Drums rolled and choirs sang out as Makanda celebrated the opening of the 50th National Arts Festival yesterday.

A contagious sense of national and regional pride resounded from the dignitaries who attended the milestone Festival ceremony held in the very same auditorium where the Festival was first launched in 1974.

The Festival’s home town of Makhanda is also the childhood home of the National Arts Festival’s Deputy Chair, writer and academic, Dr Siphiwo Mahala.

He remarked on the journey of the Festival from a gathering founded to preserve British language and culture to “one of the most inclusive and diverse arts festival’s in the world.”

Mahala said this was possible in part because of the shared values and enduring partnership of the Festival’s partners.

Earlier in the day Makhanda’s Mayor, Cllr Yandiswa Vara outlined some of the progress being made to tackle the historic problems in the town.

This included hiring equipment to treat and manage sewerage and making significant progress on the upgrading of the James Kleynhans Water Treatment Works (JK), as well as extensive repairs to burst pipes, that has seen Makhanda receive daily water in recent months, with a view to restoring a 24 hour water supply by the end of 2024.

Multiple roads, particularly those in the CBD and on taxi routes were being rehabilitated and upgraded in partnership with SANRAL and the Office of the Premier.

Through the NAF’s Social Employment Fund (SEF) project, dumping was being better managed and repeat dumping grounds have been planted and beautified.

The Festival’s 50th year also marks a milestone for Standard Bank, who celebrate 40 years of their association with the National Arts Festival this year and an ongoing trajectory of supporting the arts.

Said Standard Bank’s Head of Sponsorships, Desiree Pooe, “The National Arts Festival has consistently charted a progressive path at the most seminal points of our history. Promoting diversity, inclusivity and critical engagement event when it was contentious to do so showing there is a viable alternative.” She paid tribute to the role of the arts in society, “Mindful of the immense work ahead in making meaningful contributions to the development of South Africa and the continent, the arts remind us that this has always been a restless place and that we have the capacity to create better, inclusively and sustainably.

The Festival’s Eastern Cape home is a significant part of its character, Acting Premier of the Eastern Cape, MEC Mlungisi Mvoko, warmly congratulated the Festival on its 50th anniversary, “The National Arts Festival has stood the test of time, telling our stories, reflecting on our past, and imagining our future. Artists who have performed on these stages truly reflect our diverse country and the wealth of talent in our artistic community. From jazz to theatre, performance art to dance, visual arts to comedy, and everything in between, the National Arts Festival has always presented an experience; a unique moment in time that can never be repeated.”

Noting that the Sarah Baartman District Municipality has been a steadfast partner for 25 years, Executive Mayor, Councillor de Vos, thanked all Festival partners for their commitment to the arts and the development of the Eastern Cape and commended the Festival management on the remarkable achievement.

In closing, Councillor de Vos officially opened the 2024 National Arts Festival and extended his best wishes for a truly successful event to audiences and artists.

The National Arts Festival continues until 30 June, presenting over 300 shows, exhibitions and events across the town of Makhanda.


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