The Eastern Cape Ensemble performed at the opening of the National Arts Festival 2024. Picture: Mark Wessels
The Eastern Cape Ensemble performed at the opening of the National Arts Festival 2024. Picture: Mark Wessels

Drums rolled and choirs sang out as Makanda celebrated the opening of the 50th National Arts Festival on 21 June, 2024. A sense of national and regional pride resounded from the dignitaries who attended the milestone festival ceremony, held in the very same auditorium where it was first launched in 1974.

Over 300 shows, exhibitions and events will be presented across the town. To view the programme and book tickets, visit

Enduring partnerships

The festival’s home town of Makhanda is also the childhood home of the National Arts Festival’s Deputy Chair, writer and academic, Dr Siphiwo Mahala. He remarked on the journey of the event from a gathering founded to preserve British language and culture to “one of the most inclusive and diverse arts festival’s in the world.” Mahala said this was possible in part because of the shared values and enduring partnership of the festival’s partners.

Earlier in the day Makhanda’s Mayor, Cllr Yandiswa Vara outlined some of the progress being made to tackle the historic problems in the town.

The Festival’s 50th year also marks a milestone for Standard Bank, who celebrate 40 years of their association with the showcase this year and an ongoing trajectory of supporting the arts. Said Standard Bank’s Head of Sponsorships, Desiree Pooe, “The National Arts Festival has consistently charted a progressive path at the most seminal points of our history.
Promoting diversity, inclusivity and critical engagement event when it was contentious to do so – showing there is a viable alternative.”

She paid tribute to the role of the arts in society, “Mindful of the immense work ahead in making meaningful contributions to the development of South Africa and the continent, the arts remind us that this has always been a restless place and that we have the capacity to create better, inclusively and sustainably.”

Telling our stories
The festival’s Eastern Cape home is a significant part of its character, Acting Premier of the Eastern Cape, MEC Mlungisi Mvoko, highlighted this 50th anniversary, “The National Arts Festival has stood the test of time, telling our stories, reflecting on our past, and imagining our future. Artists who have performed on these stages truly reflect our diverse country and the wealth of talent in our artistic community. From jazz to theatre, performance art to dance, visual arts to comedy, and everything in between, the National Arts Festival has always presented an experience; a unique moment in time that can never be repeated.”

Noting that the Sarah Baartman District Municipality has been a steadfast partner for 25 years, Executive Mayor, Councillor de Vos, thanked all Festival partners for their commitment to the arts and the development of the Eastern Cape and commended management on the achievement.

What: National Arts Festival 2024
When: Until 30 June, 2024
Where: Makanda, Eastern Cape, South Africa