With no love lost between the City of Cape Town and Stop CoCT founder Sandra Dickson, it seems that the City has come out on top of allegations of wasting resources and public funding as far as the holiday season and associated events are concerned, at least for now.
During the December holiday period, the City of Cape Town hosts an annual “switching on the festive lights” celebration which is accompanied by a massive public event in the CBD. According to reports by the Cape Argus and Stop CoCT, the event will cost approximately R4.5 million in total.
The price tag accompanying the event has garnered a mixed reaction from Capetonians. While some have expressed the opinion that it’s a reasonable amount considering the location, performances and resources made available to the public – at no direct expense – others have frustratedly argued that the money would be better spent elsewhere – addressing issues relating to crime and education.
“I think it’s a little bit over the top,” said Dickson.
“It seems to me to be a lot of money if one compares it with a big event like the minstrels on New Years and there’s always controversy around the funding of the minstrels. I consider this switching on of the lights as a religious and cultural event [and] the question then arises: why such a huge focus on this specific event and then other cultural events are not even funded? That really concerns me.”
“Another concern is the fact that Law Enforcement is used, police are called in and private security is also hired,” added Dickson.
She questioned why private security is necessary in addition to the presence of SAPS and Law Enforcement and who would ultimately pay that bill.
Dickson also expressed suspicion and concern around the tender and procurement process relating to this event and clarified that Stop CoCT’s concern is not so much the lights themselves but the other expenses noted in this article.
“Since 2016 the same company got awarded this contract…they have a carte blanche to reproduce this every year…I’m really concerned about the organisation and about how and on whom the money is spent around the event, rather than just the mere switching on of lights.”
Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security at the City of Cape Town, Alderman JP Smith insists, however, that the event not only serves meaningful social, cultural and economic functions but also comes with a reasonable price tag.
“I think R4.5 million is not a problematic price tag,” said Smith.
“The City does one free concert a year for the public in Cape Town. This is the one expense a year where we say ‘Everybody has worked hard, it’s the end of a long year’… there are a lot of people in our city who can’t afford tickets to events and cant afford to go to concerts and other stuff where tickets cost too much money. This is the one time in the year when we can throw the city open for them, they can claim the inner city as their own and can come to an event with performances and artists.
As part of this event – aside from the social cohesion you achieve – you also have a lot of local artists emerging as part of the talent search competition…there’s a lot of additional value added and you’d have to be an extraordinary grinch to begrudge other people that one opportunity to celebrate a year gone by and to celebrate being Capetonian.”
Smith explained that conducting events in the city is important for stimulating economic activity and benefits the local economy in many ways. He addressed arguments that the money budgeted for the event should be used elsewhere, explaining that such redirections would be misguided in various ways. Ultimately, because the money invested in the event leads to a stimulated local economy, it’s good for locals earning a living and adds to economic development and growth, according to Smith.
As far as suspicions around the City’s tender processes are concerned, Smith says there needn’t be any worry. He also explained that despite Stop CoCT’s concern, there will not be any unnecessary use of private security.
It was clarified in the interview that the services of private security firms are employed in an effort to reduce strain on already thinly stretched Law Enforcement and SAPS services.
“The City’s procurement process is monitored like a hawk. Our supply chain management lets nothing go through.”
The City of Cape Town has indicated that the event is intended primarily for Capetonians, as opposed to tourists. It’s the City’s way of “giving back” to the people of Cape Town.
“We think it’s money worthwhile spent and all big cities in the world hold large events as part of celebrating their local culture. This is normal and, I would suggest, very appropriate.”