Festivals in South Africa

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Festivals in South Africa Through The Year

Cities, towns and villages host festivals to celebrate a variety of occasions: harvest; arts, music, religion, language and sports all happen on the calendar of events. The diversity of festivals emphasizes the disparate origins of South Africa's many peoples.


Spring

All across the country, but especially noticeable in the semi-arid western and Northern cape regions, the onset of warmer weather raises colourful fields of wild flowers. In wildlife reserves throughout South Africa, the newborn of various species will soon be seen.

September

Arts Alive
Arts Alive, held every September since 1992, features a heady mix of dance, visual art, poetry and music at venues in the Joburg inner city. The main concert, held at the Johannesburg Stadium, headlines international superstars such as 50 Cent and Busta Rhymes. Over 600 artists perform during the four-day festival, with most shows at various venues in Newtown. The ever-popular Jazz on the Lake is held on the final day.

Aardklop Arts Festival
Aardklop Arts Festival offers a feast of arts and an all-round good jol for five days in late September and early October. First held in 1998, Aardklop - Afrikaans roughly translated as "earth beat" - has over 90 productions, with classical music, jazz, hard rock, cabaret, visual arts, theatre, circus performances, opera, African and World music, poetry and more, ending with the OppiAarde rock festival on the final day.

Woodstock Music
Woodstock, first held in 1999, is the largest youth-oriented music and lifestyle festival in South Africa. In addition to mainstream music, the festival offers a market of crafters and alternative lifestyle products over four days. It is held at Hartbeeshoek Holiday resort near Hartbeespoort Dam in North West.

Boertjie Kontreifees
The Boertjie Kontreifees is an agricultural festival, featuring 340 stalls, which draws about 20 000 people over four days. It includes lots plenty of sport too, including rugby, netball, football, wrestling, jogging, cycling, motorcycling, 4x4s and quadbiking. There is plenty to eat and drink, lots of competitions, and many entertainers. It being an agricultural festival, you can expect to find horses, cattle, sheep, buck, greyhounds, tractors, and cars as well.

Gariep Kunstefees
Now in its sixth year, the Gariep Kunstefees (arts festival) has an impressive line-up of local musicians, a film festival showcasing South Africa's new film-makers, as well as art exhibitions and children's theatre.

Hermanus Whale Festival
Every year, southern right whales travel thousands of miles to the Cape south coast to mate and calve in the bays. Join the villagers of Hermanus for an entertainment-packed festival, in the town with the best land-based whale watching in the world.

Awesome Africa Music Festival
The Standard Bank Awesome Africa Music Festival, first held in 1999, takes place in Durban's Albert Park. It has three stages of non-stop music, with over 200 artists from more than 20 countries. The focus is on collaboration with musicians from Africa and beyond.

Knysna Gastronomica
A new addition to South Africa's festival circuit, the Knysna Gastronomica is a celebration of good food, wine and culture in the coastal town of Knysna.

Prince Albert Agricultural Show
Join the people of Prince Albert as they celebrate their agricultural heritage in September. The show offers homecrafts, art and flowers, horses on show, motorbike obstacle route, sheep and angora goat competitions, local products, delicious food, bar facilities and entertainment for young and old. The farm breakfast and steak braai are a must.

Southern Cross Music Festival
Every September the Southern Cross Music Festival showcases South African music in a three-day event in Hidden Valley on the banks of KwaZulu-Natal's beautiful Mooi River. First held in 1998, the festival donates part of its proceeds to charity. In addition to music, there's fishing, swimming, white water rafting, abseiling, hikes, walks, mountain biking and 4x4 courses. The farm caters for 6 000 festival-goers.

Macufe
Macufe, the 10-day Mangaung African Cultural Festival, showcases the cream of African and international talent. It features jazz, gospel, kwaito, hip-hop, R&B, rock and classical music, as well as dance, drama, cabaret, musical theatre, poetry, fine art and traditional arts and crafts. First held in 1997 before an audience of 30 000, Macufe now attracts over 140 000 people from South Africa, Africa and the world. The festival is presented in late September and early October by the Performing Arts Centre of the Free State.

White Mountain Folk Festival
The White Mountain Folk Festival in the Central Drakensberg mountain range offers great music in an awesome setting for three days in September. Featuring acoustic performances by some of the South Africa's top folk musicians, the festival is held at White Mountain Lodge in the foothills of the Giant's Castle Nature Reserve. Camping in a beautiful site at the edge of a dam is free, with brand new hot shower units at the ready plus lots of "executive" loos. There's also a variety of food stalls, and a beer market offering naturally brewed local ales and lagers.

Vrede Paddadors
The full name of Paddadors, the Free State town of Vrede's annual festival, is the Vrede Paddadors Rooivleis en Kultuurfees - which translates literally as the Peace Frog-Thirst Red-Meat and Culture Festival. The story goes that the dry land on which the town was established was originally called Paddadors ("frog thirst" in Afrikaans), until peace came and place was named Vrede. The festival offers live music, traditional food, a beer garden, children's activities and more.

October

Currie cup finals
(Late Oct). Match between the two best provincial teams (the location varies from year to year).

Tulbagh Festival
(last weekend in Oct), Tulbagh. Local produce and crafts are displayed in this country town.

The Jakaranda Festival
(late Oct), Pretoria. A host of cultural activities on historic Church Square.

Rain festival
(second Sat in Oct), Upington. Music, Choir contest and fun on the Orange River near the Augrabies Falls.

Model Aircraft Show
(Oct) Oudtshoorn. Model aircraft enthusiasts participate in this annual event at the local airport.

November

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Ficksburg Cherry Festival
One of the oldest festivals in South Africa - first held in 1969 - the Ficksburg Cherry Festival now attracts around 20 000 visitors to this small eastern Free State town every November. The scenery is magnificent, and the festival offers cherry and asparagus tastings, tours, picnics, music, and the Miss Cherry Blossom and Miss Cherry Pip competitions.

Umdwebo Lifestyle Festival
The Umdwebo Lifestyle Festival celebrates the better things in life - Umdwebo is isiZulu for "to create art" or "to underline something beautiful". Held in and around Ballito on KwaDukuza’s picturesque north coast in November, the six-day event features fine dining, elegant black-tie affairs, art and photographic exhibitions, opera, classical music and more.

Summer

Most tourists visit South Africa during the long summer months. The local long school-holidays extend from December well into January. Summer is a season spent outdoors. Over much of the country, summer rain arrives in the form of short, noisy thundershowers.

December

Carlos by Candlelight
(pre Christmas). This Advent celebration takes place in all major towns and cities.

Helderberg Festival of Lights
(Dec-Jan), Main streets display of festive lights in rural Somerset West.

The Spier Summer Festival
In the lush winelands of the Western Cape, at the amphitheatre on the Spier Estate, the annual Spier Summer Festival offers four months of music, opera, dance, stand-up comedy and theatre. First held in 1995, the festival runs from December to March.

January

Summer Sunset Concerts
Every Sun evening, Jan-Mar), Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, Cape Town. Musical performances on the Garden's verdant lawns.

Duzi Canoe Marathon
(second week in Jan), Pietermaritzburg. A three-day canoe marathon to the Umgen River mouth.

Maynardville Open Air Theatre
(Jan-Feb), Wynberg, Cape Town. Shakespearean plays are performed in a well-known city park at night.

Oude Libertas Arts Programme
(Jan-Mar), Stellenbosch. Performances in an amphitheatre among the vines.

Minstrel Carnival
(New Year), Cape Town. A colourful musical procession culminates in concerts at Green Point Stadium.

February

FNB Dance Umbrella
A festival of contemporary choreography and dance, the FNB Dance Umbrella presents work ranging from community-based dance troupes to international companies. 1988. It's launched many South African choreographers into international dance, including Vincent Mantsoe, Robyn Orlin and Boyzie Cekwana.

Nelson Mandela Bay Prickly Pear Festival
The Prickly Pear Festival held in late February or early March every at Cuyler Hofstede farm near Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape's Nelson Mandela Bay. It's a day of traditional food such as ginger beer, pancakes, potjiekos, home-made jam, a spit braai and fish braai, bunnychow and home-made pudding.

Autumn

When Deciduous trees and grapevines begin to shed their leaves, a new round of country fairs is ushered in. The harvest festival of many small towns celebrates crops like potatoes and olives; even sheep and gems are cause for cheerful get-together. A number of wine festivals are held from Paarl in the fertile Western Cape to Kuruman in the arid Nothern Cape.

March

Cape Town Jazz Festival
Cape Town International Jazz is a two-day festival featuring some 40 international and African acts performing on five stages to an audience of 15 000. It also features photographic and art exhibitions.

Lambert's Bay Kreeffees
Kreef is Afrikaans for crayfish, and a fees can be both festival and feast. At the Kreeffees, held every March in the West Coast town of Lambert's Bay, you'll feast on fresh crayfish and get festive at rock concerts by some of South Africa's favourite musicians. There's also bungee jumping, aerial displays, a half-marathon, beer tents and more.

Oppikoppi Easter Festival
Smaller than the Oppikoppi bushveld bash in August, the Oppikoppi Easter Festival, held over the Easter holidays, has one stage only and draws a traditional blues-and-folk crowd of roughly 1 500 people.

Dullstroom Tonteldoos Peach Festival
The Tonteldoos Peach Festival happens in late March or early April in the village of Tonteldoos, some 20km northwest of Dullstroom and two hours from Johannesburg. It offers peaches and pretty much everything that can be made from the fruit, including peach mampoer.

Sasol Scifest Sasol Scifest
Sasol SciFest, or the National Festival of Science, Engineering and Technology, is held in late March in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape. Over seven days it features some 600 events: lectures, game drives, a laser show, workshops, sunset shows, robotics competitions, science olympics, school quizzes, interactive exhibitions, the PlayFair, field trips, talkshops and a film festival. Attendance now exceeds 35 000 visitors every year.

April

Klein Karoo Nationale Kunstefees
The Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees in Oudtshoorn features well-known and young up-and-coming artists in dance and theatre. Started as an Afrikaans alternative to the mainly English National Arts Festival, KKNK has 200 different shows on three different stages.

Splashy Fen
Every year the Splashy Fen music festival attracts thousands of people to a farm near Underberg in KwaZulu-Natal for a feast of mainstream and alternative rock and pop. The site has electricity, telephones, ablutions, market stalls, three stages, and medical and security personnel. There are great bed-and-breakfasts in nearby towns for those who believe music festivals can be enjoyed without mud.

Tulbagh Goes Dutch
Tulbagh Tourism describes its two-day Dutch Festival as "a Gezellig Feestje for the whole family". In April the town's Church Street with its beautiful Cape Dutch architecture hosts cultural activities, appetising spijs en drank temptations and authentic treasures. It includes a traditional Dutch beer garden and a tulip exhibition at the Volksmuseum.

Philippolis Witblits Festival
The Philippolis Witblits Festival, held in early April, will give you a taste of a proud local tradition - witblits (Afrikaans for "white lightning") is South African moonshine. Held in the oldest town in the Free State, the festival has boeresports for the kids, food, drink and more witblits.

Prince Albert Town and Olive Wine Festival
The Prince Albert Town and Olive Festival, held in the Swartberg region of the Western Cape in April, offers a whole lot more than just the region's famous olives and wine. There's an art exhibition, beer tents, live music, witblits tastings, crafts for kids, historic tours, a cycle race, an olive pip-spitting competition, culinary demonstrations, a midnight ghost walk, stalls, cabaret, a dance and more.

May

Pink Loerie Mardi Gras
The Knysna loerie is a green bird, but the Pink Loerie Mardi Gras is different. A gay festival held in the beautiful coastal town of Knysna in May, the Mardi Gras offers four days of non-stop entertainment for anyone who enjoys a party.

Riebeek Kasteel Olive Festival
The Riebeek Kasteel Olive Festival takes place in the Swartland area of the Western Cape in May. A feast of wine and the best olives in SA, the festival also has an art competition, live entertainment, stalls and lots of food.

Winter

Dry season for most of the country, only the winter rainfall areas along the Southern Cape coast is lush and green at this time. Inland, days are typically warm, although nightly frost are common in high-lying areas. Snowfalls occur on the mountains of the Western and Eastern Cape and in the KwaZulu Natal and Lesotho highlands. Late winter is particularly good for game-watching, as the wildlife gathers around waterholes.

June

National Arts Festival
The Grahamstown National Arts Festival, held in late June or early July every year, is South Africa's oldest, biggest and best-known arts festival. The 10-day event offers culture hounds every indulgence of theatre, music, song, dance, film and a whole lot more. If there's one South African festival you have to attend, this is it.

July

Knysna Oyster Festival
The coastal town of Knysna is famous for its oysters, and increasingly famous for the July festival that celebrates them. In addition to oyster braais, oyster tasting, oyster-eating competitions and other molluscular activities, there's live entertainment and lots of sporting events.

Ellisras Bushveld Festival
The Ellisras Bushveld Festival takes place in early July in the heart of the bushveld, in the Waterberg district of Limpopo. The festival includes cattle shows, a game auction, horse jumping, dog shows, agricultural activities, a three-day battle for the best 4x4 competition, a game farms expo, hunting opportunities, bird- and tree-identification competitions, traditional food, a beer tent and huge camp fires.

Calitzdorp Port Festival
The Klein Karoo town of Calitzdorp is the port-wine capital of South Africa. Its annual port festival, held over a weekend in July, showcases the top 15 South African port makers. There's a blind port tasting judged by SA's top wine critics, a potjiekos competition and ostrich farm tours, as well as the annual South African boules championships.

Madame Zingara's Christmas in July
Over two weeks in July, sumptuous Cape Town restaurant Madame Zingara hosts up to 10 000 people in a mid-year celebration of Christmas, in aid of the children's charity Ikamva Labantu. The restaurant offers a three-course set menu for around R150, and guests are encouraged to bring small gifts to put under the Christmas tree for the children of Ikamva Labantu. The festival culminates in a huge party, with the best of local food and entertainment, where all the roads around the restaurant are closed off to accommodate 1 500 guests.

August

Oppikoppi Bushveld Festival
Held on the bushveld farm of Oppikoppi ("op die koppie" in Afrikaans, or "on the hill"), this festival offers three permanent thatched stages, a smaller comedy stage and a stage for more chilled music at the top of the koppie. Oppikoppi has helped establish many South African musicians' careers, but it's not for the faint-hearted. This is real bushveld: hot and dry, and everywhere red dust and thorn trees. Expect to shower a lot when you get home.
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Joy of Jazz
Johannesburg's biggest annual jazz festival is an ideal family outing, featuring a range of musical styles but with a strong emphasis on jazz. Over 200 local and international artists perform at different venues across the city, particularly in Newtown.

Hantam Vleisfees
Calvinia in the Northern Cape is sheep country, and this festival celebrates meat. There's meat braaied, stewed, curried, in pita, on sosaties, in potjies - you can even pick up a done-to-perfection sheep's head for a mere R30. First held in 1989, the three-day Hantam Vleisfees has a music concert, street party, vintage car rally and, a highlight for many, the Miss Vleisfees competition - a glittering affair with dinner and dancing.

Cellar Rats Wine Festival
Taste South Africa's best wines in a tranquil outdoor setting in Magaliesberg. Held every year in August, the Cellar Rats Wine Festival is a day of wine tasting, with picnic baskets for sale and many activities for the kids. Enjoy huge shady trees, lush green grass and an abundance of birdlife on the banks of the picturesque Magalies River.


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