19 June 2024 | Makhanda, South Africa – As we mark 120 years of academic excellence, we reflect on the rich tapestry of history and transformation that defines Rhodes University and its decades of artistic contributions to the arts. Rhodes University is proud to announce a series of performances and exhibits as part of the official National Art Festival (NAF) programme, which marks its 50th anniversary, between 20 and 30 June 2024 in Makhanda.

The Rhodes University Fine Art Department, renowned for its interdisciplinary approach, has a special exhibition celebrating four decades of artwork by current and former staff titled “In Conversation: Four Decades of Artworks.” Curated by Dominic Thorburn, Robyn Munnick, and Maureen de Jager on behalf of the RU Visual Representation, Arts and Culture Committee (VRACC), and with support from the Rhodes University Office of Equity and Institutional Culture, it features a collection that began in the 1980s under Emeritus Professor Robert Brooks, showcasing shifts in representation, themes, and concerns in visual arts over the decades. Maureen de Jager notes that what holds the exhibition together is the motif of ‘conversations’— across time, between artworks and their era, teachers and their students. “This exhibition is ultimately a forty-year conversation between Fine Art colleagues united in their appreciation of art as a common language. It leverages the opportunity presented by Rhodes University’s 120th anniversary to reignite interest in the RU art collection and showcase some of its highlights,” de Jager emphasised.

The Rhodes University Drama Department, another key player in the arts at the University, will again be featured as one of the festival’s venues, alongside venues from the Music Department. This department has a rich history of producing acclaimed and award-winning graduates who have contributed to theatre and performance locally and internationally. It is unique among South African institutions and has affiliations with two professional theatre companies: The First Physical Theatre Company and UBOM! Eastern Cape Theatre Company.

One of the performances is called Mamemamela (“Listen”). It is a dramatisation of personal stories centred on identity, memory, and belonging through playback theatre – improvisational theatre based on the real-life stories of audience members.  The Artistic Director, Selloane ‘Lalu’ Mokuku, is a lecturer in Drama at Rhodes University and formed MEQOQO Playback Theatre Collective in 2018 – a Rhodes University Drama Department affiliate. “Identity shapes how an individual or a collective is perceived. These performances invite audiences to share their stories, celebrating our diverse connections with the Festival and beyond,” said Lalu.

Sponsored by The Isikhumbuzo Applied History Unit at the Rhodes University History Department as part of its program to bring little-told stories of local history into public awareness, the dance and drama performance “Madam President Evelyn” aims to highlight underrepresented local histories. Prof. Julie Wells, Head of the Isikhumbuzo Applied History Unit, oversaw the research and coordination. “It tells the fictional story of a spirited domestic worker who starts her political party and runs for president in 2024, gradually winning over even her employers and draws inspiration from Jacklyn Cock’s groundbreaking 1980 Rhodes PhD thesis, which gave a voice to over 200 domestic workers and employers in Makhanda,” Wells emphasised.

Adding to the celebration, the festival will host the Halala! ILAM’s 70th Birthday Celebration Concert on June 21, 2024. This concert marks the International Library of African Music’s 70th anniversary. It will feature diverse African music, including Lesotho’s ‘Famo’ music, Mozambique’s Timbila Groove Band, and the Ngqoko Women’s Ensemble, highlighting ILAM’s contributions to preserving African music heritage.

It is worth noting that the Alumni Division will host an Old Rhodian Festival Cocktail with the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Sizwe Mabizela, on the 27th of June. Old Rhodians are invited to join their alma mater using the above link to RSVP.

As we celebrate 50 years of the National Arts Festival, 30 years of democracy, and Rhodes University’s 120th anniversary, we reflect on our rich history and the transformative power of the arts in shaping our society. This milestone is a testament to our unwavering commitment to fostering creative excellence and contributing meaningfully to the cultural and intellectual heritage of South Africa.


For more information about Rhodes University’s events during the National Arts Festival, please visit our website. For media queries, contact Mo Senne (Senior Communications Officer) at mo.senne@ru.ac.za or 073 197 2242.