Lights, taps, action! Arts fest ready to roll

The musical and dance production uMthombo is on at the arts festival in Makhanda.                  Picture: Mark Wessles / National Arts Festival
The musical and dance production uMthombo is on at the arts festival in Makhanda. Picture: Mark Wessles / National Arts Festival

With an expected 200 000 visitors from as far afield as Dubai and China, the 45th edition of the National Arts Festival is under way in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) in the Eastern Cape and is expected to go ahead without any glitches.

This comes after the Eastern Cape High Court stopped Eskom from cutting off electricity to the Makana Local Municipality because of its R44 million debt.

The Grahamstown Business Forum went to court to interdict Eskom and prevent the city from being plunged into darkness during the festival.

Forum chair Richard Gaybba said: “There is a court order in place, but we actually reached an agreement. Through the entire process, we worked in collaboration with Makana, Eskom and National Treasury. While the litigation may sound ‘serious’, it was a mechanism to resolve the issues of the municipality’s historic debt.”

Gaybba said he believed they “managed to negotiate a far better deal for Makana municipality”.

Makana mayor Mzukisi Mpahlwa agreed: “The amount had been too huge for us because we have other creditors to pay.

“We revised it to meet our ability, meaning we now have to complete payment in 2022 instead of 2021.”

The municipality has also been battling with severe water shortages, having experienced its worst water crisis in history.

“As far as we are concerned, water has been at optimum level from our sources,” said Mpahlwa this week.

“One place where we had a challenge was on the western side because of the low dams. We are now complementing that area with water from the east. So we are quite confident that there will be no shortage of water during the festival.”

Tony Lankester, the festival’s chief executive for the past 12 years, said that his team had anticipated that there would be a sufficient water supply for residents of Makhanda and visitors to the 11-day event.

“At the moment, the city is receiving about 13 megalitres of clean water a day from the local purification plant. That’s supplemented at key points by borehole water, which helps take some of the pressure off the municipal supply,” he told City Press.

However, Lankester emphasised the importance of using water sparingly, adding that his team had put measures in place in case of unforeseen circumstances.

“We have backup plans that involve bringing water in by truck, but those plans will stay on the back burner.”

Contingency plans were also in place for unavoidable incidents, including bad weather, which could “blow lines down” and lead to power outages.

The festival contributes more than R370 million to the Eastern Cape’s GDP and boosts the local economy by R94 million.

Once again, attendees are spoilt for choice as about 700 shows and 2 000 performances are being staged.

It is no surprise that popular local outfits such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the virtual reality thriller Frogman from the UK sold out equally quickly.

The buzz here never stops, with shows starting early in the morning and running until late at night, while the streets are lined with colourful arts and crafts from Makhanda and beyond.


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