Arts & culture

Community art centres and other cultural organisations
Arts and culture organisations
Mzansi Golden Economy
Cultural tourism
Visual arts
Rock art
Library and information services


Pocket Guide to South Africa - Arts and CultureThe aim of the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) is to contribute to sustainable economic development and enhance job creation by preserving, protecting and developing South African arts, culture and heritage to sustain a socially cohesive and democratic nation. Together with the cultural and creative industries sectors, the DAC is committed to ensure that the arts sector contributes to inclusive economic growth and social cohesion.

The department’s spending focus over the medium term will be on implementing the Mzansi golden economy and the national social cohesion strategies through the Institutional Governance and Arts and Culture Promotion and Development programmes. Access to community library services will be broadened through the Heritage Promotion and Preservation programme’s funding of a recapitalisation programme that provides and enhances community library infrastructure, facilities and services.

Over the medium term, spending in the Heritage Promotion and Preservation programme in particular is expected to use a significant proportion of the department’s allocation and is projected to grow significantly.

This is due to the transfers of the community library services’ conditional grant to provinces, which received additional allocations in the 2013 budget, and transfers to heritage institutions, particularly for new capital works projects. The transfers for capital works projects are mainly for legacy projects under construction, including the Sarah Baartman Centre for Remembrance, the memorial site for JL Dube and the memorial site for OR Tambo.


South Africa is a multilingual country. The country’s Constitution guarantees equal status to 11 official languages to cater for its diverse people and their cultures.

These are: English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Afrikaans, Sesotho sa Leboa, Sesotho, Setswana, Siswati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga.

Other languages used in South Africa include the Khoi, Nama and San languages, Sign Language, Arabic, German, Greek, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Portuguese, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telegu and Urdu. South Africa has various structures and institutions that support the preservation and development of languages.

Community art centres and other cultural organisations

More than 160 community art centres are in operation, varying from community-initiated to government-managed centres. The centres operate at different levels, ranging from general socio-cultural promotion to advanced programmes and vocational training.

These centres are located in, for example, craft centres, community halls and theatres.

Many art centres are functioning well and have made impressive contributions to local socio-economic development.

The DAC endorses and supports programmes in needy centres that are community-initiated or non-governmental.

Arts and culture organisations

The following organisations play an active role in preserving and promoting South Africa’s arts and culture:

Mzansi Golden Economy Strategy

As part of the national target of creating five million jobs within the next 10 years, the DAC’s Mzansi Golden Economy Strategy is expected to create more than 150 000 work opportunities between 2012 and 2017.

The strategy involves a number of arts and culture job-creation programmes. These include the Public Art Programme, where youth will receive art classes after which the department will employ them in their respective communities to beautify the environment through art. About 3 000 full-time art facilitators will be deployed in schools throughout the country to facilitate the initiative. Along with the establishment of an Art Bank, this is expected to create 10 000 new work opportunities over the next three years.


Arts and cultural festivals abound in South Africa, offering something for every taste – from prickly pears, peaches, “witblits”, asparagus and cherries, to various music forms, dance, arts, science, books and whales.

Many of these have become annual events, growing in popularity and attendance numbers.

  • Aardklop, held annually in Potchefstroom, North West, is inherently Afrikaans, but universal in character. The festival provides a platform for the creativity and talent of local artists.
  • Arts Alive International Festival is held in the Johannesburg inner city, with over 600 artists performing during the four-day festival at various venues in Newtown.
  • The Cape Town International Jazz Festival is a two-day festival featuring some 40 international and African acts, and performing on five stages. It also features photographic and art exhibitions. The 15th Cape Town Jazz Festival in 2014 drew 37 000 jazz lovers.
  • The FNB Dance Umbrella is a festival of contemporary choreography and dance, presenting work ranging from community-based dance troupes to international companies.
  • The Ficksburg Cherry Festival in the eastern Free State attracts about 20 000 visitors.
  • The Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees, known as the KKNK, a vibrant festival for the performing arts, is held annually in Oudtshoorn and presentations include drama, cabaret, and contemporary and classical music.
  • The Mangaung African Cultural Festival in Bloemfontein is gaining status as one of the biggest cultural tourism events in southern Africa. This 10-day festival showcases the cream of African and international talent and attracts up to 140 000 people.
  • The National Arts Festival, held annually in July in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, is one of the largest and most diverse arts gatherings in Africa.
  • Oppikoppi Festival  near Northam in North West offer live performances by rock, alternative and blues bands, both local and from abroad.
  • The Splashy Fen Music Festival near Underberg in KwaZulu-Natal offers a variety of mainstream and alternative rock and pop music.
  • Standard Bank Joy of Jazz is Johannesburg’s biggest annual jazz festival, with more than 200 local and international artists performing at different venues across the city.
  • Up the Creek iis a popular music festival on the banks of the Breede River near Swellendam in the Western Cape.

Other festivals that attract visitors at both national and international level are:

In July 2014, Durban Wild Talk Africa showcased a selection of both local and international natural history films at the 35th Durban International Film. Films included Unearthed, Black Mamba: Kiss of Death, Birdman Chronicles, DamNation, and Expedition to the End of the World. The partnership between Durban Wild Talk Africa and Durban International Film Festival is part of the City of Durban’s vision to position the city as Africa’s primary destination for film markets and festivals.

The Mandela International Film Festival set to take place in the Nelson Mandela Bay area in December 2015 will focus the world’s film industry in South Africa and attract global interest, not just for the film industry, but also as a major tourism destination.

The Nelson Mandela Bay area of the Eastern Cape offers not only an exceptional venue for the film industry but is also part of a massive investment promotion strategy that includes a range of initiatives from infrastructure to manufacturing, tourism and agriculture.

Cultural tourism

Cultural festivals, African-cuisine projects, cultural villages, heritage routes and storytelling are areas that benefit from South Africa’s booming tourism industry. Many cultural villages have been established throughout South Africa to reflect the different cultures and traditions of the country’s people.


The theatre scene is buzzing in South Africa, with over 100 active spaces across the country offering everything from indigenous drama, music, dance, cabaret and satire to West End and Broadway hits, classical opera and ballet.

Venues range from the monolithic homes of the former state- supported performing arts councils to purpose-built theatres, a converted fruit market, country barns, casinos, and urban holes-in-the-wall.


According to the fourth South African edition of PwC’s South African Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2013 – 2017, published in September 2013, digital music sales will account for just 14% of South African recorded music retail sales by 2017.

South Africa is the 25th largest market for recorded music, with the industry employing more than 20 000 people.

Local music accounts for a third of all the music bought by South Africans.

Township jazz and blues, especially the kwêla music of the forties and fifties are being redefined; the country also has a rich choral tradition, and pop and rock musicians have made their mark internationally.

Even techno-rave and house music have found their own variations in local culture. Kwaito and hip-hop are very popular, combining elements of rap, reggae and other musical styles into a distinctly South African style. Kwaai Jazz is also gaining momentum.

Music is one of the key cultural industries identified in the Cultural Industrial Growth Strategy Report, and government has committed itself to harnessing its potential. In addition to its cultural value, music plays an important economic role in the country, generating significant copyright revenue. In this industry, the department has solid foundations on which to build. These include the annual South African Music Week, the in-school education programme run in conjunction with the Department of Basic Education (DBE), and the Moshito Music Conference and Exhibition.

The Taking South African Music to the World Programme is aimed at improving export opportunities for South African music.

The DAC funds a number of musical ensembles directly and indirectly, through the NAC.

South African Music Awards (Samas)

The 20th annual MTN Samas ceremony was held at Sun City, North West, in April 2014. The winners were:

  • KIA Record of the Year: Mafikizolo – Khona.
  • Album of the Year: Mafikizolo – Reunited.
  • Duo or Group of the Year: Mafikizolo – Reunited.
  • Female Artist of the Year: Zahara – Phendula.
  • Male Artist of the Year: Kabomo – Memory Remains.
  • Newcomer of the Year: Naima Kay – Umsebenzi.
  • Best Rock Album: Van Coke Kartel – Bloed, Sweet & Trane.
  • Best Pop Album: Mafikizolo  – Reunited.
  • Best Pop Album (Afrikaans): Karlien van Jaarsveld – Uitklophou.
  • Best Adult Contemporary Album: Shaun Jacobs – Love Can
  • Best Contemporary Music Album: Elvis Blue – Afrikaans
  • Best African Adult Album: Zonke – Give and Take Live.
  • Best Rap Album: iFani – I Believes in Me (1st Quadrant).
  • Best Kwaito Album: Big Nuz – Made in Africa.
  • Best Dance Album: Mi Casa – Su Casa.
  • Best Traditional Faith Music Album: Rebecca – Bayos’Khomba.
  • Best Collaboration: Mafikizolo Ft May D – Happiness.
  • Best Selling Album: Zahara – Phendula.
  • Best Maskandi Album: Thokozani Langa – Inyakanyaka.
  • Best Jazz Album: Shane Cooper – Oscillations.
  • Lifetime Achievement Awards: Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Phuzekhemisi.
  • International Achievement Award: Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
  • Best Contemporary Faith Music Album: Nqubeko Mbatha – Sentiments of a Worshiper.
  • Best Traditional Album: Dr Thomas Chauke Na Shinyori Sisters – Shimatsatsa No 32.
  • Best Alternative Album: Nakhane Touré – Brave Confusion.
  • Best R&B/Soul/Reggae Album: The Soil – Reflections Live in Joburg.
  • Best Classical and/or Instrumental Album: Guy Buttery – Live in KwaZulu.
  • Best Live DVD: Zonke – Give and Take Live.
  • Best Music Video of the Year: Kyle Lewis – Sleepwalker by The Parlotones, Khuli Chana and Jon Savage.
  • Best Producer of the Year: Darryl Torr – Yes/No/Grey by Gangs of Ballet.
  • Best Engineer of the Year: Peter Auret – Pimp My Piano by Charl du Plessis.
  • Remix of the Year: Oskido –Tsa Ma Ndebele.
  • Best Selling DVD: Joyous Celebration – Grateful Vol.17.
  • Best Selling Ring-back Tone: Mafikizolo – Khona.
  • Best Selling Full-track Download: Mafikizolo – Khona.
  • Best Selling Total Downloads: Mafikizolo – Khona.
  • Highest Airplay of the Year 2013: DJ Kent, featuring The Arrows – Spin My World Around.


The National Arts Council is responsible for funding the KwaZulu-Natal, Cape and Gauteng orchestras as well as the Cape Town Jazz Orchestra.


Dancing is part of the African way of life and has become a prime means of artistic expression, with dance companies expanding and exploring new territory.

Contemporary work ranges from normal preconceptions of movement and performance art or performance theatre to the completely unconventional.

Added to this is the African experience, which includes traditional dance inspired by wedding ceremonies, battles, rituals and the trifles of everyday life.

An informal but highly versatile performance venue in Johannesburg, The Dance Factory, provides a permanent platform for a variety of dance and movement groups. The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) Theatre is another popular dance venue.

Visual arts

South Africa has a rich variety of visual art, with influences ranging from pre-historic, ancient and indigenous art to western, Asian and contemporary art.

Art galleries, ranging from small privately owned commercial galleries, to major regional galleries such as the South African National Gallery in Cape Town, the Durban Art Gallery in KwaZulu-Natal, the Johannesburg Art Gallery in Gauteng and King George VI Gallery in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, showcase collections of indigenous, historical and contemporary works.

Rock art

There are many traces of ancient cultures that existed in southern Africa in the distant past. Experts estimate that there are 250 000 rock-art sites south of the Zambezi.

The San people left a priceless and unique collection of Stone Age paintings and engravings in the region, which also represents the largest collection of its kind in the world.


With its scenic beauty, abundant wildlife, diversity of cultures and rich historical heritage, South Africa is a photographer’s paradise.

Many South African photographers have been acclaimed for their work, which features in coffee-table books, documentaries, local and overseas exhibitions, magazines and newspapers.


South Africa has a rich architectural heritage, reflecting contributions from all the cultural groups in the country. Through the centuries, a unique trend has developed in South Africa’s architectural style, which has been referred to as an innovative marriage of traditions.

This is evident in the variety of architectural structures found all over the country, ranging from humble dwellings, historical homesteads and public buildings, to modern, commercial buildings reflecting state-of-the-art technology and designs that match the best in the world.


South African beadwork, once the insignia of tribal royalty alone, has found a huge range of applications, including the creation of coverings for everything from bottles to matchboxes.

With workplaces ranging from the pavements and markets of the big cities to dwellings in deep rural areas, South Africans produce a remarkable range of arts and crafts, including various forms of traditional artwork and innovative new products.

These range from jewellery, tableware, home decorations, embroidery and key rings to skilfully crafted wooden engravings and wirework sculptures. In addition to the standard materials such as beads, grass, leather, fabric and clay, many other mediums are also used, including telephone wire, plastic bags, empty cans, bottle tops and even food tin labels, to create brightly coloured paper mâché bowls.

Shops, markets and collectors dealing in African crafts provide much-needed employment and income to communities.


South Africa has a rich and diverse literary history, with realism, until relatively recently, dominating works of fiction.

Fiction has been written in all of South Africa’s 11 official languages – with a large body of work in Afrikaans and English. This overview focuses primarily on English fiction though it also touches on major poetic developments.

The local literature sector has become globally competitive and the country’s writers continue to command respect throughout the world.

National Book Week was celebrated from 1 to 7 September 2014. The initiative promotes literacy, celebrates reading and is the result of a partnership between the South African Book Development Council, the DAC and the Department of Correctional Services. The theme for National Book Week 2014 was “Going Places” and was aimed at showing how books can figuratively and literally take readers anywhere.

South African Literary Awards

The 2014 South African Literary Awards were awarded as follows:

  • The 2014 Sunday Times Fiction Prize: Claire Robertson – The Spiral House.
  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Nuruddin Farah and Njabulo Ndebele.
  • First-time Published Author Award: Claire Robertson – The Spiral House.
  • Nadine Gordimer Short Story Award: Makhosazana Xaba, Running and Other Stories and Reneilwe Malatji, Love Interrupted.
  • Literary Translators Award: Nhlanhla Maake – Malefane.
  • Poetry Award: Thandi Sliepen, The Turtle Dove Told Me and Themba Patrick Magaisa, Mihloti ya Tingana.
  • Creative Non-Fiction Award: Sihle Khumalo, Almost Sleeping My Way to Timbuktu.
  • Posthumous Literary Award: Mbulelo Vizikhungo Mzamane.
  • K Sello Duiker Memorial Literary Award: Jamala Safari, The Great Agony and Pure laughter of the Gods.


The South African film industry contributes R3,5 billion annually to the country’s GDP, while providing employment for more than 25 000 people.

The South African Government offers a package of incentives to promote its film production industry.

The incentives comprise the Foreign Film and Television Production incentive to attract foreign-based film productions to shoot on location in South Africa, and the South African Film and Television Production and Co-production incentive, which aims to assist local film producers in producing local content.

South Africa’s film co-production treaty was signed with Canada in 1997, followed by Germany, Italy, the UK, France, Australia and New Zealand.

The three largest film distributors in South Africa are Ster-Kinekor, United International Pictures and Nu-Metro.

Ster-Kinekor has a specialised art circuit, called Cinema Nouveau, with theatres in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Pretoria.

Film festivals include the Durban International Film Festival; the North West Film Festival; the Apollo Film Festival in Victoria West; the Three Continents Film Festival (specialising in African, South American and Asian films, the Soweto Film Festival; and the Encounters Documentary Festival, which alternates between Cape Town and Johannesburg.


Museums are the windows to the natural and cultural heritage of a country. South Africa can justifiably be called the “museum country of Africa”, with the earliest of its museums dating back to the first half of the 19th century.

There are more than 300 museums in South Africa. They range from museums of geology, history, the biological sciences and the arts, to mining, agriculture, forestry and many other disciplines.

Visitors can find exhibits, both conventional and eccentric, on every conceivable topic – from beer to beadwork, from fashion to food.

National Library of South Africa (NLSA)

The NLSA is a custodian and provider of the nation’s key knowledge resources. Its collections contain a wealth of information sources, including rare manuscripts, books, periodicals, government  publications, foreign official publications, maps, technical reports, and special interest material, including Africana and newspapers.

South African Library for the Blind (SALB)

The SALB is a statutory organisation located in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. Its purpose is to provide, free of charge, a national library information service to blind and print-handicapped readers in South Africa.

Blind SA

Blind SA, located in Johannesburg, provides services for blind and partially sighted individuals to uplift and empower them by publishing books, magazines and other documents in Braille.

Source: Pocket Guide to South Africa 2014/15

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