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Thursday, July 4, 2024


Report from the Festival office:

The 50th edition of the National Arts Festival felt momentous. The programme was jam-packed with productions and special moments to reflect on the last half-century and interrogated some of the complexities of our present and future.

People gathered and connected, artists brought their best and shared generously with us all. Ticket sales reflected this too, with a number of sold-out shows and productions. We had rich conversations, reminisced and made new memories that we hope we’ll reflect on in the next 50 years. As our visitors from across the globe and the country make their way home, they’re left with new connections, inspired by new ideas, and feeling moved and provoked – what we strive for.

The opening weekend of the Festival was a treat for music lovers as Afrosoul and jazz sensation Zoë Modiga (Standard Bank Young Artist for Music 2023) exploded onto the stage, and award-winning musician Mandisi Dyantyis treated fans to an hour-long curtain call. The closing weekend saw no shortage of musical magic, with 72-year-old Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse bringing audiences to their feet at two packed performances.

Dance was also a huge hit on the opening weekend, with Vuyani Dance Theatre’s sold-out Cion: Requiem of Ravél’s Bolero serving deeply moving and exceptionally polished performances. Choreographer-performer Alan Parker and director-performer Gerard Bester’s Sometimes I have to lean in… wowed The Critter’s Mike Loewe who called it “a gutting dance performance that puts its hand into your emotional chest and rummages around”.

Loewe was similarly blown away by Dis My KANT presented by 2023 Standard Bank Young Artist for Performance Art Angel-Ho (now known as Ange Madame), calling it the “most unlikely, most unusual and most entertaining micro-stadium show ever experienced in my 32 National Art Festivals”.

News24’s Joel Ontong also provided a glowing review, writing: “Dis My KANT is a life-affirming and joyous celebration of vogue, ball culture, drag performance, camp, and self-expression. Ange presents an unapologetic vision of themselves that is utterly inspiring, both from a personal and artistic perspective.”

Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance 2023, Lorin Sookool’s introspective double-bill Two Sides of SkoIlie’s Coin (Woza Wenties! and 3 Mense Phakathi) received positive feedback from Laetitia Pople in Beeld and Rosa-Karoo Loewe in the Herald. Both reviewers were drawn to the inner and outer worlds that Sookool seems to effortlessly create through dance, using her body to shift narratives and rebuild an identity that was “squashed and discarded for straight lines and colonial precision”, as Rosa-Karoo Loewe writes.

Stephané Conradie’s Wegwysers Deur Die Blinkuur, which was hosted in the Monument building, was also a hit, with festival-goers selling out walkabouts to ensure they could understand more about this intricate and deeply personal work directly from the artist. Art lovers leaned in closely with fascination as they tried to understand how each sculpture had been constructed, and the stories behind each chosen and reimagined trinket.

Embedded in another strong jazz programme for the Festival, 2023 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz Darren English was a balm for the soul, with an uplifting performance that epitomised the future of the South African jazz scene. CityLife Art’s Edward Tsumele writes: “English just demonstrated the elements in his repertoire and performance art that clearly have made the panel responsible for selecting the Standard Bank Young Artists to declare him the best young jazz artist in the country for 2023.”

This year’s theatre programme was intensely moving, with many playwrights and actors opting to give voice to and mirror current issues in society. MoMo Matsunyane, 2023 Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre, led the charge with Ka Lebitso La Moya. Matsunyane opened what reviewer Mbali Mbatha deemed a spiritual can of worms in the satirical telling of an all-too-familiar tale of a priest who isn’t what he appears to be on the surface.

To celebrate their tenth anniversary, Empatheatre (Neil Coppen, Mpume Mthombeni and Dr Dylan McGarry) brought two intensely moving research-based works Lalela uLwandle and The Last Country.

The Red on the Rainbow (presented by Diartsonakeng) was Monageng 'Vice' Motshabi's beautifully presented and thought-provoking dissection of the rainbow nation 30 years into democracy. Read Joel Ontong’s News 24 review.

Using the myth of Orpheus as a basis to relook at how we treat those who are different from us, Third World Bunfight's The Stranger was rich with ceremony and metaphor.

The Festival tabled a bumper visual arts offering this year, with exhibitions commemorating various histories and milestones and looking at the future of arts in the country.

A Luta Continua: Reflecting on 30 years of democracy through the Constitutional Court Art Collection, presented by the Constitutional Court Art Collection, exhibited an array of artists from this collection so intrinsically linked to our country's 30-year-old democracy. The exhibition will travel to the William Humphreys Art Gallery and KNSA Gallery in Durban next. Read Cue Editor Devon Koen’s interview with Justice Albie Sachs.

Watch the National Arts Festival's social media for more news on where to see works that are travelling on from #NAF2024.

Both the National Arts Festival's Schools Programme and the National Youth Jazz Festival enjoyed robust attendance with high school learners enjoying close contact with the arts, artists and musicians; an enriching and diverse opportunity to engage and explore. These learners are the artists, producers, sponsors and brand managers of tomorrow and we are glad to be meeting them early!

The National Arts Festival and Rhodes University (RU) partnered on Cue once again this year, giving budding arts journalists the opportunity to engage in the production of a daily publication under the guidance of editor Devon Koen. Over 11 days, they wrote reviews, conducted interviews, and collected vox pops. This content has been collated online.

The Festival also initiated a similar partnership with RU’s photojournalism department, with the support of Standard Bank. Four student photographers were mentored by Alet Pretorius over the Festival period, and guided in capturing the story and essence of the Festival visually.

If you’re looking for more – or had FOMO during the Festival – you can still enjoy the vFringe. Born out of NAF’s COVID lockdown pivot, the vFringe is an ongoing platform for digital works. The vFringe runs until the end of July 2024. Catch it here


If you’re a budding playwright, you could be bringing your play to the National Arts Festival in 2025. The National Arts Festival and HEINEKEN Beverages have opened the call for entries into the National Playwright Competition. The competition is open to unpublished playwrights over 18 years of age, writing in any language from anywhere in South Africa. To enter, complete the form:

Five finalists will be selected and mentored to complete their play script. One winner will have their work produced and presented at the National Arts Festival.

We would like to thank everyone who came to the Festival for sharing their thoughts and ideas and imagining a future where the arts continue to be integral to our development as a nation. Thank you to everyone who was cheering us on from home, sending encouragement from the sidelines. Thank you to our hard-working team and their patient families, the town of Makhanda and the ongoing and generous support of the Festival's partners: the National Lotteries Commission, the Eastern Cape Government, Department of Sport, Arts and Culture and Standard Bank. We would also like to acknowledge Heineken Beverages, the National Arts Council, Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency, Eastern Cape Development Corporation, Sarah Baartman District Municipality, Makana Municipality and Business and Arts South Africa as well as the Social Employment Fund administered by the Industrial Development Corporation.