October 22, 2003 VNN8418
Durban Council Has Ruined Our Diwali Plans
FROM DAILY NEWS
SOUTH AFRICA, Oct 22 (VNN) Nine months of intense and committed preparation for a spectacular Diwali festival at Mitchell Park has come to nought because the Durban municipality has done a total about-face and withdrawn its permission for the eagerly awaited event.
The cancellation has shocked local Hindus and it also means that about 1000 street children will forfeit their promised party and gifts - not to mention a brief moment of fun and excitement in their troubled lives.
Embittered volunteers say they feel "empty" and cannot understand why the council has revoked its earlier decision to let the celebration of the Hindu festival go ahead.
As one disappointed organiser put it: "How we ever reached this point is beyond comprehension."
Festival organisers blame interference by politicians and pre-election opportunism for the impasse, and the Mitchell Park Festival of Lights committee says the event has been "hijacked" by the African National Congress-controlled municipality.
Committee spokesperson Les Govender says the festival was supposed to be "a joyous and innocent occasion", but the municipality's about-turn had "ruined everything".
About 1000 street children had been invited to the event and would have been given gifts and free soft drinks. Now, says Govender, "they'll get nothing".
Adds committee member Sharon Westpal: "The Hare Krishna Food for Life had organised a free meal for the needy, a symphony orchestra had been engaged and we also planned a theme park telling the story of Diwali.
"No matter how many lights they put up in Mitchell Park, the Diwali spirit - from darkness into light - will be lost.
"How sad that during this period of tolerance, harmony, goodwill, peace, love, understanding and humility, so much intolerance has taken place.
"We wish all Hindus and indeed all the citizens of KwaZulu-Natal a happy, peaceful and harmonious Deepavali. Perhaps next year we will find a new venue in which to present our festival to you."
So what went wrong?
According to council insiders, the Mitchell Park committee had on its side Narend Singh, an Ikatha Freedom Party (IFP) minister in the provincial cabinet and a political rival to the ANC-controlled council. This led to a dispute over which political party should be in charge.
However, the ANC's metro Deputy Mayor, Logie Naidoo, has rejected these claims.
Naidoo says the the committee must take responsibility for the situation because it failed to attend scheduled meetings with Mayor Obed Mlaba.
"The mayor called a meeting to discuss the notion of just one Diwali celebration in the city, but the committee didn't attend. This shows disrespect for the office of the mayor," he said.
"For them to suggest their function has been hijacked is ridiculous." Naidoo says Mitchell Park will be decorated with lights, but there will be no celebrations.
Says Singh: "Whenever I get involved in something, it's political. But when the ANC gets involved, it's not political. And let's not forget this row is taking place just before an election."
© Independent News & Media
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