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PICS + VIDEO: My first visit to National Arts Festival’s hometown of Makhanda

Published Jul 6, 2022


I visited the town of Makhanda, in the Eastern Cape province, for the first time, this past weekend, to take part in the 48th annual National Arts Festival.

What was remarkable as we moved around the city, is the locals still refer to the city as Grahamstown, while we, the visitors went on about the city being called Makhanda.

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I guess it’s understandable, taking into account that the town’s name change from Grahamstown to Makhanda was officially gazetted on 29 June 2018.

We stayed at the Graham Hotel on High Street, and just downstairs from the hotel, there’s a lovely restaurant called the Pothole & Donkey and for obvious reasons, I was intrigued by the name.

Pothole & Donkey. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

I later discovered that there are two things you will find in abundance in Makhanda, one being potholes and, two donkeys.

I didn’t see a lot of potholes in Makhanda, perhaps I may have missed them because I’m used to Joburg's massive potholes.

According to the residents, starving donkeys are always seen walking around the potholed streets of Makhanda, searching for food.

So, that’s what inspired the name behind that eatery.

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And though I didn’t spot a lot of potholes, the donkeys were unmissable. At one point, a very aggressive donkey was seen chasing after a group of goats. We had to stop and watch.

Besides being entertained by the donkey’s stellar performance, we got the pleasure of watching some of the best productions by South African talented artists.

The town was officially renamed Makhanda in honour of Xhosa warrior and prophet Makhanda ka Nxele.

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Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa announced the official changing of the name in 2018.

At the time, Mthethwa explained why the name change had to happen and why the name of Makhanda was chosen.

“The name of John Graham is one that evokes unimaginable pain,” Mthethwa said then.

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“What South Africans ought to know, is that the name change of the town to Makhanda is the fulfilling of the prophecy of ‘Ukubuya kuka Nxele’ (the return of Nxele).

Makhanda was a warrior, war doctor, philosopher and prophet whose heroics in the Frontier Wars included an attack on a British garrison at the locality.”

Grahamstown is named after Lieutenant Colonel John Graham whose role in the Frontier Wars was to exercise the “maximum degree of terror” on the Xhosa natives.

Graham was and is still infamous for stating his methods to "break the back of the native" by employing the most savage means imaginable including liberally employing the “scorched earth policy’ against those whom he conquered by burning their homes, their crops and their livestock, before murdering the warriors he met in battle, and butchering even women and children in a mass extermination of a people whose descendants can still be found in the area.

The National Arts Festival’s homewon of Makhanda. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

The National Arts Festival has long been a highlight on South Africa's cultural calendar. It's a time for artists and visitors to gather, engage and celebrate.

Makhanda has been the home of the National Arts Festival since 1974 and no two festivals have ever been the same.

Video and pictures: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)