Think!Fest – a highlight of the national arts festival in Grahamstown

Throughout the city’s history, the sons and daughters of Grahamstown have, in more than one instance, been pioneers that challenge the norms of their generation. In recognition of 200 years of this heritage, the Think!Fest programme of the National Arts Festival, running from 28 June to 8 July, is designed around provocative themes that consider this legacy.

This year’s Free Thinkers, who will place on the public agenda big, important issues they think need airing, are Ferial Haffajee (Editor-in-Chief of the City Press newspaper) and Xolela Mangcu (columnist for Business Day and the Sunday Independent).

Some of the Big Debates on the Think!Fest agenda include Evolution In Black And White (presented by the Palaeontological Scientific Trust, with Andrea Leenen, Greg Melvill-Smith, Robert Blumenschine, Craig Morris), The End Of Model C Schools As We Know Them? (presented by the Legal Resources Centre with Jonathan Godden, Eusebius McKaiser and David Sewry), Cultural Boycotts – Are They Effective? (chaired by Anthea Garman, with J. Brooks Spector, Iain ‘Ewok’ Robinson, Mike van Graan, Robert van Niekerk and Salim Vally) and Arts Writing/Writing Arts (with Chris Thurman, Sean O’Toole, Percy Mabandu, Anthea Buys and Bruce Dennill

One of the key themes  of Think!Fest this year is Being & Belonging in South Africa, exploring what it means to be a citizen in a democracy still finding its feet. The Rhodes University School of Journalism and Media Studies research project into citizenship and media (funded by the Mellon Foundation) hosts a series of talks and panel discussions in which thes e questions are opened up and debated by a range of experts in both media and activism. The opening lecture will be by Nobel Peace prize nominee (2004) Zackie Achmat, most widely known as founder and a chairperson of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and for his work on the behalf of people living with HIV and AIDS in South Africa. The lecture series will include panel discussions, an interactive exhibition and film screenings.

Alongside emphasis on Grahamstown  turning 200 this year, there is a focus on other significant Milestones. Among these is the centenary of the birth of South African painter, George Milwa Mnyaluza Pemba; Mannie Manim and Janice Honeyman paying tribute to Athol Fugard in his 80th year and The ANC Centenary Lecture Series. This will include a series of illuminating talks that will reflect on different periods of the party’s history. Speakers including Ahmed Kathrada, Cheryl Carolus, Frene Ginwala, Frank Chikane, Fiona Forde and Barney Pityana have been asked to recount specific moments in this history from a personal perspective.

Grahamstown’s Bicentennial celebration offers a time to reflect and imagine. Think!Fest will provide a platform to do just that through Polis: An Arena For The Examination Of A South African Town, produced by Athina Vahla, Ford Evanson, Mark Wilby and Anton Krueger. Grahamstown Voices will tell the stories from Grahamstown, featuring storytellers, poets, musicians, academics, artists and politicians from Grahamstown who reflect on the pa st, and imagine the future with hope and determination. Join local personalities in the Nun’s Chapel to hear and see Grahamstown’s history unfold.

The Festival is also a space to be Talking Arts, and catching a glimpse of the lives and struggles of the people behind the creations – with Brett Bailey with Anton Krueger, Bailey Snyman and Andre Carl van der Merwe, Jack van Poll and Ahmed Kathrada taking the spotlight.

The Arts Lounge is run by the Visual and Performing Arts of Africa research team at Rhodes University. Set in an historic cottage on Somerset Street, it provides an intimate space for art chats, contemporary performances, screenings, dialogues, art creations, poetry and interventions. Drinks and snacks are available at the Lounge, and entrance is free.

Redefining Architecture: Culture and the Built Environment is a series of talks presented by a group of architects and experts in the field of heritage conservation, whose vision of our natural built environment, extends beyond the conventions of the past and view it in terms of its symbolic value to our national identity.

For those who are Young & Hungry, Making Your Way in the Arts World is a panel discussion featuring Festival artists who describe their experiences on the road from wannabes to professionals in the arts industry sector. These talks are aimed at anyone wanting to pursue a career in the arts sector and are guaranteed to be entertaining as well as informative. A screening of the film, The Neon’s Documentary, will be followed by a presentation by film-makers, Jacobus van Heerden and Liam Magner, on the film industry in South Africa.

George Scola, who had a stroke at 37 and recovered, walked from Beit Bridge to Cape Point to raise stroke awareness and to promote the Stroke Survivor’s Foundation. In his talk, Scola tells us of his journey. In Around Iceland on Inspiration, Riaan Manser recounts the challenges, the frustrations, the inspiration and the triumph of his latest test of endurance.

Art is fundamental in the process of Facing Life, so Think!Fest will also host sessions on psychotherapy (with Gael Beckett), surviving a stroke (with Geroge Scola), and breast cancer (with Tracey Derrick). There will also be in-depth Environmental Thinking, with fracking in the Karoo, the leopards of Landmark Foundation, and Rhino poaching front-of-mind.

There will also be various informal Conversations With Authors of recently published books in the Nun’s Chapel. These will include Tim Sandham (A Bosman Companion), Fiona Forde (An Inconvenient Youth, Julius Malema and the ‘new’ ANC), Frank Chikane (Eight Days in September and No Life of my Own), Chris Thurman (At Large: Reviewing the Arts in South Africa), Riaan Manser (Around Africa on my Bicycle; Around Madagascar on my Kayak; and Around Iceland on Inspiration), Rosemary S mith (Swimming with Cobra), and Brent Meersman (Reports before Daybreak).

There are a number of Film Screenings taking place with discussions, as part of the Think!Fest programme. A four-package collection of the best of AFDA films from 1994 to 2011 will be shown, many of which have received critical acclaim worldwide, and which document South Africa’s new democracy over the last 15 years. Each will be introduced by an AFDA lecturer, who will field questions at the end of the screenings. StringCaeser is filmed entirely within prison walls, by filmmaker Alice Krige, who will be joined in discussion by members of the cast and crew.

The popular Walking Tours will this year again include Saints, Sinners and Students, Stately Homes and Old School Ties and Settler Skeletons and Colourful Characters.

Think!Fest is convened by Anthea Garman. All lectures are an hour, with tickets costing R20, and take place in the Blue Lecture Theatre in the Eden Grove Complex, unless otherwise stated.

Book for this year’s “11 Days of Amaz!ng”  through Computicket. Booking kits are available from selected Standard Bank branches, selected Exclusive Books and Computicket branches. For more information on the programme, accommodation and travel options visit Also join the National Arts Festival group on Facebook for all the latest news, or follow us on Twitter @artsfestival.

The National Arts Festival is sponsored by Standard Bank, The National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, The Eastern Cape Government, The National Arts Council, City Press and M Net.

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