South Africa: 10 Johannesburg Events and Festivals You Should See

Johannesburg boasts one of the most vibrant and diverse cultural scenes in South Africa. There are events and festivals all year that showcase talented performers in almost every art form imaginable – you will find music festivals, dance extravaganzas, poetry readings, theatre productions, and art exhibitions taking place across South Africa’s largest city. Here are ten of the best art and cultural events happening this summer.

© Visit Gauteng/Flickr. Photo by Mark Straw
© Visit Gauteng/Flickr. 

Music | Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival


The Joy of Jazz Festival is now into its 16th year and will be held in 2014 for the first time in a new venue at the Sandton Convention Centre. The 2013 event saw over 50 international and South African Jazz artists on display and over 24,000 attendees. The festival is designed to be both a showcase event for the particular cadences and rhythms of South African jazz as well as welcoming major international jazz figures from further afield. The line-up for the 2014 festival includes South African jazz legend Jonas Gwangwa, the South African Air Force Band and the Standard Bank National Youth Orchestra – and from across the globe jazz figures including Billy Ocean, the Cuban Omar Sosa, the multi-platinum selling American singer Anne Hampton Calloway, and the 2014 Grammy Award winner Gregory Porter.

Jackson Hlungwani, Leaping Fish Sculpture | Courtesy the artist

Jackson Hlungwani, Leaping Fish Sculpture

Art | Jackson Hlungwani at the University of Johannesburg Art Gallery

Jackson Hlungwani started life as a cattle herder and, by the time of his death in 2010, had become a legendary sculptor and one of South Africa’s leading artists. This exhibition of his work at the University of Johannesburg Art Gallery is a major retrospective of his life and work and features 40 pieces by Hlungwani as well as photographs of his so-called ‘New Jerusalem’ site where he worked. Hlungwani combined his Christian faith and the observations he made of natural phenomena as a young man on the veld to create unique and visionary items sculptures of fish, animals, and figures taken from the Bible. This retrospective exhibition draws together items from major public museums from across South Africa and from private collections.

Courtesy Good Food and Wine Show

Courtesy Good Food and Wine Show

Food | Good Food and Wine Show

The Good Food and Wine Show is a showcase event for foodies to see demonstrations of signature dishes by leading international chefs, explore new ingredients and produce, and to sample the delights of the assembled winemakers. At the Johannesburg event there will be a vast array of artisanal producers offering the finest quality produce and craft beers from microbreweries, as well as regional winemakers providing tastings in newly designed wine pods. There are also themed shows on aphrodisiac cooking and plenty of suppliers offering the highest quality kitchen tools and implements. Amongst the celebrity chefs on show will be Matt Preston from Australian Masterchef, leading London chef and restaurateur Reza Mahammad, and Siba Mtongana.

jessie j south africa

Jessie J, Headliner of I Heart Joburg Music 

Music | I Heart Joburg


The I Heart Joburg music festival is a new event for 2014 planned by the events planning company Steyn Entertainment who last year brought the R&B superstar Kelly Rowland to South Africa. The festival is planned as a 12 hour continuous and uninterrupted playlist featuring a mixture of international and local South African artists. The festival is set to take place in the magnificent and historic Ellis Park in Johannesburg. The organisers have lined up 6 international acts and 6 South African bands for the line-up – the international acts include the British chart-topper and award-winning soul and R&B singer Jessie J, American rockers Fall Out Boy and the rapper T.Pain. The local acts on show will include the Graeme Watkins Project and Kwesta.

© Derek Smith/Flickr

© Derek Smith/Flickr

Literature | Jozi Book Fair


The Jozi Book Fair has been running since 2009 and is held at the Central Johannesburg College over the course of 2 days. The aim of the fair is to promote South African literature and the culture of reading and writing. The fair has particularly strong links to reading groups, small publishing houses, and emerging writers. Across the 2 days of the fair there will be a series of open-mic poetry readings, public readings, workshops for young writers, public seminars and lectures, roundtable discussions, and programmes for schools. Each year there is a distinguished guest who is invited to join in the discussions and offer guidance based on their experiences as a writer – for 2014 the guest of the fair will be the award-wining novelist, poet and playwright Zakes Mda.


Theatre | Defending the Caveman at Montecassino Theatre


Defending the Caveman was first premiered on Broadway in 1991 and has since been performed in 45 countries and translated into 30 languages. Rob Becker’s comedy mixes elements of stand-up comedy, therapy sessions, and lecture formats in a hugely funny and sharp exploration of the differences between the sexes and the eternal inability of men and women to communicate effectively with one another. When this production was first staged in the summer of 2013 there was huge acclaim in the South African press for the leading man, stand-up comic Alan Committee. The popular demand has led to a further run of performances over the course of a month with tickets extremely difficult to get hold of.

Art | Lionel Smit at the Circa Gallery

Lionel Smit has established himself as one of South Africa’s leading contemporary artists, working in both paint and sculpture from his Cape Town base. Having emerged as a young artist to watch out for over the first decade of the new millennium, Smit has now exhibited solo across the world, including at the Saatchi and the National Portrait Galleries in London, the Bowman Gallery in India, and in Hong Kong, Miami, and Monaco. His works adorn leading South African collections such as the Delaire Graff Wine Estate, the Standard Chartered Bank, and the Johann Jacobs Museum. This summer he will be installing one of hismonumental and sublime bronze heads at the Circa Gallery in Johannesburg.

Culture | Arts Alive Festival

The Arts Alive Festival is a vibrant jamboree with displays of everything from contemporary dance to performance poetry. Taking place in venues across Johannesburg the festival in previous years has attracted around 36 acts, with 20 coming from within South Africa and the rest jetting in from abroad. The aim of the festival is to celebrate creativity in all its forms – so you will find events focused on jazz and African music, visual art exhibitions, and poetry readings. The festival also incorporates the Umbrella Dance Festival, now into its twenty-fifth year, which showcases contemporary dance choreography from international and African performers including local community dance groups as well as more established artists.

Migrant Journeys Exhibition | Courtesy Wits Arts Museum

Migrant Journeys Exhibition 

Art | Migrant Journeys at the Wits Art Museum

The Wits Art Museum is part of the University of the Witwatersrand and possesses a superb collection of historical and contemporary artworks from South, Central and western Africa. This summer, in collaboration with Professor Peter Delius from the history faculty of the university, and Laura Phillips from the Public Affairs Research Institute there will be an exhibition entitled Ngezinyawo, or ‘Migrant Journeys’. The exhibition will explore the role of migrant labour in the development of modern South Africa. Through photographs, journals, films, interviews, archival documents and contemporary artworks the exhibition will unravel the experience of the ordinary migrant labourer who came from diverse backgrounds and various southern African language groups.

Stephen Hobbs | Courtesy Johannesburg Art Gallery

Stephen Hobbs

Art | Stephen Hobbs at the University of Johannesburg Art Gallery

Johannesburg Art Gallery is housed in a magnificent building designed by the great Edwin Lutyens at the start of the 20th century. Stephen Hobbs was formerly part of the gallery acquisitions committee and has himself exhibited work in South Africa and abroad. For the past four years he has been engaged in a project exploring the Johannesburg Art Gallery building – this summer following renovation work in the gallery his exhibition entitled ‘Jag Snag’ will open. It will feature video installations, collapsed exhibition screens, special lighting effects, and structural props to explore and rethink the potential of the building as a space for artistic display. ‘Jag Snag’ promises to be an intriguing and challenging artist’s response to the possibilities afforded by an exhibition space.


Written by PH

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