National Arts Festival

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The annual National Arts Festival in Grahamstown is the longest running annual arts festival in South Africa and one of the largest in the country - and even in the world.

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 – between 19**- 19**, the Standard Bank National Arts Festival – from 19** -).

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



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, Grahamstown 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.

on 29 June 2018 Grahamstown was officially renamed to Makhanda, in memory of Xhosa warrior and prophet Makhanda ka Nxele.

In response to the Coronavirus (CORVID-19) pandemic of 2020, the management decided that the 46th National Arts Festival will 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, 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.


Main Festival

The Fringe

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.


The 1820 Settlers Monument

Also referred to as the 1820 Settlers National Monument, this is a memorial with a purpose The Monument was built to commemorate the contributions made by English-speaking Settlers to South Africa. It is unlike any other monument because, since its opening on 13 July 1974, this superbly equipped building has been a centre of creative thought and activity.

The Monument has become a meeting place for all South Africans. It was built to commemorate a worthy heritage and to encourage us to look forward with hope.

Amid reminders of the past, the building provides facilities for use by all South Africans, in particular activities which encourage the ideals of freedom of speech, social interaction and the use of English as a contact language.

This concept of a living Monument led to the establishment of highly successful educational and cultural projects. The Monument is now used by well over 200 000 people a year from all South African groups.

The 1820 Settlers Monument Theatre or Guy Butler Theatre

Rebuilt after the fire it was renamed the Guy Butler Theatre

This is one of the largest theatres in South Africa, with excellent acoustics, computerised lighting equipment, comfortable seating for 939, air conditioning and an orchestra pit to accommodate an orchestra of 50. Seating is flexible, thus there is Theatre Seating: 939 Dinners/Restaurant style seating: 400, Cocktails parties, etc : 1000, Orchestra pit for orchestra of 50

Awards at the Festival

Ovation Awards

Awards are given to productions on the Festival Fringe. The following 2018 Standard Bank Ovation Awards were awarded in 2018 at the Monument on the 8th July 2018

Gold Standard Bank Ovation Award winners MEDUMO YA BORWA (The best African Song and Dance thriller) J. BOBS LIVE: OFF THE RECORD – Jefferson Tshabalala SULLIED –Kirsti-Leigh Gresse

Silver Standard Bank Ovation Award winners BLUE PERIOD OF MILTON VAN DER SPUY – Hexagon Theatre THE REVLON GIRL – Search for Productions EMATHONGENI – Amandla Dança Teatro ZA MARENE – Marene HACHETMAN

Standard Bank Ovation Winners ANDY NDLAZILWANA DECEPTIVE DELIGHTS WITH STUART LIGHTBODY – Stuart Lightbody DUO KP – Peter Cartwright GARY THOMAS: MOODSHIP – Gary Thomas GASLIGHT – Laine Butler I’M HIV AND LIVING – Thando Mbulelo Mbanjwa LETTERS WITH MA’SISULU – FMA-Neo Motsatse MEDUSA INCARNATE – Kate Pinchuck in collaboration with The Furies NOMABOTWE SINGS PHOKWANE CHRONICLES – Galeshewe Theatre Organisation SAINTHOOD – Tiisetso Mashifane wa Noni SILKWORM – Contagious THE DEAD CHANT IN DEATH – Tshwane University of Technology THE ISLAND – Paxinos Productions & CYBTT TSWALO – Theatreduo UNONO OBUYILE – Lumunyano Dance Group

Standard Bank Ovation Encore Award winnersStandard Bank Ovation Encore Awards recognise merit and potential in works that can be developed. BEST FRIENDS/WORST ENEMIES CHOIR BOY INGOMA LIFT CLUB LOVE IN THE TIME OF REVOLUTION MOTSWADI NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION 


Ovations Award panelLink title Judges of the 2018 panel were: Tracey Saunders (convenor), Alon Nashman, Amelda Brand, Andrew Mulenga, Gopala Davies, Greg MacArthur, Hugo Theart, Kiroshan Naidoo, Luvuyo Yanta, Marcus Desando, Motlatji Ditodi, Namisa Mdlalose, Octavian Siau, Phemelo Helleman, Rafiek Mammon, Reggie Danster, Temba Ncetani and Thulani Nongogo.


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

See also Festival and Grahamstown Foundation

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