Virtual, in person or hybrid - Covid-19 has changed the way South Africans do events for good

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The Isisusa Jazz Fest’21 will pay tribute to various musicians including the late singer, Sibongile Khumalo.
The Isisusa Jazz Fest’21 will pay tribute to various musicians including the late singer, Sibongile Khumalo.

They had just started what they hoped would be a show that would go on for years. After all, they named it the annual Eastern Cape Jazz Festival.

And then the pandemic hit and the country went into level five, then three, then four and on it goes.

On the other side, the Nelson Mandela University had been running a jazz festival 12 years years and were excitedly planning for the next. And again, they got stopped in their tracks by the pandemic.

Thousands of events and events planners were hit hard by Covid-19 and are slowly trying to make their way back, some virtually, some hybrid and others in person.

But while it’s exciting to be planning events again, it is also nerve-wracking as they now have to think of new buzz words -  Covid-19 compliancy, fourth waves and other factors.

We chat to people behind these events about the stresses of planning a festival in these trying times and how they ensure it is safe.

The Nelson Mandela University event is going virtual while in Mthatha, the event organisers are putting together an in person show. 

Nelson Mandela University has been running the Isisusa Jazz Fest’21 event for 12 years and was excitedly planning for the next. And they had to come up with a different plan when the pandemic hit.  

For the past 12 years, the event was live but in 2020 they went digital. They are planning to do the same again this year when they host the event on Friday, 26 November.

The concert will be broadcast on the university’s YouTube channel and will pay tribute to the fallen legends Lawrence Matshiza, Sibongile Khumalo, and Oliver Mtukudzi.

Despite the easing of lockdown restrictions, for safety, they have decided the festival would continue taking place virtually. Nelson Mandela University deputy director of Arts, Culture and Heritage Ryan Pillay says they are moving with the times. 

“We had to make that switch, put together a digital concert and ensure that it translates to the audience in a way that is meaningful, still filled with passion, and still have that magic that a live concert and performance has. With it being filmed, only 4 people are needed to be present for filming which ensures we stick to Covid-19 protocols,” he explains.

Ryan says they are looking to turn Isisusa not into an annual event but rather into a yearlong program around music equality.

“From next year every month starting in February, I will be doing workshops in communities, which will eventually lead up to the concert,” he explains.

Meanwhile, in 2019 event organiser Mlindi Ntloko in collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Museum had just started their first annual event.

The festival aims to celebrate the life of the late Nelson Mandela, who passed away on 5 December, 2013.

In 2020 Mlindi had to think outside the box due to lockdown regulations. As a result, a virtual show and gala dinner that featured award-winning performers Judith Sephuma and Sylvester Manzinyane was hosted, instead of the 2nd annual live jazz festival as hoped.

This year, with the country currently being on Level 1 of Covid-19 lockdown and as things slowly return to normalcy, the Eastern Cape Jazz Festival is set to take place on 17, December, live at uMthatha. 

“We have limited the number of people who can attend the festival and opted for a larger venue to adhere to the COVID-19 regulations, everything we will be doing will adhere to the regulations. What we want to achieve this year is to give individuals hope that when the virus has subsided we will be together again,”

In a venue with a capacity of 2000 individuals, the festival this year strictly allows 750 people due to protocols. 

Read more | Jazz festival relocates to Mthatha

Njabulo Thabethe is an event manager at Kaya 959 and says the past two years have destroyed his momentum. He had planned an event and secured sponsors but due to a spike in Covid-19 infections, it had to be cancelled. 

“The uncertainty destroys momentum, one moment you are planning for an event, then the next moment the country is moved to another level which prohibits gatherings, and the virtual experience is just not the same. Planning an event in a normal setting is stressful, but with Covid-19 it has become more and more stressful,” he shares.

Read more | 'Attendees must be vaccinated': Ballito Rage organisers talk safety measures at this year's event

But because he is doing something he loves; he has no choice but to stick it through.

“As an event planner, I don’t want to do an event and someone catches the virus, it becomes a PR nightmare. We always have to ensure that we sanitize everything,” he shares.

Another challenge is people, notes Njabulo. 

“Working with people, in general, is difficult but now it has become more strenuous. People fail to adhere to social distancing or any safety regulation that unfortunately due to Covid-19 we must put in place. And as an organiser, not only do I have to protect myself, I have to protect the organisation and the people as well,” he says.

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