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Disgruntled Free State artists pin hopes on parliament

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Staff Reporter

Disgruntled artists in the Free State who have been staging a sit-in at PACOFS in Bloemfontein for the last 24 days over a host of maladministration and corruption allegations are now pinning their hopes on a possible meeting with parliament’s portfolio committee on sport, arts and culture set for Tuesday.

The artists, who are members of the Cultural and Creative Industries Federation of South Africa (CCIFSA), have occupied the office of PACOFS acting chief executive officer and artistic director Meshack Xaba since March 10 and have vowed not to leave the provincial arts hub until their grievances have been addressed.

About 60 artists are now living at PACOFS where they are sleeping in some of the offices and studios.

“PACOFS has been sinking for almost 20 years,” said CCIFSA Free State provincial coordinator Mbuyiselo Nqodi in an interview with The Free Stater.

“Parliament’s portfolio committee on sport, arts and culture will be conducting an oversight visit here on Tuesday.

“We have made contact with them saying we wish to make a presentation during that oversight visit.

“We want to put our issues on the table so that they get to know what’s happening.”

Asked what exactly CCIFSA would like to tell the portfolio committee, Nqodi said:

“We want to tell them that their inaction will lead to the demise of this institution.

“We want to tell them that if they don’t act so, it will be useless to have this institution in the province and our interests are clear: we want it to live, we want it to benefit our people.

“Another thing we want to tell them is that it must not be business as usual.

“For over 20 years, they have decided to look the other way when things are deteriorating here in the province, especially at PACOFS.

“So, it is high time that they force the minister to do the right thing.”

At the top of their demands, the artists want Xaba to leave because he is accused of failing to run the institution to the benefit of the artists and they also accuse him of corruption.

Nqodi said they want PACOFS to urgently implement the recommendations of an investigative report by Morar Incorporated Accounting Firm produced in 2018 which implicates some senior staff members, including Xaba and a board member.

The investigation was commissioned following long-standing allegations of corruption and maladministration at the centre.

The Morar report, among other things, recommended that PACOFS should take disciplinary action against Xaba for alleged unethical conduct.

According to Nqodi, the artistic director is accused of a host of issues in the report, including fabricating minutes of meetings.

The artists therefore want Xaba to leave because of the seriousness of the allegations against him.

“We want him to take his jacket and leave,” said an emphatic Nqodi during the interview in one of the kitchens on the fourth floor where some of the artists were preparing meals for everyone.

“We are fighting a culture of ripping the artists of their (IP) intellectual property, we are fighting a culture of undermining the artists, and we are also fighting the laziness that’s coming from the side of the artistic director.”

Nqodi said prior to the arrival of Xaba, PACOFS was producing over 80 shows per year, but this has since gone down drastically.

“His best performance is about 35 shows. That was the year that he arrived,” he said.

“Since then, PACOFS has only been able to do 12 shows a year, yet this is the biggest institution in the province with about four theatres and several studios.

“They are not utilised . . . their artistic programme is not benefiting the artists of the Free State.

“The artistic programme is only getting R2 million yet they are getting over R30 million from the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture.”

Nqodi said the challenges faced by PACOFS are not artist-made, but are a result of management failure.

He said the institution keeps on commissioning reports that are not implemented as well as spending money that is supposed to benefit the sector on legal fees.

“Basically, we are fighting bread and butter issues for the artists. We want to make sure that the institution works so that artists can depend on it,” he said, adding their protest is not aimed at disrupting daily operations at PACOFS.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic has been most devastating on artists as most of them have not been able to work in over a year.

“Our mothers who work in the kitchens have been able to go back to work and are able to put food on the table but the arts sector has largely remained closed,” he lamented.

The artists are also running workshops and other training programmes in order to optimise their time during the sit-in.

PACOFS council chairperson Advocate Thato Moeeng said at the beginning of the protest that the arts centre acknowledged the issues raised by the artists and would like to see them being resolved.

“Matters raised by the local artistic community regarding alleged corruption and maladministration have been duly acknowledged and are being investigated by the newly appointed PACOFS council.

“We are unreservedly committed to ensuring that fairness and transparency remain at the heart of all operations and that the integrity of the organisation is maintained,” said Moeeng in a statement issued on March 15.

Free State Premier Sisi Ntombela and the MEC for Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation, Limakatso Mahasa, have met with the artists but not much headway was made from the meeting.

PACOFS falls under the national Department of Sport, Arts, Culture, thereby limiting the powers of the provincial government to address issues there.

The artists have also staged a protest outside the premier’s office in a bid to pressure her to urge Sport, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa to act.

In the 2018/2019 financial year, the Auditor General gave PACOFS a disclaimer audit opinion saying it had insufficient information on the institution’s finances as the arts centre could not provide reliable invoices and other supporting documents on its operations to allow for an informed audit decision.

The AG said the financial statements submitted for auditing were not prepared in accordance with the prescribed financial reporting framework and neither were they supported by full and proper records.

THE NEXT MEAL . . . Some of the artists preparing food for the other protesters

 

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Ngwathe pays Eskom to fix damaged line

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BLACKOUT . . . The Ngwathe electrical network tripped on Friday and damaged Eskom’s equipment due to overloading

Ngwathe Local Municipality in the northern Free State has paid R1.1-million to Eskom so it can repair damages to the power line in the area caused by overloading.

Eskom provincial spokesperson Stefanie Jansen van Rensburg said in a statement the payment was made on Monday morning and work to restore supplies to Parys and Vredefort has started.

“Repairs to the Eskom equipment will now commence,” said Van Rensburg.

“Based on the assessments of the damage, supply to Ngwathe should be restored by midnight tonight,” she added.

The spokesperson however said the initial repairs were focusing on the hot connections and will only be temporary to assist communities.

Another outage will be scheduled to repair the transformer bushings that were also damaged during the overloading incident.

The Ngwathe electrical network tripped on Friday and damaged Eskom’s equipment due to overloading.

“Since 2018, Eskom has warned Ngwathe that their continued exceedance of their Notified Maximum Demand (NMD) – the contracted amount of electricity supplied by Eskom to the Municipality – will eventually result in damage to the Eskom network and that the municipality needs to apply for an upgrade in their NMD.

“In August 2021 and in April 2022, Eskom informed the municipality that any damage to the Eskom network that is caused by the municipality’s negligence, will be at the municipality’s cost.

“The municipality agreed to this condition and, although they were well informed and aware of the risks, they did not take the necessary precautions or made sufficient efforts to upgrade their NMD,” Van Rensburg explained.

Following the incident, Eskom insisted on the municipality making an upfront payment as it is one of the municipalities in the province sitting with a huge debt to the national power utility.

As at end June, Ngwathe’s overdue debt to Eskom totalled R1.89 billion.

Eskom says this debt continues to grow as current accounts are not paid in full.

“Ngwathe’s non-adherence to payment conditions and negligence in protecting the power system, jeopardises Eskom’s financial sustainability as well as the security of supply to the residents of towns such as Parys and Vredefort.

“Supply to Ngwathe will be restored to the capacity as per the contracted NMD.

“Risks of overloading and consequent damage remain, and it is imperative that the municipality invests in upgrading its supply,” according to the power company. – Staff Reporter

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Mangaung electricity tariffs up

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POWER TARIFFS UP . . . Local power distributor Centlec has hiked electricity charges

Electricity tariffs in Mangaung have gone up by 7.47 percent.

In a statement released on Thursday night, local power distributor Centlec said the increase was due to come into effect at midnight on July 1 following approval by the National Electricity Regulator of South Africa.

The increase will cover the period July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023.

“A guideline increase of 7.47 percent on electricity tariffs for Centlec was therefore approved with effect from the 1st of July 2022 for the 2022/23 financial year,” read part of the brief statement.

It said a more detailed outline of the increases will be announced soon. – Staff Reporter

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CUT students arrested for protesting against exams

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DISTURBANCE AT CAMPUS . . . Five students protesting against exams at the Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein have been arrested

Police have arrested five students from the Central University of Technology (CUT) for public violence after they embarked on an unsanctioned protest against the institution’s decision to have the mid-year exams conducted in person at its two campuses in Bloemfontein and Welkom starting this Thursday.

The exams are set to run until July 20.

The fracas follows an announcement by CUT acting vice-chancellor and principal Professor Alfred Ngowi on Wednesday in which he stated the exams would take place physically at the two campuses as scheduled.

Ngowi said a detailed discussion about online exams at the Welkom campus concluded that it would not be feasible to conduct online exams because circumstances have changed regarding the COVID-19 restrictions and that it was also against the policy of the university.

“CUT is a full-contact institution and not a distance learning institution and therefore does not have the authority to accredit examinations that are not done under CUT’s status as a full-contact institution,” said Ngowin in a recorded video.

Ngowi told the students that academic assessment is one of the important building blocks of their qualifications.

He warned the students against disrupting the exams saying they would face disciplinary action as such action will be illegal.

“The unreliability of the power supply may have unintended disruptive effects,” he said.

“The COVID-19 restrictions which necessitated virtual classes and virtual assessments have all been suspended and the various accrediting bodies to which CUT is affiliated may not accredit online assessments.

“Therefore, we will proceed with physical assessments.

“Management has made all necessary preparations for the smooth running of the mid-year assessments, which have been communicated to all students.

“Therefore, any student who plans to disrupt the physical examinations on our campuses must be aware of the legal and disciplinary consequences.

“In addition, the CUT management has put several measures in place to protect the constitutional rights of all our students who are prepared for and prefer to sit for physical assessments.

“Students must be aware that any disruptions of the planned and scheduled assessments are illegal and unlawful, and students who act outside the law will have to face the consequences of their actions.

“Students further need to note that failing the upcoming academic assessments will directly impact their NSFAS funding status.

“No further funding will be available to NSFAS-funded students who fail the assessments or fail to take the upcoming assessments.”

But, in a statement, members of the South African Student Congress (SASCO) at the university argued that since all assessments had taken place online due to the COVID-19 restrictions, “it is only normal that the exams take place online as well”.

SASCO also argued that some students had not received their allowances from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and it would therefore be impossible for them to write their exams in a physical setting.

But Ngowi addressed the matter earlier in the same video: “As previously communicated through the Student Representative Council, NSFAS-funded students who still have unresolved challenges with their accommodation are encouraged to make written submissions to the relevant faculty deans in that regard.”

Park Road police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Thabo Covane said members of Public Order Police Unit arrested five male students for public violence at the CUT’s Bloemfontein campus on Thursday morning.

He said the group of protesting students was warned by the operational commander to disperse within a given time as they were contravening the conditions stipulated in an issued court order but refused to do so.

“The protesting students became violent and started throwing stones and bottles at the police and the security officers,” said Covane.

“The police used stun grenades to disperse the crowd. The other group ran into King Edward Street and blocked traffic by placing stones on the road.

“Police then arrested the five students with ages ranging from 18 to 22 years.”

The arrested students are expected to appear in the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court on Monday facing charges of public violence and contravening a court order. – Staff Reporter

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