Durban - The last three races of the Hollywoodbets Durban July horse-racing event had to be abandoned due to a power outage on Saturday.
The event, which is a huge tourism drawcard for the City, had been going well up until then. Gold Circle said that despite the incident, the event had been a success, with 45 000 people in attendance.
Some patrons claimed there were electricity issues even prior to the outage that caused the premature end to the races, while the City insisted that load shedding was not implemented.
Gold Circle blamed the eThekwini Municipality for the disruption, and said the outages were contrary to the arrangement the company had made with the City.
In a statement, Gold Circle said: “Gold Circle apologises unreservedly for the inconvenience to racing fans, stakeholders and all of our valued sponsors after a jockey protest led to the abandonment of the final three races on the Hollywoodbets Durban July card on Saturday.
“The unanticipated implementation of power outages was made contrary to arrangements with the City of Durban which ultimately led to the jockeys citing unsafe conditions as the reason for their refusal to ride.
“This was entirely out of our control and a full investigation has been launched,” it said.
According to ECR Newswatch, Steve Marshall, events and marketing executive at Gold Circle, explained that the area was to be load shed from 6pm to 8pm. He said, however, that they had received an exemption from the City.
“What happened at 6pm was our power dropped then came back up, but because our flood lights are halogen, they take up to 20 minutes to cool down before we can turn them back on again. About 15 minutes after they came back on, the power dropped again,” he told the radio station.
Maxwell Mthembu, the head of electricity in eThekwini Municipality, denied that the City had implemented load shedding at the racecourse.
“I want to make this clear, that there was no load shedding scheduled for that area yesterday. Greyville and the surroundings were excluded from load shedding until midnight. Please be aware that load shedding in Durban is computerised, and there is no human interference while it’s in progress.”
He added that the outage appeared to have been limited to the racecourse.
“As the Electricity Department, we didn’t even get a call to say that there were electricity problems in Greyville. The neighbours that are supplied by the same system as Greyville were not affected by any outages.”
DA councillor Mzamo Billy said he arrived at the event at about 3pm and left at 10pm, and described the situation as quite embarrassing.
“Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda was there, there were MECs and there was a minister, and we were all seated at the Durban Tourism marquee.”
He said that even prior to the outage that led to the races being abandoned, there had been other outages.
“The power would go out, come back, go out again and come back – it did this during the entire time I was there. I asked the mayor what was happening, and he informed me that they had instructed the electricity department to suspend load shedding for the day,” said Billy.
IFP councillor Mdu Nkosi, who was not at the event, said: “Mayor Kaunda has been telling us that the City is ready to host the Durban July, now we wonder what he meant when such things happen. This event attracts international tourists. There are people in other countries who may have wanted to place bets on other races, but could no longer do so. What happened there shows that the municipality does not take the people of eThekwini and the country seriously.”
Independent economic analyst Professor Bonke Dumisa, who also attended the event, said the power outages were a let-down.
“That was really painful. It was not load shedding but it was power outages. The outages are something that the government should really attend to. There was an instance when the power went out while an artist was on stage performing, and that really angered people,” he said.
Dumisa said the outages had undermined the stature of the event, but had not dampened the mood of the attendees. “The event was a success and brought hundreds of millions for the City and attracted not just South Africans, but many people even from neighbouring countries.”
Head of communications in the municipality Lindiwe Khuzwayo said the City could confirm that the “power dip” was not load-shedding related and eThekwini Electricity would assist in investigating the cause.