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From environmental to social, Justice and Hope feature prominently at the National Arts Festival this year

Published on 29 April 2024

While no two National Arts Festivals are ever the same, each offers the opportunity to engage with thought-provoking works that reflect a mirror on society. These experiences act as catalysts, allowing us to shift our views and behaviours and begin seeing societal change. 

Over the last 50 years, the Festival has seen many such groundbreaking productions pass through its halls and stages. The 2024 National Arts Festival, which takes place from 20 to 30 June, will be no different. The Curated Programme features a rich offering this year, across a diversity of themes and mediums. One of these themes is Justice and Hope, which spotlights works that query and present new theories about justice, both environmental and social. 


Left: Lalela uLwandle – Empatheatre | Centre: The Last Country – Empatheatre | Right: The Stranger – Third World Bunfight


Empatheatre, which employs a research-based methodology for creating works that tackle complexity, celebrates its tenth anniversary with a retrospective of two works. Lalela uLwandle (featuring Alison Cassels, Mpume Mthombeni and Rory Boothwhich) has travelled internationally and tackles issues of justice for those who live with and from the ocean. It’s also the first theatre play to be submitted as evidence in a court in South Africa. The Last Country (cast includes Mpume Mthombeni, Philisiwe Twijnstra, Nompilo Maphumulo and Zintle Bobi), which explores the stories of women migrants hailing from the DRC, Zimbabwe, Somalia and rural KwaZulu-Natal. 

Third World Bunfight premieres their new work, The Stranger; a meditative, ritualistic performance work based on the myth of Orpheus, continuing Brett Bailey‘s exploration of the intersections between ancient myth and contemporary realities. Set in a dystopian contemporary town: humdrum, grinding, materialistic and bigoted, a gifted musician arrives from across the border or from another world. His music is transformational and reveals an underlying harmony in the universe. Written, created, directed and designed by Bailey, it features musical direction by Nkosenathi Koela.

Grappling with the ideologies of liberty, equality and fraternity, Sibikwa Arts Centre’s 1789 is a cutting-edge new work bravely transforming the theatre space, breaking the stage and audience divide. Featuring 18th-century French-styled costumes and Parisian scenography, designed by Wilhelm Disbergen, the production stays true to the original work of commentary and satire developed by Ariane Mnouchkine and the Théâtre du Soleil in the early 1970s (around the time of the birth of the NAF). It is co-directed by acclaimed theatre-makers Phyllis Klotz and Smal Ndaba and supported by The French Institute of South Africa.

Ghostprints for the Abyssal Plains / The Abyssal Zone is a visual artwork by Christine Dixie, with sound installation by Corinne Cooper, that will reside in the depths of the Monument. The installation explores the very dark, deep and silent abyssal zone and its glittering minerals – needed for batteries, wind turbines and electric vehicles. 

Continuing in the visual arts, A Luta Continua: Reflecting on 30 years of democracy through Constitutional Court Art Collection will travel from the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg – the first comprehensive showing of the Constitutional Court Art Collection outside its home. The Collection captures the spirit of a nation moving from racist oppression to realising a progressive constitutional democracy and in many ways, is symbolic of the country’s aspirations for human rights, liberty and dignity for all within constitutional democracy.

A collaboration between Nelson Mandela University and the University of Pretoria Museums, land/lines is a cross-gallery exhibition that will be housed in both Gqeberha’s Bird Street Gallery and the Monument in Makhanda. With the expanse of the province as its backdrop, land/lines emphasises the depth of the historical, geographical, cultural and spiritual significance of the Eastern Cape.

Further explorations of, and within, the environment, run through Nature is Louder – Street Art Intervention which activates Makhanda’s public spaces with a collaborative, site-specific and large-scale public mural by a dynamic crew of Makhanda-based artists led by Mook Lion


Left: Ghostprints for the Abyssal Plains / The Abyssal Zone – Christine Dixie | Right: Nature is Louder – Makhanda-based artists led by Mook Lion

Crashing through the barriers of time and space, Darkroom Contemporary’s dance work ULTRA is an energetic current of possibility and a prompt to push boundaries.

This is just a taste of what’s in store from 20 to 30 June 2024 in Makhanda. Tickets go on sale on 29 April. For more from the National Arts Festival’s Curated Programme, click here.

There’s always something innovative and unexpected on the Fringe, experimental works on the Arena Programme, or a magical experience awaiting on our Family Programme.