Building Stronger Communities – The Role of Festivals and Events in Rural SA

Whether they’re volunteering for Scouts, setting up a local craft market or starting a community foundation for disadvantaged children, residents are at their best when they feel connected to one another.

A growing body of research shows that strong communities are associated with health and wellbeing. But how does that happen?

Community Building

Festivals build communities by creating a sense of shared identity. They encourage participation and foster civic engagement, as well as offering educational opportunities. According to a survey conducted by the University of Minnesota Tourism Center, festival attendees are more likely to learn something new than they would in any other setting. Whether it’s about native flowers, local history, or a famous musical genre, festivals provide a platform for learning that is fun and meaningful.

Festival attendees also spend money, generating revenue for the community both on and off site. For example, the 2011 Irish Fair in Minnesota generated over $50 million in revenue through admission fees, parking fees, food and beverage sales, souvenirs and more. This revenue helps to support other businesses in the area. For instance, if an event attracts visitors from outside of the area, they are likely to visit local gas stations and restaurants.

Events such as festivals can also help to build resilience. By bringing people together to celebrate, a sense of belonging is created and it can help to overcome challenges and adversity. These positive impacts on community can last long after the festival is over.

South Africa would probably not be the first country that springs to mind when thinking of festivals, but we have a calendar filled with them. From the Ficksburg Cherry Festival to the National Arts Festival, countless mud-and-dust music festivals and Hermanus Whale Festivals, to wine and olive festivals, and even one that showcases the best in agriculture – a celebration of all things produce.

For arts lovers, the annual Arts Alive International Festival in Johannesburg is a heady mix of dance, theatre, visual art and performance poetry. The event transforms the suburb of Newtown into a cultural village for a week, with an extensive line up of musicians (usually featuring big name stars), as well as local and young talent.

For those who are interested in exploring our rich history, the SA Heritage Festival offers a range of walks, talks and exhibitions. Likewise, the Rainbow Histories Festival, presented by Multicultural SA, brings together the stories and traditions of our state’s diverse LGBTQA+ communities.

Economic Development

Festivals offer the potential to activate opportunities for economic development and renewal in rural regions. This is achieved through the activation of cultural heritage and history, in addition to enhancing social cohesion, through events that appeal to both locals and tourists. These activities can enhance the city’s reputation, promote entrepreneurship and economic growth, stimulate the demand for housing and infrastructure and improve the overall quality of life through an increase in tourism-related expenditure. However, these benefits can be realised only if the events are planned and managed carefully (Mair and Whitford, 2013).

This study uses qualitative as well as quantitative research methods to understand the impact of festival tourism on rural communities in South Africa. This is done by conducting interviews with festival organisers, stall owners and visitors to the festivals, as well as analysing the financial records of the events. The findings reveal that festival tourism brings significant economic gains to host towns, especially when the local community is involved in the event’s planning and management. However, it also shows that the economic gains accrued are dependent on the size of the town and how much the locals invest in the event.

The findings of this study support the call for greater emphasis to be placed on the economic importance of hosting cultural events. These events are hosted to enhance, expand and celebrate a particular culture and as such, the economic impact of these events is often overlooked. This study used visitor and business surveys to calculate the economic impact of one of South Africa’s leading arts festivals.

The study used a ratio to estimate the amount of money spent by festival visitors and locals on specific items. This ratio included transport, food and souvenirs. It also included the remuneration of artists, and festival organisers, as well as the cost of show tickets. The results showed that local spending surpassed visitor spending by a substantial margin. This is probably because the majority of the festival attendees were from Bloemfontein, but it may also be because people spend more on food and souvenirs when they are away from home for a long time.


As festivals attract visitors, they contribute to tourism — an important economic driver for many towns and regions. The benefits of hosting events for tourists are numerous, including increased revenue from ticket sales, parking fees, food and beverage, souvenirs and more. Tourism also fosters relationships that help maintain connections in the community, a key ingredient of social capital.

Adding to their economic benefit, festivals can also help promote a region’s cultural identity. By drawing on intangible heritage practices, like music, dance, cuisine, and traditional crafts, local communities can highlight their distinctiveness to a wider audience. This is particularly true for small country towns such as Clare Valley in South Africa, which celebrates its burgeoning wine industry with the annual Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend. Here, attendees indulge in tutored tastings and a variety of mouth-watering foods from the area’s wineries.

While the economic benefits of festivals are obvious, the social impact is more subtle. Festivals teach people about the cultural values and history of a place, while creating a sense of belonging among the local community. They build pride and foster a sense of shared identity, and can even be a source of healing. For example, the Ficksburg Cherry Festival is an excellent opportunity for communities to come together and celebrate their heritage and culture in a fun way. In addition to building stronger bonds, the event educates about the natural environment through its focus on conservation. Similarly, the National Arts Festival in South Africa is an ideal place for the community to share its artistic and cultural values.

The success of a festival can boost a town’s reputation, but a less-than-successful effort can damage the town’s image. For instance, if a star performer cancels or the stage collapses during an outdoor concert, the festival could suffer from a loss of credibility and a negative public image.

Although governments have a major role to play in developing and implementing policies on cultural tourism, local authorities are vital stakeholders. They can be instrumental in generating innovative ideas and avenues for policy experimentation. They are close to the community and can respond to changing needs quickly.

Social Cohesiveness

The success of a community is contingent on the existence and maintenance of unity. One way that communities can foster unity is through festivals and events. The yearly Kwahu Easter and Paragliding Festival, for example, fosters pride among the community because it is an opportunity to showcase their unique culture to visitors. This has an immediate impact that promotes peace and stability within the community. The sense of pride that the locals feel as a result is not only crucial for social purposes, but also contributes to economic development and sustainability of their community.

Festivals and events are a great source of entertainment, and they are also an important catalyst for the economic growth of a town. They provide an opportunity for tourists to experience a unique culture, and they also bring in economic benefits. In order to maximize the benefits of festivals, it is vital that a destination knows how to best promote them. A good strategy for promoting festival tourism is through social media and partnerships with other organizations.

Social cohesion is a key factor that contributes to the success of a country, and it is an aspect that should be taken into account when planning for the future. Although it is a difficult concept to define, it can be defined as the state of being in which people share common values and are committed to their community.

While there are many factors that can contribute to social cohesion, it is important that communities understand the importance of fostering these values and working together. This is particularly important in South Africa, as the country has a history of division and divisiveness.

The national development plan identifies social cohesion as an important component for nation-building, and it is essential that the country continues to foster this idea. To promote cohesion, the country must continue to celebrate its culture through festivals and events. This will help to strengthen the country’s cultural identity and foster greater social interaction between its citizens. This will, in turn, lead to the formation of a more cohesive society.