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Makhanda gets ready for the National Arts Festival

Published on 18 June 2019

The banners, posters and flags are going up as Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) prepares to host the 45th National Arts Festival, 11 days of an amazing feast of arts, culture and free entertainment. This year the Festival is on from 27 June to 7 July.

Local authorities, private business, civic organisations and special project task teams have galvanised around the event as the city readies itself for the influx of visitors, which traditionally boosts the local economy by R94-million.

Safe and comfortable

“The core focus has been ensuring a safe, sustained supply of water. We have suffered an ongoing drought which has put strain on the supply, exacerbated by an aging water system,” says Festival CEO Tony Lankester. “There is a long-term plan in place to upgrade the overall system, but we’ve had to think more short-term and put plans in place to make sure our visitors and residents are safe and comfortable during the Festival.”

The plan, in development for the past nine months, involves working closely with Makana municipality, both the Provincial and National Departments of Water and Sanitation, MBB Consulting Engineers, Amatola Water and Rhodes University.

“We will be monitoring the water situation on an hour-by-hour basis and have a response plan in place to bring water into Makhanda should we need to. Our main Festival hub, the Monument, is being supplied by borehole and Rhodes University and many of the guest houses and restaurants have independent supplies and storage facilities,” Lankester says.

Be waterwise

Festival venues will have water for sale, either in bottled form or at refill stations for visitors to fill their own bottles. “While the supply should be stable, we still urge visitors to practice responsible water usage – as we are seeing in various cities around the country – and to stick to the 50 litres a day per person target that the Municipality has set,” Lankester said.

Says Lankester: “Fortunately, the arts are not generally a water-intensive activity and, it being the middle of winter, we don’t foresee a larger than usual spike in our in-Festival period water demand.”

Lankester also pointed to a recent agreement between Eskom and the Municipality that will ensure a steady supply of electricity to the City for the foreseeable future. “That arrangement was largely brokered by the local business community – and has been made an order of the High Court, so we’re confident that it will be upheld by all parties,” he said.

The residents and businesses of the town have been working hard to prepare for the Festival, topping up the municipal services with additional cleaning and greening and assisting with road and pavement repairs.

“I am always amazed by the people of this town. Everyone jumps on board to ensure that we are looking our best and are ready to receive the Festival’s visitors. It’s a good feeling to know we have their support and I am proud to be a part of this community,” says Lankester. He continues, “It is, more than ever, a time where we need the visitors of the Festival, not only for the economic boost and temporary employment that it brings, but also because we are looking forward to the positive energy and excitement that the Festival infuses Makhanda with.”


Long-time Festival partner Standard Bank has also come on board to assist in raising funds for a longer term solution for the schools in Makhanda’s townships which have been hard-hit by the water shortages. The project, called #snapforwater, assists in raising funds for the Amanzi Yimpilo Project (Water is Life) and will assist around 1200 children between the ages of 0-5 years old by providing a sustainable source of clean water for drinking, basic hygiene (washing hands and brushing teeth) and well as cooking in day care centres in Makhanda.

  • Festival-goers and armchair arts lovers can donate to the fund via Snapscan by clicking on the Snapscan barcode.

“The countdown to welcome our visitors has begun. The stages, halls and galleries will be filled with great work and we think it will be more meaningful than ever to take a deep dive into the formidable creativity and innovation that South African, and international, artists will offer us this year. If you haven’t made your plans it’s never too late, there’s always room for one more and nearby towns like Bathurst, Kenton-on-Sea and Port Alfred are all within a manageable distance to the action,” says Lankester.

Top shows to look forward to at this year’s Festival include Brett Bailey’s new epic performance SAMSON, Irish comedian Dylan Moran on his global DR COSMOS tour, the internationally acclaimed DRAKENSBERG BOYS CHOIR, 365 degree virtual reality play FROGMAN, music from MAFIKIZOLO, FRESHLYGROUND and the SPRINGBOK NUDE GIRLS and much more.

  • Browse the 2019 National Arts Festival programme or have the printed version delivered to your door via The Festival app is another way to enjoy effortless browsing and booking on-the-go. Available for Android and Apple’s IOS, search for ‘National Arts Festival’ to download it.