Chorus will perform a new one-hour showcase of African and African American spirituals.
  1. The National Jazz Festival will feature performances by Afropop and South African groove musician AusTebza, who rose to fame as the bass guitar player for the renowned musician Hip Hop Pantsula. Led by Cape Town saxophonist Justin Bellairs, a jam session will form part of this year’s National Jazz Festival. A unique selection of artists will be collaborating and learning about each other’s music. Electric bass player Benjamin Jephta, Amsterdam based saxophonist Bernard van Rossum and accomplished jazz saxophonist Mthunzi Mvubu, will be among the musicians on the jazz programme. 
  1. The Spiritfest Programme is the Grahamstown Churches Initiative in the National Arts Festival. Spiritfest exists to glorify God and to celebrate the arts in the context of the Christian faith. There will be programmes featuring praise and worship from various church groups, a prayer walk, meditations, performance from the Grahamstown Circuit Choir, and much more. 
  1. Chart topping Cape Town born group GoodLuck is also among the top performers at the festival. GoodLuck is a group of live-electronic musicians, pop producers, songwriters, entrepreneurs and philanthropists. As one of the country’s most successful exports, the band has been touring the world since 2013 with a clear focus to use their music as a force for good. Trio Ben, Jules and Tim have performed with international artists such as Pharrell Williams, Groove Armada, Martin Garrix, Lost Frequencies, Basement Jaxx, Jungle and more. 
  1. Be Moved is a dance performance that features 14 extremely talented dancers performing a collection of masterfully choreographed pieces in various styles, ranging from lyrical to contemporary and jazz. The dancers are members of Starlight Studio’s specialised training extension programme. In 2018 the group was voted as one of the top five dance groups on The Fringe by Cue Magazine.
  1. Take a break from the shows and visit the Village Green Fair. The market will host about 300 top-quality crafters, traders, food vendors and artists. The reinvigorated Village Green has multiple trading zones, performance stages, a family zone as well as exhibitions. 

Enjoy more than 500 local and international artists sharing and expressing viewpoints through art, dance and music. For those unable to be in Makhanda, the Fringe has you covered. This is all video on demand (VOD), allowing you to view performances from the comfort of your home. VOD can be accessed any time during the festival. 

For more information on The National Arts Festival or ticket sales, visit their website at

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Gugulethu Tshabalala
Gugulethu Tshabalala, is a multi-talented creative and jewellery designer with a background in public relations. She believes there is an artist in all of us and hopes to evoke emotion utilising different mediums.

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