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The Toyota SU Woordfees

So much more than a festival

The Words Open Worlds (WOW) encourages in learners a love for words through reading, spelling competitions, writers’ visits and creative writing projects. WOW reaches over 2 500 schools and 270 000 learners a across South Africa annually. 

The Toyota SU Woordfees is a unique collaboration that brings together a  town, a university, artists, audiences and communities from across our country and many parts of the world to tell the stories of our borders, our differences, our similarities, our fears, our joys, our refuges, our triumphs and our strengths.  

The festival transforms the university town of Stellenbosch in the Western Cape winelands into a whirlwind of energy and creativity as artists, audiences and communities collide in a joyous celebration of theatre, music, art, film, dance, discourse, literature and poetry.

The Woordfees started in 2000 as an all-night celebration of Afrikaans literature, but over the past two decades it has grown into one of South Africa’s largest multilingual arts festivals, annually hosting over 500 performances and events in more than 70 venues with the sole aim of reminding us of the incredible ingenuity, inspiration, creativity and resourcefulness of the human spirit.

However, the SU Woordfees is so much more than a festival. This extraordinary enterprise, which forms part of the division for Social Impact and Transformation at Stellenbosch University, is also the home of several long-term projects that make a real difference in the lives of thousands of people.

The Words Open Worlds (WOW) encourages learners a love for words through reading, spelling competitions, writers’ visits and creative writing projects. WOW reaches over 2 500 schools and 270, 000 learners, across South Africa annually. 

WOW also opens up the world of tertiary education to young people from backgrounds of severe disadvantage by providing bursaries, academic support and mentorship to help them access and complete their studies at university.

During the festival, WOW offers learners, teachers and principals from schools in the region the opportunity to attend discussions, academic debates and performances as part of the Woordfees commitment to supporting and stimulating interest in the written and spoken word.

The SU Woordfees manages and co-ordinates the celebrated Stellenbosch University Choir which swept the boards at the 2018 Llangollen Eisteddfod in Wales winning the top awards for Youth Choirs, Mixed Choirs and Open Choirs. André van der Merwe won the Jayne Davies prize for Best Conductor at the Llangollen Eisteddfod. The choir competes internationally and for the past six years, it has been ranked as No.1 in the world by the Interkultur World Choir Games which ranks 1 000 international choirs.    

This remarkable choir is supported by the SU Woordfees and is comprised of 120 Stellenbosch University students from across all academic disciplines bonded together through their love of music and song.  

The SU Woordfees also supports the Amazink Theatre Group in Kayamandi, both financially and through the provision of creative mentorships. In 2020, Amazink Live was presented for the eighth consecutive year. This township theatre-restaurant experience combines the development of local talent with economic empowerment and the promotion of tourism.

The SU Woordfees, in partnership with WOW, the SU Choir and Amazink Live, embodies the notion that the arts are a critical impetus for building social cohesion. Together, these projects demonstrate that through arts and culture communities find the confidence to tell their stories, generate jobs, contribute to intellectual and creative empowerment and reach across social, economic, historic, educational and geographic barriers to come together and change lives.