Last chance for Scifest Africa to weather water issues

David Macgregor

THE organisers of Grahamstown’s internationally acclaimed Scifest Africa have been given one last chance to prove the City of Saints can handle large crowds of people after the event was hard hit by water outages last year.

Scifest Africa director Anja Fourie warned the festival would be moved elsewhere in the Eastern Cape if the event – which starts next month – was again plagued by severe water problems.

Although confident Grahamstown’s water woes would be solved in time for this year’s festival, Fourie said: “This will be the last year we have to prove that Scifest Africa can be hosted in the city without being affected by interruptions in the water supply.”

She said pressure had been put on Scifest Africa by visitors and sponsors alike to sort out water issues or face a possible move to another city. The relocation of Scifest Africa – which was started in the city in 1996 – would be a huge financial loss to Grahamstown.

It could also cast doubt over the city’s ability to cope with much bigger crowds during the National Arts Festival in six months’ time, especially if there was a lengthy outage.

National Arts Festival CEO Tony Lankester however assured Times Media none of their sponsors had spoken about moving elsewhere despite the water outages over the past year.

Although figures released last week by the National Arts Festival estimated last year’s instalment generated R91-million, the total contribution by Scifest Africa to the local economy has not been properly researched or quantified.

Fourie however said Scifest Africa invested R3.2-million of its annual R3.5-million budget directly in Grahamstown. More than 200 people, many local, were employed by Scifest Africa while accommodation and meals for more than 300 contributors cost a further R1.26-million. Many millions more were spent last year by 66000 visitors on meals and accommodation.

Fourie said she was confident things would run smoothly this year.

“We have had excellent support from water distribution at Makana Municipality and the fire department to ensure we have a Plan B should water outages occur.”

Makana mayor Zamuxolo Peter yesterday said the town could not afford to lose Scifest.

Apart from contributing to the local economy, the science extravaganza also inspired budding young scientists.

“Things are much better now in Grahamstown than they were a year ago,” Peter said.

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