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National Art Festivals in South Africa

Updated on April 7, 2018
Outside the 1820 Settlers Monument
Outside the 1820 Settlers Monument | Source
Inside the Monument
Inside the Monument | Source
Night Sky Grahamstown
Night Sky Grahamstown | Source
Campsite Oudtshoorn
Campsite Oudtshoorn | Source
Cango Caves
Cango Caves | Source
Fire power display-Oudtshoorn
Fire power display-Oudtshoorn | Source

Its all about art!

National Arts Festivals in South Africa.

There are two major National Arts Festivals in South Africa; the Grahamstown National Arts Festival held in the first week of July and the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival held over the Easter Holidays in Oudtshoorn. The Grahamstown Festival features mainly English shows while the Oudtshoorn Festival features mainly Afrikaans shows.

In both festivals music, theatre and visual arts take centre stage. Then there are the "side shows" like street performances, food stalls and general sales stalls. Depending on your interest, there is always something for you.

Accommodation is available in both festivals at a variety of venues depending on your budget and preference. You can stay in hotels, bed and breakfast establishments, school hostels and camping. More camping seems to be available and used at the Oudtshoorn Festival than in Grahamstown. At both festivals it is important to book your accommodation early as the towns are literally over run with visitors from all over the country.

The surrounding areas make both festivals an ideal venue for a closer look at life in South Africa. Grahamstown has a strong history as an 1820 Settlers Town and also offers great Game Reserves in the vicinity, including the well known and upmarket Shamwari Game Reserve and the Addo Elephant Park. Oudtshoorn has the world famous Cango Caves and several Osrtrich Farms nearby as well as some really great wineries and fruit farms. The Garden Route, with towns like George, Mossel Bay and Knysna on the coast, are just across the Outeniqua Mountains. The areas are both Malaria free, making them popular areas for overseas visitors to visit. While Grahamstown is a University Town, Oudtshoorn has an important Army Base.

Grahamstown offers more international artists and has a strong jazz and spiritual section. Oudtshoorn obviously offers more South African Afrikaans artists in music, comedy and theatre. The Firepower display at the Oudtshoon festival proved to be one of the high lights for us this year. Here the Army Artillery School put on a show at their shooting range, of various weapons being fired, including machine guns, bazookas, rocket launchers and cannons.

As the Grahamstown Festival is held in the middle of the South African winter, temperatures can be extreme and so winter woolies are often needed. The temperature in Oudtshoorn is more moderate in autumn, with great Karoo evenings under African Skies.

Both festivals offer some shows in the other language. We attended several shows in Oudtshoorn this year that featured the English language. Songs from Ella Fitzgerald and the one man show called State Fracture were two. Then Babbelagtig was a miming/circus that introduced us to a new language, without words, and proved to be very amusing. One of our favourite shows was the well known Afrikaans singer David Kramer's, "Platteland". He sang some of his songs and also introduced two excellent up and coming singers.

At Grahamstown, more and more music presentations are being introduced showcasing artists from other South African languages groups and even some from other African countries. This being the Eastern Cape, Xhosa is becoming more obvious. Dance and choirs are emphasised more in Grahamstown and there is certainly a wider choice of entertainment, both in the main programme and in the "fringe" presentations. Grahamstown always seems to features one or two well known International entertainers in Ballet or Music.

Both festivals have a large number of shows for young people and also present workshops for schools and up and coming performers.

To compare the two festivals is really difficult as, while they offer much that is similar, they also each have their own particular ethos and emphasis. For South Africans who are bilingual, I would strongly recommend a visit to both festivals, if for no other reason than that they each emphasise a different part of our history and heritage. For the overseas visitor, it would really also be interesting to visit either for the same reasons. The surrounding attractions make either an important area to visit on a South African itinerary.

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