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Oudtshoorn

Oudtshoorn is a Karoo town known for its ostrich farms, Cango caves and being home to the Klein-Karoo Kunstefees.

It is well worth it to take a visit through the underground formations of the Cango caves - for the daring there's the adventure tour through the more claustrophobic tunnels up "Jacob's ladder" and through the "postbox".

the Postbox the Postbox
Click here to view a photo archive of the Cango Caves

Other adventurous things to do include going for a ride on an ostrich, posing with a cheetah or taking a hot-air balloon ride.

Ostritch head

There are many options for accommodation in Oudtshoorn.

KKNK Festival

I have just experienced my first KKNK, the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees, where I spent a week celebrating all things Afrikaans. It takes place every year in Oudtshoorn, home to the world's largest ostrich population, and has grown over the last twenty years into being South Africa's largest national arts festival. A diverse range of visual and performing arts are celebrated alongside both pop and classical music concerts, lectures and exhibitions over a period of eight, exhausting, noisy, fun filled days.

KKNK Huisgenoot stage

I'll admit to being a little hesitant when I first heard about the KKNK; apart from the small detail that my Afrikaans is limited, I just couldn't help but notice that the KKNK sounds disturbingly similar to the KKK (the infamous American white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan). I mentioned this to my Afrikaans friends who were suitably horrified and assured me that it's just an uncomfortably similar acronym. In reality they really couldn't be further apart; the KKNK is an inclusive celebration of modern Afrikaans culture.

The KKNK (which for the full effect really must be pronounced in Afrikaans - car, car, en, car) plays a very central role in Afrikaans theatre and music productions and it is here that many new and up and coming artists test their mettle performing in front of a live audience. Every day of the festival the 'Krit' is published by Die Burger sharing critics views of the performances and helping festival goers to find out what is going on where and what's worth seeing.

It's all quite overwhelming; there is just so much going on. And in so many different genres. And of vastly different quality. It seems  the festival organizers want to offer 'something for everyone' and the only entry criteria is that it must be in some way 'Afrikaans'. The result is an odd juxtaposition of cutting-edge intellectual plays alongside slapstick comedy like Dowwe Dolla, lowest common denominator mass culture pop (I heard Fredi Nest's Bangbroekie song enough to drive me a little potty) is in the same concert as world class talented singers like MoniQue and kid's entertainment (there's a dedicated under 18s area) is just a step away from sophisticated dance performances. And of course it wouldn't be a truly Afrikaans festival without invoking God's blessing; be prepared to hear leather clad musicians and artists vocally praise the Lord before dedicating their work to God.  It's one big melting pot, quite like the people it represents.

Oudtshoorn might not be a big town but don't be fooled, you'll need to be armed with your 'Feeskaart' (festival map) because the festival is spread out all over town although there are some hot spots like the 'Wynsaal' where all the wineries are gathered for tastings and the Rivierbuurt where all the official 'stalletjies' are housed in picturesque tents on the banks of the river; they sell everything from aromatherapy beauty products to jewellery, handmade crafts and delicious nibbles and clothes. You can even buy perfect miniature baby dolls! I loved the cute hats made by Grey Bear for children or jovial adults and the Jean Meintjes sculptures in metal were a beautiful example of sophisticated craftsmanship. Make sure to get a  map and a programme from the beginning of the week so you don't miss out - some performances are one offs but others run every day for a few days.

Whilst the festival is a homage to the complexity and humour of the culture and language of Afrikaans (a challenge for me as someone who is still to master die Taal), there are quite a few elements of the programme that cater to non-Afrikaans speakers; The Dog's Bollocks is a comedy of an English language class taken by a professor with limited vocabulary, Wrakstukke is non-verbal theatre about two strangers on a raft and Bravissimo! is not a range of lingerie but the South African Sopranos performing a classical concert in English, German, Italian and French. The festival organisers produce a special pamphlet for non-Afrikaans speakers which is worth getting your hands on if it's not your first language.

Chatting to locals about the KKNK made me realise what an enormously positive impact it has had on the town. I probably should have had an inkling of the festival's popularity when I found it tricky to find somewhere not 'fully booked' to stay; you have been warned, book early - literally thousands of people flock from far and wide to join in the fun.  Even residents with spare rooms open up their homes to visitors. The town's streets are blocked off and the local watering holes are pumping along with fast food stands, local clubs, theatres, galleries, flea markets and anything else that might bring in some cash. The local municipality estimate that around 400 temporary jobs are created, three quarters of which are filled by black employees. The festival, sponsored by ABSA, is estimated to bring into Oudtshoorn a whopping R110 million over the eight day jamboree.  It's the lifeblood for many local businesses.

The 2011 census showed that about 50% of the Western Cape speak Afrikaans but, as a group, it feels to me that many Afrikaaners believe their culture, language and way of life has been threatened; I think the KKNK is an important reminder that it is not under attack but that it is one facet of the rainbow nation. To me the KKNK was a positive, everybody-welcome festival showcasing  a wide range of Afrikaans Kulture; I think it celebrates an inclusive South Africa where people can come together to celebrate different backgrounds and enjoy a good old knees up.

Written by Emily Blott

Lee Scott at the KKNK
Photo credit: Chris Ricco



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