by Makwena Manaka
The 45th edition of the National Arts Festival is set take to place from 27 June to 7 July in Makhanda (Grahamstown). Interest in the event has, however, been tainted by concerns about drought and loadshedding. Activate Online interviewed National Arts Festival CEO Tony Lankester to hear what plans are in place to ensure that the festival goes ahead uninterrupted.
Makana Municipality’s Settlers Dam sits at 7%, and Howieson’s Poort dam is at 29%. Makhanda has also been crippled by ageing infrastructure and electrical failures that have seen many people in parts of Makhanda East and 19 streets in Makhanda West without water. The municipality and community members are using water tankers and bottled water to cope.
Lankester released a letter to address concerns about the town’s readiness amidst a ravaging drought. In the interview, he mentioned that tourists immediately worry about things like hydration and hygiene without water, and that they might be taking water away from the locals who need it more.
“I had to reassure them that that’s not what happens. In fact, if you don’t come, you’re taking work away from them because… the people that we employ largely come from Grahamstown East.”
Lankester’s letter also outlined contingency plans to minimise the impact of the drought on the National Arts Festival. Some of these include:
● Water stations at all main venues
● Refilling existing water tanks and roping in new ones
● Working closely with the University Currently Known as Rhodes (UCKAR) and guest houses to ensure that there is enough water for visitors
● Working with Standard Bank and Gift of the Givers at schools so residents can access water
● 20 boreholes that will be tested and purified for high quality are being drilled at sites around the town as medium-term solutions to the water crises
Lankester said that the letter was positively received.
Makhanda can also expect to be spared from load-shedding for the duration of the NAF, says Lankester.
Eskom recently began implementing stage 4 load-shedding due to a lack of capacity and Makhanda was no exception. The prospect of a respite from electricity cuts during NAF will be welcomed by residents, local schools, small businesses and tertiary institutions, which have had to battle costs and adjustments to lifestyles.
When asked whether loadshedding would have an impact on the NAF, Lankester said: ‘‘We’ve dealt with the issues frequently in the course of my last ten years being here. We’ve always reached a deal directly with Eskom that the city is doing Fest, so that they don’t cut us off.”
Lankester also addressed security concerns that often come with loadshedding. With over 70 000 visitors expected to flock to Makhanda for the NAF, including government ministers, the town is vulnerable to opportunists. “So, not having electricity poses a real threat… We just make Eskom aware of that threat.”
Until now, this has been grounds enough for Eskom to put a hold on loadshedding in Makhanda during NAF.
The contingency plans in place to deal with the drought and Eskom’s assurance to the availability of electricity for NAF comes as good news for Makhanda residents and visitors of the town, who wish to enjoy the festivities.