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Saturday, July 2, 2011


For those unfamiliar with this annual series, every year artSMart Editor Caroline Smart heads for Grahamstown for the National Arts Festival. This will be her 25th Festival. She offers a short description of festival happenings, the weather and her impressions of certain events. Her theatre reviews – as well as those of other reviewers writing for artSMart – can be seen in separate articles:

This year, I decided to drive and to do it in one go, unlike last year when I stopped off at Kokstad to stay the night. Fortunately, I had the enjoyable company of fellow journalist Suzy Bell which meant I had companionship, fun and good conversation the whole 12 hours!

We set off at 5.15 on Friday morning. This was a good move because it got us out of Port Shepstone and on the road to Kokstad before the trucks and other heavy duty vehicles start hogging the hills and trying to pass each other. The weather was chilly but fine and sunny. The behaviour of drivers ranged from sensible to downright idiotic/dangerous – particularly the stretch between Mthatha and the top of the Kei Valley pass.

Generally the speed limit is 100 although nobody seems to take much notice of that! I think we could have got to Grahamstown about 40 minutes earlier if it hadn’t been for delays caused by roadworks.

This is the route we took: Durban – Port Shepstone – Kokstad – Mount Ayliff – Mt Frere and Qumbu, arriving at Mthatha seven hours later. Go through Mthatha and follow the signs to East London which take you into Nelson Mandela Road. There are good toilet facilities at the Hotel Savoy as you are leaving Mthatha.

Then it was time to keep our wits about us for traffic and wandering animals as far as the top of the Kei Valley Pass. After that, animals, fencing and - up to a certain point, drivers – seemed to get under control and it was a spectacular drive down to the river. This took about two hours.

Then up again and out of the valley, branching off to the right to Komga a short while after that. Then following the King Williamstown signs to Grahamstown – beware of the potholes! - reaching there three hours later.

Grahamstown was buzzing and the weather wasn’t too bad and we made for the Monument and the Media Room to collect our accreditation discs, tickets, etc. We were just in time to attend the official function to say farewell to the outgoing Ambassador to the Netherlands, Robert de Vos, who gave an impressive and visionary speech offering advice to those in the arts to actively pursue the process of collaborations.

Good to see James Ngcobo, former Durban actor now very much a major roleplayer in the performing arts industry in Johannesburg as well as Sershan Naidoo from the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund. Also former Durbanites Gita Pather and Jay Pather, the latter now being the chairman of the National Arts Festival committee.

Before I left the Monument to head for my husband’s cousin’s farm where I am staying, I popped into the toilet and was most impressed to see the improvements here. All modern and well-appointed, it made a welcome change. The Monument has moved into the 21st century!