As the 2019 National Arts Festival comes to a close, perhaps it is the right time to explore some reflections on what was arguably the best festival under the current conditions. For me during the start of the National Arts Festival, I bumped into a group of Brazilians at the City Hall. A day later, I attended a function hosted by the Swedes. On Sunday 30 June, I enjoyed a show by the Chinese at the Sundowner at the Monument. Lastly, I was invited by the Consular General from Switzerland to a Jazz show that took place at one of the local restaurants. I am citing all these events to demonstrate the international character of the National Arts Festival. I am sure that I am not the only one who interacted with a number of international visitors during this festival. My view is that it is a misnomer to refer to the festival a National festival when in fact it is an International festival both in terms of its performers and its audiences.
In my welcome speech during the official opening of the National Arts Festival, I alluded to this International character of the National Arts Festival. I also spoke about the symbiotic relationship between Makhanda and the Festival. Namely, to say that the National Arts Festival cannot exist without Makhanda and that Makhanda cannot exist without the National Arts Festival. I am of the firm view that we need to rebrand the national arts festival to reflect its true nature and character namely that of being an International Arts Festival.
Is it not perhaps the right time to rename this festival as the Makhanda International Arts Festival (MIAF) for short?
I also listened to some leaders arguing on national television that the National Arts Festival is not accessible to the majority who live in Makhanda East. While acknowledging that there are some free shows that take place in Joza, they argued that the people cannot afford the taxi fare to the Village Green. This perception needs to be tested in my view because the people from this community come to town every day without the Festival being in town.
I think this perception is a response to a wrong question, namely that which says “what benefit is the festival to the majority who stay in the east of our city?”. The right question, in my view, ought to say: “What can the community members do as residents to benefit the most from the festival?”. I am raising this topic because I have seen some entrepreneurs from this very community selling some delicious traditional meals from their stalls in town and in the Village Green. I have also watched shows where a number of local artists from the same community were performing during this festival. These are the people from the same community who answered the right question that says what we can do to benefit the most from the festival.
I am also of the firm view that we need to revisit the narrative that seeks to define us as passive recipients of the festival to the one where we become active participants in the numerous economic opportunities that come with the festival.
The media can also play a role in changing this narrative by asking the question that says what can community members do to benefit from the festival instead of the question that says what the festival can do for the community.
As the 45th edition of this festival draws to a close, going into the next 45 years we need to ask different questions.
Hon. Executive Mayor Cllr. Mzukisi Mpahlwa