Why walking away isn’t an option


National Arts Festival CEO Tony Lankester explains why walking away from Makhanda isn’t an option. File photo

Following his letter published in Grocott’s Mail (‘The show will go on’ – GM 8 March 2019) as well as regional and national media, Grocott’s Mail asked National Arts Festival CEO Tony Lankester to tell us more about the Festival’s plans to help with the provision of water at Makhanda’s public schools, Fingo Festival 2019 – and what keeps the Festival committed to our town.

The Gift of the Givers two weeks ago drilled a water-producing borehole at the Monument. Will this be for providing drinkable water, or just for flushing toilets?
We’re waiting for the test results to come back from Johannesburg. Our expectation (and hope!) is that it will be potable. If not, we will look at the viability of filtering it so that it can be consumed.

Is the borehole linked to the Monument infrastructure?
It will be plumbed directly into the Monument’s water system once testing is complete.

Please can you talk a bit more about the plan to secure water for township schools, in particular.
We’re waiting for some final detail on this from Standard Bank – they are considering a proposal we sent them and hope to have the outcome in a day or two.

The Festival has become expert in an extraordinary array of logistics. Water provision is an unexpected one. What are your calculations for how many people will attend, and how many litres of water that will translate to?
We’re expecting that visitor numbers will be consistent with last year. Difficult to know exactly how many visitors that amounts to, but typically it seems as if there are an additional 50 000 – 70 000 people spread over the Festival period. Not all stay over, many come as day trippers.
By the time Festival comes around we expect that Rhodes will be fully serviced by boreholes, which is where the majority of artists/traders stay, as well as those attending the National Schools Festival. Most guesthouses have rainwater tanks and so our plan will entail keeping those full and flowing.
Hopefully we can ensure a supply of an additional 1 – 2 megalitres a day from various sources, which should be enough.

The past few weeks in Makhanda have been apocalyptic, with both water quality and supply falling apart, rubbish piling up in the streets as the municipal strike continues and core municipal staff struggling to maintain even the most basic level of service delivery. What gives the Festival the will to carry on in this space?
This is our home and has been for 45 years. We have to make it work here. There is no other City in South Africa that could host a Festival with the same feel, the same small town magic. Walking away isn’t an option for us. The residents of Makhanda have been amazing and supportive in the past few months, keeping the City’s wheels turning, and that, more than anything, reassures us that this is the right place for us.

Many would agree that the arts serve (among other things) as a vehicle for expression and possibility in stressed times. Is the South African arts community engaged with our political and social landscape to an unusual degree or in unusual ways and is this reflected in this year’s programme?
Artists are always concerned with our context. We’ve seen them reflect social and political issues – either through satire, theatre or dance. I think South African artists, more than most, are alive to the debates and dynamics of our society and respond to them with their work.

What is the Festival’s relationship with Fingo Festival this year and are there NAF events planned for township venues this year?
We support them financially – both directly and with funding from the EC Department of Sports, Recreation Arts and Culture. We supply them with the infastructure they need, as well as give them additional support in the form of security, electricity etc. We are using Nombulelo Hall again – hopefully turning it into a nighttime Jazz venue and possibly Noluthando Hall as well. We also have a Street Parade through the township on the last weekend, and one starting in the township and ending in town.

Yes, the show will go on

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