The Eastern Cape town of Makhanda is dusting off the disappointment of two years without its annual flagship event, the live National Arts Festival, as it prepares to welcome back visitors for the cultural feast from 23 June – 3 July. The mood is one of excitement, but also anticipation, as the Festival enters a new chapter, in a new time.
Says National Arts Festival CEO, Monica Newton, “If enthusiasm is a yardstick, this is going to be a great Festival, but on the ground it’s difficult to predict what the turn out will ultimately be. We’re optimistic, but measuring our expectations, in these tough economic times. It’s very encouraging to see that the accommodation establishments across town are reporting brisk bookings and there is definitely activity at the box office, so it’s apparent that the hunger for a live, immersive experience is calling Festival-goers back.”
The Festival has, in previous years, brought around R90 million into the Eastern Cape city. For some, it’s a festive celebration but for many, there is an opportunity for income generation, either directly with the Festival or in surrounding businesses.
Says Makana Municipality Mayor, Yandiswa Vara, “We look forward to welcoming back the artists and cultural audiences who inject such positive, creative energy into the city during Festival time. The city has been preparing, and working hard with our partners in business and community, to ensure that the City is safe and clean for the event but also ongoingly, as we strive to reinvigorate Makhanda.”
Just over R18 million’s worth of road replacement and resurfacing work commenced in Makhanda in 2021, with a focus on the city centre and Joza suburb. Business has also been active in instigating changes, with internet fibre suppliers Vox Enterprise and supplier development partner, 51% black-owned EcoLogic, partnering with a local service provider to repair potholes in the city.
Makhanda Pick n Pay manager Blendon Windvogel says their business has been actively involved in improvements in the town such as fixing potholes and helping with food outreach and transport for the elderly.
Artists have also joined in to improve the city for visitors and residents. 2021 Standard Bank Young Artist for Performance Art, Gavin Krastin, has already begun performing his National Arts Festival piece, 12 Labours, which swaps the mythological masculine hero of war for modern heroes who commit acts of service in their communities. A group of brightly-coloured gnomes have been spotted planting verges and painting bus stops on weekends in the City.
Anticipated load-shedding over the weekend is set to add a layer of complexity to the programme schedule but the Festival has navigated load-shedding in previous years and some of the Festival’s venues are equipped with generators. Venues without generators will work with emergency lighting where possible or the shows will be rescheduled.
Makanda remains water-stressed and while the situation is stable, visitors are asked to conserve water carefully during their stay.