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Bright Lights of Grahamstown

Bright Lights of Grahamstown

by Zoe Henry / 08.07.2009

Nearly a week has gone by and Grahamstown has begun to feel like a second home. The mad rush to see as much as possible has calmed down and more time can be put aside to explore the town itself. A walk down to the bottom of the High Street and beyond reveals a different Grahamstown. Craft stalls are replaced by tables of fake Prada sunglasses and Puma sandals. Quaint little tea houses and coffee shops become KFCs and liquor stores. The streets are packed with traders, and the locals bustle about trying to get their chores done amidst the madness. But soon enough another show is starting, and we have to dash back uptown.

One person shows are prevalent. Get lucky with James Cairns’ The Sitting Man, a daring slice of South Africa’s underbelly. Or get unlucky with Lemn Sissay, a British dude, telling his self indulgent story of being shifted from orphanage to foster home to orphanage and losing his identity before finding a new one in Something Dark. But when the sun goes to bed it’s time to party. Autopilot candy coats the crowd for ETC Crew to get a taste then Captain Stu riles them up and Tidal Waves takes them to a reggae rock infused climax. You dance, you hop, you jump, you skank. What a night.


In the morning you can get your head boggled and your ears assaulted by the bizarre collaboration of Intersections: Swiss/Africa with ensemBle baBel (Swiss) and Dizu Plaatjies Women’s Ensemble featuring Madosini (Africa). Get an intimate insight into Asanda Phewa’s racially complex mind as she shows you why she hates and loves being a black woman in A Face Like Mine. Get interactive with the disappointing and condescending murder mystery, Butlers and Botox.

Then take a walk through the Village Green. The boerie roll stands emit delectable scents and the tummy rumbles. Sit down and enjoy one in the uncharacteristically warm afternoon sun. Crafters try to sell you their wares. You explain that a statue of a life-size Khoi San woman won’t fit in your hand luggage. They whip out a miniature sculpture of a “happy elephant”. What can you do? Giant puppets walk past to conga beats. A woman with a Barbie doll in her hair and a glittery face is standing beside you. It’s the work of Osadia, the performance art hair sculpting duo. Festival time is awesome.


On the walk home take in a street performance. The local kids scramble up trees to see over the swelling crowd. It’s getting dark and hunger strikes again. Head home and pop into the corner takeaways, Get Lucky. The food is something you wouldn’t consider eating on a drunk stumble home, so you settle for a bag of chips. Michael Jackson’s funeral is on television.


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  1. Carol Reed says:

    So basically, you’re saying there’s a lot going on in Grahamstown right now. And its a real town as well. And you’re there. um, okay?

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  2. kate says:

    mahala’s comments are always so heavy, if I was a journalist I’d be too scared to write anything lest it be torn down by trolls like Carol.

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  3. Nathan Zeno says:

    If i were Carol I wouldn’t comment, lest it be torn down by trolls like kate.

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  4. jezebel says:

    zeno you’re a dork

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  5. Plonker says:

    Although this story doesn’t go into a lot of detail about what’s happening in Grahamstown, at least it gives us a glimpse of the vibe. Maybe not the best piece of journalism because it lacks a coherent polemic or opinion, or any amount of detail on what’s actually going down, but it does give us a window on the vibe. Which is better than nothing, methinks.

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  6. Carol Reed says:

    – your comment is the dictionary definition of “Damning With Faint Praise”

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