GRAHAMSTOWN 2006 -IN RETROSPECT
The annual National Arts Festival kicked off with much fanfare in the sleepy town of Grahamstown, with the Minister of Arts and Culture Dr Pallo Jordan setting the tone for the nine days of artistic extravaganza.
There’s nothing that says to the visitor that this is a ‘national’ arts festival, but maybe an Eastern Cape arts indaba with national funders as the National Arts Council of South Africa (NAC) came aboard in a big way, with NAC's Andrew Nkadimeng even gracing the showing of The Cupid of Tyume, a play written by Monde Zondeki and Vuyisile Msila. The festival is the best advert for Eastern Cape cultural diversity, if ever there’s diversity in one people who are so obsessed with themselves and their rural roots to the point that they tell nothing about the Xhosa middle class family living in Gonubie (East London) instead of Libode or Qunu.
The locals seen at the KFC and other outlets look rushed in their eating manners. There’s nothing that says to you that they are used to these places in the absence of the thousands of visitors from as far as Stellenbosch.
This is a town where you don’t get your average "heita daar my bra" kind of a darkie, even though since the past two years the festival audience has grown from the previously below 50% black participation to approximately 95%.
I asked a rights activist whether he thinks his politics would have taken a 180 degrees spiral if he studied here in the 1990s and his response was, "we shouldn’t glorify poverty. If any institution would’ve charted a route divorced from poverty, it would’ve deserved being applauded".
He was dodging the simple fact that the institution’s blacks are mostly ‘coconuts’ who aspire to be unblack while giving political credibility to an institution that is celebrating nothing post-’94.
A radio commentator interviewed said that most shows staged here are not successful at the box-office because the corporate sponsors have suddenly distanced themselves from it, "You go to the Klein Karoo National Festival and you see all these cellular companies sponsoring shows, but here they are like, these 95% people don’t even have buying power". He cited Macufe as being more inclusive than the Grahamstown one.
What makes it so great is the buzz of the flea market sellers, it is intoxicating and the music is everywhere. And you get to meet people you never knew existed.
Nighlife paints a picture of a people divided across wealth lines. There are your predominantly white clientele clubs that charge a cover fee and your ordinary clubs that only reserve admission. The beers obviously cost different with only marihuana being a common drug of choice amongst the festivalgoers.
For what it’s worth the national government, in partnership with the all time sponsor being Standard Bank need to come seriously aboard to make Grahamstown or National Arts Festival a truly inclusive festival. Maybe starting with provincial preliminary festivals being the feeders for the national one, instead of it being an issue of affordability. This festival is very expensive to attend and very difficult to access audiences.