R4,5?mln festival a flop … and our taxes paid for it

2014-12-20 00:00

THE KwaZulu-Natal provincial government paid R4,5 million to a Durban party planner for a glitzy arts festival which was widely regarded as a failure.

The 10-day KZN Midlands-International Arts Experience was deserted, even after it was tipped to draw thousands to Midmar Dam.

Stalls stood desolate and a much-lauded musical line-up played to just a handful of people.

The Weekend Witness established that the Arts and Culture Department bankrolled event organiser Phindani Nene to the tune of R4,5 million.

Nene is an event organiser behind Durban Stars, a soccer club turned event company.

In an interview, Nene described the inaugural event as a pilot to build awareness for future events said to take place next year.

Nene claimed that 80% of the funding, millions of rands in total, came from his own pocket even though he described it as “a loss from [his] side”.

He refused to give a specific figure on how much he spent.

“I start from scratch and develop knowing the risk is high but the future of this business will be something else,” Nene said.

The department denied this, assuring they had given Nene the money.

When the Weekend Witness attended on Thursday, the large marquees were uninhabited, with a few choral performers hanging over chair-backs waiting for their turn to get on stage. There were approximately 20 spectators altogether, most of them too young to be without adult supervision.

One of the officials present, who asked not to be named, said that people mostly come late in the afternoons and during the day it is “dead quiet”.

One spectator said that, when she entered on Wednesday, there was also nothing going on.

“Apart from the three friendly security guards, not many people were there,” she said.

Local business owner Amanda McCarthy described the event as a “total flop”.

“I was, I think, the only one to pay R3 800 for a stand which they have since promised to refund me because the entire event was an absolute failure. When I got there I was the only one of eight people who had actually paid for a stand. Essentially my fee was their only income,” she said.

Glossy flyers that were handed out a week before the event and the event’s website promised helicopter rides, jet skis, park-and-ride transportation from all around KZN and the best of local entertainment: the makings of an internationally acclaimed festival.

“When we went back on Tuesday most of the stands had been abandoned so we just packed up shop and left. It was a flop of note.

“Everything that was listed on the pamphlet, like the helicopter rides and trail run, just never ­materialised,” McCarthy said.

Besides the Department of Arts and Culture and the ­Department of Tourism, the event’s website listed other ­major sponsors like South ­African Airways, SMG and ­SuperSport. However, Nene ­later admitted that these ­sponsors had only pledged to provide assistance for upcoming events next year.

Department of Arts and Culture spokesman Lethukuthula Mtshali confirmed that they sponsored a grand total of R4,5 million to event ­organiser Phindani Nene.

The R4,5 million KZN Midlands Experience was left bare on Thursday with a handful of spectators loitering about.



Event managers and local tent suppliers were shown pictures of the event and asked to provide an estimation of the cost of the equipment present.

An event manager, who did not want to be named, said a basic stage and lighting costs a minimum of R500 000, excluding a structural engineer who charges a minimum inspection fee of R2 000 per tent.

He also said the plainest sofa available for hire costs about R750 each per day and cushioned chairs go for around half that price.

A local tent supplier said, by his estimates, the tents alone at the venue would cost about R110 000 per day.

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