National Arts Festival

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The annual National Arts Festival in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) is the longest running annual arts festival in South Africa and one of the largest in the country - and even in the world. It is a Partner Project of the Grahamstown Foundation.

Also known as the National Festival of the Arts, but best known to everyone, and most often simply referred to as, the Grahamstown Festival, the event has - for many years since its inception in 1974 - been officially named according to its sponsor at the particular time, e.g. the Five Roses National Arts Festival (1974-1983) and the Standard Bank National Arts Festival (1984-2001).

Since 2002, however, it has become known simply as the National Arts Festival (or NAF), (through often still the Grahamstown National Arts Festival).

(On 29 June 2018, Grahamstown was officially renamed Makhanda, in memory of Xhosa warrior and prophet Makhanda ka Nxele).


The Festival began in the city of Grahamstown in 1974 as a project of the 1820 Settlers Foundation (later called the Grahamstown Foundation) and has since grown to be one of the leading arts festivals in southern Africa and in the world. In 2002, the Festival was renamed the National Arts Festival, and is now an independent Section 21 company. Its objectives are to deliver excellence; encourage innovation and development in the arts by providing a platform for both established and emerging South African artists; create opportunities for collaboration with international artists; and build new audiences.

In response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic of 2020, the management decided that the 46th National Arts Festival would be a virtual, online, festival, as response to the restrictions posed by the Coronavirus lockdown in South Africa and the devastating impact on the theatre artists, audiences and industry in general. Held from 25 June to 5 July 2020, the portal to the experience was the NAC website, from where audiences were able to experience streamed, live performances, pre-recorded concerts, virtual, immersive exhibitions, poetry and stage readings, interactive workshops and webinars.

The 2021 National Arts Festival was a hybrid Festival, with live performances in Makhanda (called Makhanda Live, 8-18 July 2021) and an Online National Arts Festival (during the month of July). The National Arts Festival also presented a series of shows, in partnership with Standard Bank, in cities across the country from 17 June to 4 July 2021. The collection, called Standard Bank Presents, gave audiences across the country a taste of what the Festival has to offer.

In 2022, the National Arts Festival returned to its traditional live format in Makhanda.

National Arts Festival Committee

In 2003, the Committee was Mannie Manim (Chairman), Sibongile Khumalo (Vice Chairman), Marthinus Basson (Theatre), Richard Cock (Music), Ingrid Fiske (Winter School), Vicki Karras (Dance), Mokale Koapeng (Music), Ramolao Makhene (Theatre), Tale Motsepe (Fringe and Studio), Lara Foot Newton (Theatre), Sydney Selepe (Visual Art), Trevor Steele Taylor (Film), Andrew Verster (Visual Art) and Peter Voges (Student Theatre).


The National Arts Festival has been structured around a Main Festival Programme and a Fringe Festival Programme.

Main Festival Programme

The Main Festival Programme is a curated programme. Over the years, the Main Festival Programme has featured several disciplines or aspects, including:

The Fringe Festival Programme

The Fringe Festival Programme is an open festival. Any artists are invited to apply to perform or exhibit. During the run of the Fringe Festival, the programme has showcased several art-forms, including:

  • Cabaret
  • Children's Arts Festival
  • Children's Choice
  • Dance and Physical Theatre
  • Exhibitions
  • Music
  • Music Theatre
  • Theatre
  • Movies
  • Tours
  • Wordfest

Other projects, sub-festivals and events


Think!Fest is a series of seminars, discussions and debates that are hosted during the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.


Masicule, an annual event that was created by the National Arts Festival to celebrate voice – and the city of Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) itself.

Eastern Cape Showcase

The Eastern Cape Showcase is a presentation of jazz music, dance culture and traditions of the Eastern Cape at the National Arts Festival.


The National Arts Festival is presented in a wide range of spaces in and around Makhanda, including venues at the 1820 Settlers Monument, Rhodes University theatres and lecture theatres, school halls, churches, church halls and chapels, museum galleries, hotels, community halls, cinemas and restaurants.

Awards at the Festival

There are several awards associated with the National Arts Festival, including the Standard Bank Young Artist Awards (formerly the Five Roses Young Artist Awards, presented by the committee of the National Arts Festival to recognise emerging young South African artists); the Sanlam Literary Award; and the Standard Bank Ovation Awards (which are awards given to productions on the Fringe Festival Programme).


Boltt J. Fire damage to the 1820 Settlers' National Monument. Grahamstown Foundation Media Office, April, 1996.

Butler G. 1820 Settlers Monument Neville, T. More lasting than bronze: a story of 1820 Settlers.


Wikipedia entry at

National Arts Festival Souvenir Programme, 2003

Pacey, B. 2011. 'The role of arts festivals in developing and promoting street theatre in South Africa', South African Theatre Journal, 25:3, 227-244

See also Festival and Grahamstown Foundation

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