A group made up of artists, entrepreneurs and business leaders yesterday pleaded with the leadership of the city to continue hosting the multimillion rand Essence Festival, saying it has benefited various sectors immensely.
Mbusi Sokhela, popularly known as DJ Sox, entrepreneur Bheka Luthuli and Durban Chamber of Commerce CEO Dumile Cele were among the guests who attended and spoke briefly at the meeting of the city’s executive committee.
Phillip Sithole, the acting deputy city manager responsible for the economic cluster, said this year's Essence Festival had contributed R219 million to the GDP, sustaining 616 jobs and creating 1409 job opportunities in the process.
The festival had also attracted a lot of interest this year compared with last year’s event, as a total of 153 572 people participated compared with 88 907 last year.
Sithole raved about the publicity generated, saying about 64 million people had been reached globally through various media platforms including social media, print, radio and television.
“These are audited figures by Grant Thornton, you can check them out,” he assured committee members.
However, he mentioned that there was also negative publicity surrounding the event and said while it had managed to attract sponsorships worth millions, this could have been better were it not for the negative publicity received.
Sithole said the festival had also opened doors for potential investment into the city. One of them is a R15.5bn marina development investment being discussed by American investors partnered with local entrepreneur Bheka Luthuli.
“This investment was discussed last year at the Essence Festival - it is a product of the Essence Festival,” Sithole said.
Luthuli said the festival had opened doors for him to partner with American entrepreneurs including US celebrity Steve Harvey on a number of business projects. He said there were many opportunities in eThekwini, and the city had the potential to eclipse Cape Town in terms of tourism.
DJ Sox said the festival had opened many doors for local artists and had allowed them space to take their craft to the global stage.
“We support Essence because it does bring change to our lives. It gives us a platform to share the stage with our international counterparts and to start taking our craft abroad."
Cele offered her support to the festival, saying businesses benefited and it needed to continue to ensure that full return on investment was realised.
DA councillor Zwakele Mncwango questioned why the festival seemed to focus on big American artists and why the city had to pay exorbitant licensing fees to host the festival when it could come up with its own concept.
But Sithole said the city does support local talent. The festival gave exposure to about 145 Durban artists this year, he added.
Sithole said attracting international acts was equally important, as the city wanted to compete globally.
“My recommendation is that if you want to take Durban to the world we must take it to that stage. You cannot attract Japanese visitors by advertising on uKhozi FM,” he said.
Sithole pointed out that other international events like the Cape Town Jazz Festival hosted international acts alongside local ones.
Sithole said through the Essence Festival five local groups got a chance to perform in New Orleans this year.