Coltart sticks to his guns on arts festival

Reports emerged last week that the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) had budgeted US$300 000 for the Bulawayo Arts Festival set for June.

BULAWAYO mayor David Coltart has defended his position opposing a motion to spend US$300 000 on an arts festival when the local authority is in desperate need of funding to address the city’s water crisis.

Reports emerged last week that the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) had budgeted US$300 000 for the Bulawayo Arts Festival set for June.

Tempers reportedly flared during a meeting over the matter, resulting in Coltart allegedly walking out on fellow councillors and management who were pushing for the US$300 000 budget for the Bulawayo Arts Festival which will run concurrently with Bulawayo Day celebrated on June 1 when the city became a town in 1894. The festival will run until June 5.

In an interview with Southern Eye, Coltart, however, said he did not walk out on councillors after they failed to reach common ground on the matter.

“I expressed my view and then gave my apologies and left to go to another meeting. I didn’t walk out. It was a perfectly amicable debate going on,” he said.

Coltart insisted that it was unwise for the local authority to spend big on an arts event when residents wanted immediate short-to-medium term interventions to the water crisis which has seen residents enduring many days without water due to low water levels at the city’s supply dams.

The council has since decommissioned Mzingwane Dam with Lower Ncema and Upper Ncema set to be decommissioned in the next few months.

Bulawayo is currently under a 120-hour water shedding with many of the suburbs getting water once a week at most.

The former Education minister said the timing of the arts festival in the midst of a water crisis did not allow the council to divert funds to entertainment.

“This year we are facing major water shortages. For example, we have to raise US$15 million to rehabilitate the pipeline, and although we have had promises from the government, we have not received the money yet. It is critical that we divert all possible resources towards ensuring that we don’t run out of water,” he said.

The local authority recently turned to the government to declare the city a water crisis area to pave way for international support for short-to-medium term solutions. Government, however, declined, saying its technical team was still studying water levels at the city’s dams.

Coltart said Bulawayo was facing a potential catastrophe.

“As you know, many people, particularly in high-density areas, are at best getting water one day a week. That is going to worsen. Our dams are sitting at 39% at the end of the rainy season.

“Because of that, it is vital that we ensure that all possible reserves that are not used, for example, for the payment of salaries and critical services are directed towards the water crisis. As soon as things are stabilised, we will do all in our power to adequately fund arts and culture,” he added.

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