R103-million Allegedly Spent on the Essence Festival by eThekwini Municipality

The expenditure related to the Essence Festival hosted by the eThekwini municipality last year has once again raised eyebrows as a DA leader refute the R95-million cost as being higher. 

On Monday Zwakele Mncwango, the DA provincial leader, wrote to city manager Sipho Nzuza requesting that a forensic investigation be instituted to probe expenditure related to the festival.

In the letter, Mncwango claims that the cost of hosting the festival in 2016 had ballooned to R103 million, despite council being told after the event that they forked out R95-million.

The DA believes there were many irregularities and possible corruption which resulted in the ballooning of costs.

A reportedly furious Philip Sithole, head of the business support, tourism and markets unit in eThekwini, said to IOL that the claims by Mncwango were baseless and added that the project was approved by all parties, including the DA, in 2014. 

He maintained that the expenditure was R95-million, adding that this included programmes which were already budgeted for and were later incorporated into the festival “as they were of a similar nature”.

He accused Mncwango of deliberately misleading the public and complained that the DA leader does not want is to see Durban having anything that would rival the Cape Town Jazz Festival.

So, the cost may not be 103 but R95-million. What exactly does R103m R95-million of tax-payers money get South Africa or the people of KZN with the Essence Festival? 

At the inaugural Essence Festival Durban last year the good people of Mzansi got a visit from singers Kelly Price and Estelle who were joined by comedian and television host Steve Harvey, civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton as well as fitness expert Shaun T. Ne-yo performed at Moses Mabhida Stadium with local artists as supporting acts.

Real Housewives of Atlanta star Phaedra Parks was also among confirmed guest speakers for the festival’s free, daytime Empowerment Experience, which offered such programming as a Money + Power Showcase, Beauty and Style Expo, Lifestyle and Wellness Experience and Essence Eats, showcasing celebrity chefs making their specialty dishes.

In addition, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Yolanda Adams was honoured during the event’s All-Star Gospel Tribute which included a line-up of local gospel talent. 

My thoughts?

Well, I appreciate what eThekwini Municipality has done over the years for the creative industry. I would venture to say, the city of Durban is number one at putting together initiatives that help boost our local entertainment industry.

As far as the Essence Festival is concerned, I can't speak much on the worthiness of the actual event as I did not attend 2016's events. I can only judge it by media coverage and I have to admit, it is not looking good.

An investment in events of this nature depends heavily on the public knowing that they are happening and worth travelling to the city for. The motivating factor in putting millions of rands behind such events is that they will attract tourism to the host city and thus pay back the spent money.

I searched for articles about last year's event, hoping to get some insight on the festival and 90% of the few articles I came up with were about Tina Knowles being in Durban. Either journalists were not invited or the festival did not deliver anything newsworthy but the media coverage was clearly very poor.

Interestingly, there were lots of articles which promoted the event leading-up to November 2016.

Having seen what the US version of the event offers, I think for R95-million eThekwini municipality could do more to make an event not just about inviting Americans to Durban but be an inclusive platform where South Africans and Americans can have a cultural exchange experience.

Promoting local creative industry by involving our local artists, actors and talent across the spectrum of the creative industry will also go a long way. The focus should not only be on music. I want to see actors and designers given an opportunity to showcase their work at the event.

Much like the event in the US, should I attend the festival in SA, I want to see panel discussions from  local tv casts, producers, designers, etc.

Otherwise this just becomes an excuse to throw a party with Americans at the expense of tax-payers.

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