Like a resolute film director who knows exactly how he wants each scene to play out, Ashraf Johaardien, Executive Producer of the National Arts Festival (NAF) which takes place in Makhanda – formerly known as Grahamstown – has made his vision clear for this year: to deliver a programme that will allow audiences to experience various forms of the arts in single, multi-disciplinary offerings.

“This year, we aim to offer a wide variety of creative outlets, such as drama, dance, physical theatre, comedy, opera, music, jazz, art exhibitions, film, lectures, craft fairs, workshops, live screenings and a children’s arts festival,” says Johaardien.

He and his team also have the difficult task of making sure that the festival’s programme makes sense. Traditionally, audiences have appreciated being told which box a certain production or performance ticks, so they know what to expect. This has the potential to either spoil or enhance the experience.

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“More and more artists are doing away with traditional categorisation of their works, where these can clearly be seen as visual art, musical performance, film and others. They are blurring these lines and challenging discipline boundaries. Yes, it might leave some members of the audience confused, but it is largely a positive thing as the different forms of the arts  are intertwined even more. Lovers of theatre might be treated to a film screening and a musical performance in the same production,” he says.

“We also offer mini festivals within the main programme, such as the Eastern Cape Word Festival, and Spiritfest, a Grahamstown Churches’ initiative. As much as our reputation is based on us being a theatre- heavy festival, ironically, we are the largest multi-discipline festival on the African continent. We are a true cross-section of artists and audiences, instead of being a niche offering catering to only a few people.”

Johaardien is also aware of the long-standing criticism that the 44-year-old NAF has not done enough to include the various townships around Makhanda. One of the new initiatives will hopefully remain in place long after the last curtain call this year. “For the duration of the festival, the National Film and Video Foundation is assisting us in hosting a film festival that will take place in the township of Joza. Believe it or not, Grahamstown doesn’t have a cinema! We are in the process of approaching various donors in order to host a weekly screening in the township, after the festival is finished,” says Johaardien.

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“There will also be a number of arts specialists who will work with community members in workshops and skills-sharing sessions. This will culminate in a township street parade on 7 July, which will end at the Nombulelo Community Hall.”


  • The Creativate Digital Arts Festival, which highlights artists who are inspired by the playful possibilities of digital technology.
  • The Festival of Film & Ideas will offer thought-provoking discussions, workshops and experiences.
  • There’s a new home for the Village Green. The NAF’s popular market and meeting place is moving to Victoria Girls’ High School in Beaufort Street. This will bring the attraction closer to the centre of town and residential areas, making it more accessible to everyone.

The NAF runs from 28 June-8 July in Makhanda, in the Eastern Cape. Visit: to find out more.

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