Durban Tourism’s R16m funding: how Comrades Marathon was offered a mere R375,000, while booze parties get millions

Published Jun 8, 2023


Durban - Durban Tourism, the destination marketing wing of the ANC-run eThekwini Municipality, has come under scrutiny after allegations that its R16 million funding model for events in the city was not aligned to any real outcomes.

This comes after it emerged that Durban Tourism was giving funding, both in hard cash and in kind, to events that added no value for Durban.

According to documents obtained by IOL from a whistleblower within the municipality, the R16m approved for the 2022/2023 financial year was not being optimally used to benefit the city.

Instead, the money was being used to fund events organised by politically connected people and the city was deriving little or no value at all.

In one eyebrow-raising funding decision, Durban Tourism funded the Comrades Marathon with a mere R350,000, despite the city deriving immense benefits in funding the acclaimed marathon, which is beamed to a global audience.

However, Durban Tourism did not hesitate to fund the Woze Durban New Year’s Day event with R1.7m in cash to the politically connected organisers, who are well-known music moguls in the kwaito and dance music industry

The event is held on New Year’s Day at the Durban Botanic Gardens and it has always been shrouded in controversy.

During this year’s event, revellers were left irked when the sound system kept tripping repeatedly, putting a damper to festivities.

Furthermore, according to the documents seen by IOL, Durban Tourism has agreed to give sponsorship in kind to the tune of R3m.

According to internal documents, Durban Tourism wanted to give the Comrades Marathon a much lower sponsorship despite the immense benefits it would derive.

Among the benefits that were listed to come with sponsoring the Comrades Marathon is that the marathon, one of the biggest ultra-marathons in the entire globe, attracts over 20,000 participants from the key tourism market of Gauteng.

The marathon also attracts a large number of international runners from key overseas countries like Russia, Germany and other northern European countries.

The marathon is also followed at a global level through live television coverage that lasts for over 12 hours on the day of the race, putting Durban on the global map.

It was also noted that runners by their nature also bring along their families and stay in Durban for a week, compared to the picnic which mainly attracts locals, who dance and revel for a few hours and leave.

According to a document presented to the Executive Committee, the only benefit Durban gets from this event is that its name is included in marketing material and mentioned by MCs on stage.

Also raising concerns with the funding model was that in the past, the exco used to approve funding for each event in advance.

However, in the new open cheque system that was said to be open to corruption was that the exco approves the events even without knowing how much was going to be spent.

Another popular event that is being given meagre funding despite its popularity as it attracts people from all over South Africa and the SADC region is the Fact Durban Rocks, which is organised by DJ Tira (Mthokozisi Khathi).

The event, which is hosted in July and December, gets less than R1m in sponsorship in kind.

The events were approved on a yearly basis, but in the new format, eThekwini is locked into a three-year contract even if it was getting no value.

Lindiwe Khuzwayo, a spokesperson for the eThekwini Municipality, denied that there was an open cheque for events.

She said the city entered into three-year contracts, as one-year sponsorship deals were not viable.

“We are not clear as to which period of one-year contracts the journalist is referring to as we have it on record that since 2013, Council approvals were for three years,” she said.

“The one-year approval is not viable for forward planning, destination promotion and planning. One-year contracts were not viable for adequately achieving tourism objectives from the event participant.

“Destination promotion through event partnerships requires planning of six months or more to accommodate conceptualisation, Council approvals, negotiations and execution,” Khuzwayo said.

“The three years is not guaranteed as the contract is reviewed every year to align with the relevance of achieving tourism socio-economic impact and desired tourism rights and benefits. This review is clearly spelt out in the three-year signed contracts.”

Khuzwayo said before Covid-19, eThekwini had a R38m budget for event partnerships.

Post Covid-19, the budget was reduced to R16m.

“From the R16m budget approved from current financial year of 2022/2023, more than 20 events were approved by Council for events partnerships.

“The composition was leisure events, business events and sporting events.

“From the budget cut, this translated to some cuts to other events especially those that had multiple sponsorship options,” Khuzwayo said.

In justifying the city’s glaring sponsorship of the Woze Durban picnic compared to the Comrades Marathon, Khuzwayo said the Woze Durban picnic was a big event.

“Woze Durban is one of the biggest, most well-known and longest running events in the city.

“The Comrades Marathon certainly has an international profile and is one of the biggest among its peers, which are international marathons.

“Woze Durban is also one of the biggest events among its peers, which are New Year’s Day events in South Africa,“ said Khuzwayo.

She said the Comrades Marathon was offered R250,000 in 2022 and a further R375,000 was offered for August.

“They declined the sponsorship, and it was declared as savings for the City to address other tourism service delivery matters.

“Interestingly, in the same financial year that the Marathon declined the R375,000 sponsorship they approached the City with a request of R4m, a figure which is not affordable for Durban Tourism.

“It is also incorrect that the City has offered to the increase Comrades’ sponsorship amount from R250,000 this year to R350,000 for the June Comrades.

“In the discussions of the June Comrades, the City is consistent as it communicated R375,000 and we are still waiting for Comrades to return to us.

“As far as we know, the negotiations are still on going,” Khuzwayo added.

The Comrades Marathon Association did not comment when asked about this sponsorship.

However, IOL has seen posters for the marathon to take place on Sunday.

The Comrades Marathon expo is expected to start on Thursday, and Durban Tourism is not one of the sponsors.

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