De­cay­ing Gra­ham­stown ‘could lose Arts Fes­ti­val’

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - FRONT PAGE - Adri­enne Carlisle

IT is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to jus­tify the world-renowned Na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val re­main­ing in a de­cay­ing Gra­ham­stown.

The warn­ing came yes­ter­day from fes­ti­val chief ex­ec­u­tive Tony Lankester dur­ing a meet­ing with Co­op­er­a­tive Gov­er­nance Min­is­ter Zweli Mkhize in the run­down Eastern Cape city.

Lankaster’s warn­ing was echoed by dis­mayed busi­ness, ed­u­ca­tion and com­mu­nity lead­ers, who all called for the crum­bling Makana mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s fi­nan­cial, tech­ni­cal and ser­vice de­liv­ery woes to be ad­dressed.

Mkhize and his del­e­ga­tion met with busi­ness, po­lit­i­cal, ed­u­ca­tional and com­mu­nity lead­ers in Gra­ham­stown yes­ter­day to as­cer­tain for him­self how things stood in the mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

The min­is­ter said he had ap­pointed a large team con­sist­ing of the top man­age­ment and tech­ni­cal lead­er­ship in his depart­ment to as­sist a turn­around in the dys­func­tional and broke mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

“This team will en­sure crit­i­cal is­sues are dealt with and va­can­cies, in­clud­ing that of mu­nic­i­pal man­ager, are filled. Don’t be dis­cour­aged that pre­vi­ous in­ter­ven­tions have not worked out. There is enough good­will to take this for­ward. We are here to give you the nec­es­sary sup­port,” Mkhize said.

But he warned that there was no mag­i­cal pot of money to bail out the mu­nic­i­pal­ity which, he said, needed to first get the ba­sics right.

He was told in no un­cer­tain terms how the col­lapse in ser­vice de­liv­ery, the pot­holed roads and the fre­quent elec­tric­ity and wa­ter out­ages in the city were de­stroy­ing in­vestor con­fi­dence, busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties and em­ploy­ment.

Lankester said the im­pact rip­pled down to the level of every­thing done in the city and it was be­com­ing in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult for him

to jus­tify why the Na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val should re­main in Gra­ham­stown, which has hosted it for 44 years.

“When I am asked [(if it is stay­ing in Gra­ham­stown] I re­ply: ‘We will stay in Gra­ham­stown as long as it is ca­pa­ble of host­ing us’. And it is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to jus­tify.”

The Na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val’s im­por­tance as a rev­enue gen­er­a­tor was un­der­scored by a Rhodes Uni­ver­sity eco­nomic im­pact study in 2013 which put the value of the con­tri­bu­tion of the fes­ti­val to the Eastern Cape at R340-mil­lion, with Gra­ham­stown at­tract­ing R90-mil­lion of that.

At­ten­dance num­bers for the fes­ti­val last year dropped by 10.2% to 202 643 from the 227 524 peo­ple who at­tended in 2016, but Lankester said at the time that ticket sales had been “solid and con­sis­tent” de­spite tough eco­nomic times and had only dipped by 5%.

The man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of one of Gra­ham­stown’s big­gest em­ploy­ers, the Carara Ar­gos Pro­cess­ing plant, Mike Duxbury, said the com­pany had spent mil­lions of rands on deal­ing with the con­se­quences of the col­lapse of mu­nic­i­pal ser vices.

He said the com­pany, which is a ma­jor ex­porter of pick­led prod­ucts, had to in­stall its own wa­ter-treat­ment fa­cil­ity to deal with the sub­stan­dard mu­nic­i­pal wa­ter qual­ity, buy its own gen­er­a­tors to deal with elec­tric­ity out­ages, de­velop ex­tra­or­di­nary wa­ter-stor­age mea­sures to deal with wa­ter out­ages, and buy its own trac­tor and skips to re­move rub­bish.

The com­pany also as­sisted the sur­round­ing com­mu­nity by clean­ing up in­for­mal dump­sites, mowed and cleaned its own verges and re­paired sur­round­ing pot­holed roads.

“How can we con­vince cus­tomers we op­er­ate to world stan­dards and are able to sup­ply vol­umes of ex­port qual­ity prod­uct if we are sur­rounded by an un­sightly mess?” he asked.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Gra­ham­stown Res­i­dents’ As­so­ci­a­tion , Gra­ham­stown Busi­ness Fo­rum, Rhodes Uni­ver­sity and all the pri­vate schools said they wanted to work with the Makana mu­nic­i­pal­ity to turn things around.

Busi­ness fo­rum chair Richard Gaybba said that the mu­nic­i­pal­ity was strate­gi­cally po­si­tioned be­tween two ma­jor met­ros, was home to Rhodes Uni­ver­sity, some of the best govern­ment and pri­vate schools on the con­ti­nent, the na­tional arts and other fes­ti­vals, and the seat of the high court in the prov­ince.

Mkhize later told the Daily Dis­patch that his team would look at the con­straints faced by the mu­nic­i­pal­ity and iden­tify solutions and “quick wins”.

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