Saartjie Botha – breaking down barriers at Woordfees

Jay-Dee Cyster

“My greatest fear was that people would be afraid.”

Saartjie Botha
PHOTO: Nation Nyoka

Instead, said Saartjie Botha, director of die Woordfees, festival-goers has has been curious and open-minded when it came to the plight of protesting students.

According to her, she was proud of the way the audiences and some students, who disrupted a few of the Woordfees events, conducted themselves. Botha said she witnessed a lot of older festival-goers come to the realisation that, “I am able to witness this [the protests] and I am not scared by it”.

Botha described the Woordfees as an evolving, dynamic and diverse festival.

“I can see that some of the older people are energised and excited about things. People from communities such as Idas Valley are excited about people coming there for the first time,” said Botha.

“Hopefully this is a festival with artistic integrity, political consciousness and an obligation towards the community and Stellenbosch as a town. This town is a unique town but it faces a lot of challenges.”

Botha became festival director in 2015, following in the footsteps of Prof Dorothea van Zyl, who headed the festival for 15 years. Before her appointment Botha was working as the coordinator of the theatre programme. She is best known as playwright and has earned high praise for works such as Altyd Jonker and Balbesit.

When she took over from Van Zyl, Botha’s concern was that she did not come from an academic background.

“I was intimidated by the academic environment within the university structure. I am however, supported by a wonderful team and I am still learning. This is a wonderful job,” said Botha.

She does feel, however, that it is important that one does not do this job for too long.

“The festival needs fresh blood. My goal for my term as director is to enhance the sustainability of the Woordfees, to garner a solid sponsorship base, to ensure that the festival is more integrated and evolved and to ensure that our audience is in love with books.”

According to her, the festival can never stop trying to be innovative.

“Every year the landscape of the festival will be different and it is our job to anticipate the landscape.”

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