Visual & Performing Arts

Performing Arts.

With a dynamic fusion of African, European and Asian influences, on South African holidays you will find that the country is a hotbed of originality and creativity. This is particularly evident in our music, which ranges from indigenous township rave music, known as kwaito, to world-renowned African jazz by such legendary talents as Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba.

Music and Theatre

One of the most popular ways to listen to local music is at one of the many outdoor concert venues during the summer months - Kirstenbosch, Durban Botanical Gardens or the Oude Libertas Amphitheatre in Stellenbosch. Visitors can take a picnic, sit on the lawns and listen to anything from a symphony concert or opera to kwaito, reggae, blues or jazz.

Theatre, too, is alive and well, with sophisticated venues in each city presenting everything from the classics to homegrown drama, dance and comedy. Principal venues are the Market Theatre and the Civic Theatre in Johannesburg, the State Theatre in Pretoria, the Baxter, Artscape (previously the Nico Malan) and On Broadway in Cape Town, and the Playhouse in Durban.

But even small towns are joining in. The village of Darling, for example, is becoming a theatre centre of note, mainly through the efforts of one of its most illustrious citizens, the stand-up comic Pieter-Dirk Uys and his alter ego, Evita Bezuidenhout.


If you want a lot of music in large doses on your South African holidays, you should suggest one of our many festivals spread out all over the country and all through the year. Splashy Fen, held in the Drakensberg mountains in May, is one of the most popular. Most people camp out and it does have an alternate edge to it. The other option is to stay in a nearby comfy B&B and commute to the festival.

Oppikoppi, held near Pretoria in August, is an excellent showcase of local music within easy striking distance of the city's most comfortable hotels. For a greater choice, the National Festival of the Arts, usually just called the Grahamstown Festival, is the place to be. Music, visual arts, dance, theatre and many more happenings keep this small university town awake 24 hours a day for 10 days at the beginning of July. It's the second biggest arts festival in the world, after Edinburgh.

Even more homegrown is the Klein Karoo Kunstefees, held in Oudtshoorn in late March, early April. It started off as an Afrikaans festival but now it's grown to encompass other languages, mostly English. The Aardklop Festival, in Potchefstroom (about an hour from Johannesburg) is similar, and held in August. The FNB Vita Dance Umbrella is a celebration of dance, in Johannesburg in late February or early March.

Visual Arts

There is absolutely no shortage of visual arts venues in South Africa. As well as the large art museums in the major cities, there are so many small galleries it is almost impossible to keep count. In addition to the more formal exhibitions, almost every city and town has a version of 'art in the park', where local artists can exhibit their works in a peaceful open-air setting. The biggest of these takes place on the first Saturday of every month in King's Park in Bloemfontein.

Outside Art

Much of our art could be considered outsider art - in the most unlikely places you find the most unlikely works - expressions of a totally different way of looking at the world on your South African holidays. But, in terms of recognised outsider art (now, if that isn't a contradiction in terms, what is?) we have three very notable creatives.

The first, and most mainstream, is the late Helen Martins, who lived in the tiny Karoo town of Nieu Bethesda in the Eastern Cape. With one helper, called Koos Malgas, she filled her garden with cement and glass sculptures, many with a biblical or middle-eastern theme.

Glass mosaics and constantly replenished ponds reflected light all over the yard. Inside the house, every wall is painted a bright colour and covered in ground glass. Candles and lamps burned everywhere and mirrors reflected the light. Brooding owls with big glass eyes still guard the front door and are scattered all around the garden.

Martins created these glittering works because she was afraid of the dark, so she filled her small country cottage, which became known as the Owl House, with light and colour. Ironically, her work with glass caused her to lose her sight, and she committed suicide in 1976. Her home is a museum and is the major attraction of this small town, which is rapidly becoming a significant tourist destination.

Outside the small Mpumalanga town of Barberton on the R38, en route to Kaapmuiden, is a truly different site. Here the self-taught, self-inspired artist , Nukain Mabuza, decorated the rocky hillside behind his home by painting each rock in different designs and colours. After his death in 1981, the site steadily declined, with the bright colours fading

Since then, the South African Heritage Resources Agency in Mpumalanga, along with the Barberton Museum, has started to work on restoring the site. There is an inexpensive, informative booklet, which can be obtained from the Museum. The site can be seen from the road.

The third artistic outsider is the only one still alive. Sibusiso Mbhele (usually just called Punch) lives close to the South African holidays town of Winterton near the Northern Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal. Now it is not particularly unusual for people in semi-formal or informal settlements to live in shanties made from scrap metal, but Punch's home is different. He's always been fascinated by aeroplanes and helicopters and so built his home in the shape of a plane.

Actually, it's a continually living, growing project. The bulk is two Volkswagen buses reassembled to form the fuselage, balanced on rather unstable wooden stilts. At times it's a plane and has wings. When the wings fall off, he adds a rotor and it becomes a helicopter.

He also makes small planes, as well as some other innovative objects, such as light fittings which he sells. He takes visitors on a tour of his home for a small fee - but be sure to follow his instructions as to where you should and should not walk.

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