Art and Culture in South Africa

From theatre to dance, opera to cabaret, fine art to craft art, classical music to jazz, poetry readings to lectures, every art form is represented all over South Africa. The country is rich in cultural diversity making it a great destination for all art lovers. A large number of art galleries provide opportunities for well-known and lesser known artists to show-case their talents. The Department of Arts and Culture seeks to develop and preserve South African culture to ensure social cohesion and nation-building.

The National Heritage Council, a statutory body that aims to bring equity to heritage promotion and conservation, was officially constituted on 26 February 2004. The council creates an enabling environment for preserving, protecting and promoting South African heritage. Its other objectives are to protect, preserve and promote the content and heritage that reside in orature to make it accessible and dynamic; to integrate living heritage into the council and all other heritage authorities and institutions at national, provincial and local level; to promote and protect indigenous knowledge systems (IKS); and to intensify support for promoting the history and culture of all South Africans.

Community Art Centres
About 166 community art centres are in operation, varying from community-initiated to government-managed. The centres operate at different levels, ranging from general socio-cultural promotion, advanced programmes and vocational training. The centres also vary from craft centres, community halls and community theatres. Many art centres are functioning well and have made impressive contributions to local socio-economic development. The Department of Arts and Culture supports programmes in most needy centres that are community-initiated or non-governmental. The National Task Team of Community Art Centres has been established to develop a framework that will address urgent and pressing needs at community art centres.

Cultural Villages
Learn about the cultures, lives and experiences of the various people of South Africa by visiting cultural villages around the country. Cultural village show the traditional lifestyle of the people to visitors in a natural environment. Aspects like traditional dances and rituals in the rural areas as well as the urban and township milieu that gives South Africa some of its defining features.

All the traditions of the Basotho people have been preserved in the Basotho Cultural Village, which is situated about 20 km from the Golden Gate National Park and lies within the QwaQwa National Park.

At Kosi Bay in Maputaland on the northern KwaZulu-Natal coast, a community owned tourism camp has been established around the house where David Webster, an anthropologist who was assassinated by one of the apartheid government's death squads, did extensive field work in this area during the 1980s.

Further south in the same province, located in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, is a four-star luxury hotel complex called  Shakaland. Not as informal and spontaneous as the Kosi project, this site contains a perfectly constructed Zulu kraal dating back to King Shaka's time. There are 40 huts making up the umuzi (village).

The Botshabelo historical town, 12km west of Middelburg in Mpumalanga province, was set up by the Middelburg town council as a "typical" Ndebele village to portray a century-old culture which probably no longer exists in its original form.

Another traditional Ndebele village is a short journey away from Cullinan to the north-east of Pretoria. Situated near Bronkhorstspruit, the village provides demonstrations of traditional artwork forms, including beadwork, weaving and the famous Ndebele hut painting.

Groot Marico in the North-West Province is one of the places first settled by the Voortrekkers in the Transvaal. There is a Mampoer Tour of the region which allows you to taste the extraordinarily powerful alcohol made from brewing indigenous fruit.

At Lesedi cultural village, less than an hour's drive from Johannesburg, is a multi-cultural African village set amongst the pristine bushveld and rocky hills. Typical rural households from Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi and Basotho villages have been reconstructed. Visitors to Lesedi become house guests of a traditional African family.

Tlholego in Magaliesburg, about 80km north-west of Johannesburg, was once an eroded cattle farm. With concentrically arranged residential units, a solar heating system, composting toilets, flourishing perma-culture gardens and Iron Age ruins belonging to ancient Tswana tribes nearby, it represent both a fascinating tourist destination and a model of the principles of rural self-sufficiency.

Rock Art
One of the largest concentrations of rock art in the world is found in Southern Africa. Homo Sapiens has always needed to communicate, and people have right up to the present time made images in rock to convey common values and ideas. African rock art is an extensive and colourful part of our global cultural heritage.

Rock art sites are a unique and lasting testament to the customs and beliefs of indigenous societies that have created them. Southern Africa contains one of the world's great repositories of rock art. In the region, rock paintings and engravings together record, over a period of nearly thirty millennia, the interactions of humans with one another and with their environment, and provide a significant depiction of their spiritual and ritual practices. Some of the rock art sites in the region are considered creative masterpieces. There is an ethnographic record from the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly from the San people who created rock art in the region, and this record can be used to interpret many of the metaphors and symbols in rock art hundreds and even thousands of years old.

South Africa is home to some of the most ancient and beautiful art in the world - the rock art of the ancestors of today's Bushman or San. It is also the scene of a host of diverse and challenging contemporary artists producing important new work. The world's biggest outdoor art exhibition lies deep in the mountains and caves of the Drakensberg (KwaZulu Natal) at Cathedral Peak and Kamberg and in the Cederberg (Western Cape) - the sites of San cave paintings.

The oldest dated rock art in South Africa, incised stones found at the Wonderwerk Cave near Kuruman in the Northern Cape province suggest that rock engraving has a long history on the continent. The stones, engraved with geometric line designs and representations of animals, have been dated to circa 8200 B.C. and are among the earliest recorded African stone engravings.

Outdoor Art
The Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation and Development Area, which covers about 13 000 km² and includes the uKhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage Site. The area has spectacular scenery and is an important centre of endemism for montane plant species. The mountains, with their highest peak Thaba Ntlenyana rising to 3 482m, are of exceptional beauty and are home to the world's greatest outdoor gallery, containing the largest and most concentrated group of rock paintings in Africa south of the Sahara. There are some 600 known sites containing between 35 - 40 000 individual images, which were painted by the San people over a period of at least 4 000 years.

The Walk of Art is Cape Town’s largest outdoor art exhibition. It covers the full spectrum from established artists to students, covering a wide variety of media. It’s not only about the actual art though – the festival aims to cover the broader art industry. In places like Lydenburg (Mpumalanga) you'll come also across artworks of massive scale that were built purely for the joy of making the road traveller pull off.

Handcrafts
Local communities are more and more developing a dynamic network of African artists and crafts men and women. Artists are exhibiting their artwork mainly though community support projects. Through craftwork men and women express their natural creativity and generate skills and income, nurturing their families and developing their communities. There are many community upliftment programs mostly small scale motivated by self upliftment of the local people.

It is possible to buy locally produced arts and crafts from vendors at many locations in South Africa. And its about supporting the local people that a route out of poverty can be created. Arts and crafts of South Africa offer just such an opportunity.

Ilala Weavers produces a number of traditional handcrafts helping over 2000 Zulu people, both men and women, to attain self sufficiency, by working from  their homes and therefore retaining their lifestyle and rich heritage of basket weaving and bead work which  has been passed down through the generations by Zulucrafters, whose modern counterparts today produce stunning works of art, sought after the world over.

Artworks, arts and crafts in South Africa include; Carvings, Furniture, Jewelry, Musical Instruments (exotic African musical instruments not easily found elsewhere), African Dolls, Wicker & Weaving Tools, Batiks & Cloth, Oil Paintings, Brass Artwork, Leather Art, Kitchen Implements & Tableware.

Festivals
South Africa has a celebration for every event, place, art form, food, drink and agricultural commodity. There's the Ficksburg Cherry Festival, the National Arts Festival, countless mud-and-dust music festivals, the Hermanus Whale Festival, the Lambert's Bay Kreeffees and more.

South Africa's many festivals are a grand window into the many talents of the Rainbow Nation. Arts festivals, Afrikaans music and performance festivals, national choral festivals, Garden Route festivals, cherry festivals, rock and folk music festivals and even a whale festival happen all over the country at various times of the year.

Mission Stations
At the birth of the 18th Century, missionaries began streaming to South Africa. They came from all over Europe: the Moravians, the Berlin Missionary Society, the Rhenish and many others. Mamre, Elim, Wupperthal and Ebenhaezer in the Western Cape are some of the ‘Mission Route’ stopovers of great interest.

Go on a fascinating missionary tour to sites of early mission stations where people often of humble background became missionary pioneers and in their own small way helped mold our countries history.

A four days Mission Station tour out of Port Elizabeth could follow this itinerary:
Day 1: Start from Port Elizabeth and head for Bethelsdorp where the first London Missionary Society mission station in Africa was established for the Khoikhoi people some 200 years ago. Head east and visit the first Wesleyan Mission stations established among the Xhosa, including Mount Coke where the first Xhosa Bible was printed. Suggested overnight at King William's Town (itself having began as a mission station).

Day2: Visit the missionary museum, the only one of its kind in South Africa, before leaving for the Pirie Mission. This is close to the site of Van der Kemp's first work among the Xhosa in 1799. From here visit Burnshill, Knapp's Hope, Chumie and other significant mission stations in their time. Suggested overnight at Hogsback.

Day3: Travel to Lovedale, Healdtown, and Philipton; visit the grave of Ntsikana, a remarkable Xhosa prophet and the Mgwali Mission, established by the Rev. Tiyo Soga, the first Xhosa missionary. Suggested overnight at Matola Private Game Reserve.

Day4: Enjoy an early morning game drive or walk in the reserve before departing for East London.

Other renowned Mission Sations are:
- Botshabelo, near Middelburg, Mpumalanga provides a fair representation of the mission station of a century ago and also incorporates a Ndebele village.
- Rorke's Drift, Dundee, KwaZulu Natal is a famous battlefield established original as mission station.
- Moffat Mission, Kuruman, Northern Cape concentrated mainly on education.

Townships
Township tourism is a term used to describe a form of tourism that emerged in post-apartheid South Africa and Namibia. It is becoming increasingly popular, as visitors to the country look for more authentic experiences. Increasingly the established South African tourism industry sees the townships as a resource for attracting tourism revenue. Smaller operations, including many emerging black tourism operators, see township tourism as a means of empowerment and of bolstering the self-esteem of people in these historically marginalised communities. Though there is criticism of township tourism as being voyeuristic, the upshot is that it brings a portion of South Africa’s lucrative tourism sector to the poorest of its people. Local restaurants, bars and craftsmen benefit financially from the tours, and there are even a few guesthouses riding the wave, for the more intrepid traveller who fancies an overnight stay.

Of the vast number of townships across South Africa, a handful are tourist-friendly, due to their proximity to cities and established infrastructure. These include Soweto (South Africa’s largest township) in Johannesburg, and Langa (the oldest), Khayelitsha (second largest) and Gugulethu (a shortened version of igugu lethu, which is Xhosa for our pride) in Cape Town.

Visitors are taken on guided tours through South Africa’s townships - historically marginalised communities where non-whites were forced to live during the separatist apartheid regime. The sprawling, densely overpopulated and poverty-stricken settlements are still home to the majority of South Africa’s people, and are a far cry from the usual shiny commercial tourist hubs such as the V&A Waterfront.

Possibly more important than the economic benefits however, is that this brand of tourism opens visitor’s eyes to the reality of the living conditions of much of the population, and the urgent need for its amelioration. At the same time, it shows them a place not just full of poverty and strife, but also full of energy, culture and hope for the future.