Sunday, February 2, 2014

Will The Bl;antyre Cultural Centre Renovations' Projects Ever Be Completed?

...Questions over Blantyre Cultural Centre renovations’ time frame

It was presented as a scheme of progress advanced in line with the inclinations of Malawian artists.

In the end, however, plans to renovate the Blantyre Cultural Centre (BCC), formerly the French Cultural Centre (FCC), have become an idea strange enough to be an object, not of pity or horror, but of ridicule.

At the centre of controversy is the timeframe set aside for the BCC renovations project, with Ministry of Tourism and Culture officials writing in their development blue print that the project will take two years.

Voice from within

Not surprisingly, the development is attracting a barrage of more questions than answers, with Tourism and Culture Minister, Moses Kunkuyu, also questioning the rationale behind the time frame.

“Two years? Why two years? I thought the place is small, and the renovation works could be completed within a reasonable time frame,” Kunkuyu says.

Kunkuyu adds that, looking at the venue, it would be possible to wind up works within one fiscal year.

He adds that, given his way, he would look for the possibilities of completing the works within the shortest possible time, while not compromising on quality.

“May be this is a sign that we need to change the way we do things, not only in the arts but in tourism too. We should adopt the work ethic of efficiency in carrying out development projects. Taking two years to renovate the place could cost the government more,” Kunkuyu says, adding:

“Are we not talking of renovating grass-thatched structures, windows and other things? Is it necessary to do that in two years? I thought it was possible to do it within, say, six months. That’s what I am thinking.”

Only if thoughts were directives!

Weighing the options

Poetry Association of Malawi president, Felix Njonjonjo Katsoka, says he does not understand how the decision to carry out the renovation works was arrived at, saying two years is an age to poets.

“You may wish to remember that we held the Land of Poets Festival at FCC, and it was such an attractive and well-attended event because BCC is centrally-located and people from various parts of Blantyre find it convenient to get to the place,” Katsoka says.

In addition, says Katsoka, BCC offers lower rates since it was bought to further the cause of artists in the country.

He says this is why poets welcomed the government’s decision to buy the place with both hands, in the hope that things would improve.

“Two years is unnecessarily long. The renovation works can be completed within months. We ask the authorities to reconsider the time frame so that we, artists, may not get negatively affected by the works,” Katsoka says.

Musicians Association of Malawi (Mam) Southern Region Chapter chairperson, Sam Simakweli, concurs.

Simakweli says two years is such a long time for a venue that has become the hub of entertainment for musicians.

“For your own information, BCC has become a preferred performance venue for musicians in the Southern Region because it is relatively cheaper than other venues. So, taking two years to renovate the place will, definitely, negatively impact on music shows,” Simakweli says.

He says it does not make sense for officials responsible for the renovations to spend two productive years on one facility, instead of thinking about stocking the venue with music equipment, claiming that, “if anything, the things that need to be renovated are doors, windows, the grass-thatched shelter (stage), and toilets”, among other things.

“We are not against the renovation works. No. They (renovations) are long overdue. It is a shame that the venue has no proper toilets, and this is becoming an embarrassing issue when foreign tourists attend live performances at the venue only to discover that they cannot use the toilets because of the poor condition they are in,” Simakweli says, before adding:

“But we have problems with the time frame. We understand that, initially, there was K200 million set aside for the project, but, may be because of things such as cash-gate, the money disappeared and the officials have had to source the funds from elsewhere. May be this is why they are talking of two years, so that they may have time to source funds.”

But the Southern Region Mam chapter is not the only bewildered arts body, as the National Theatre Association of Malawi (Ntam) is equally baffled.

Ntam general secretary, Manasseh Chisiza, says the government’s decision to buy BCC after the FCC closed shop has given the industry the benefit of venue options, and that this has helped promote the trade because artists can carry out a cost analysis and settle for the cheapest venue.

“We (in the theatre industry) depend on the BCC and Nanzikambe Arts CafĂ©. The renovations will, therefore, limit our options, especially because two years is such a long time. It will definitely affect us,” Chisiza says.

He says any efforts geared towards limiting the time would be welcome, so long as that does not compromise quality.

Rising above limitations

However, the Book Publishers Association of Malawi (Bpam) says it will not be affected by the renovation works because it does not depend on one venue to carry out its activities.

Bpam president, Alfred Msadala, says, because of the mobile nature of his organisation, it will be possible to stem the impact of the closure on his association’s members.

“We move a lot, exhibiting books in various places. We focus on institutions such as schools, and this means that we do not depend on one venue. Just this coming January, we will have an activity at Chichiri Secondary School, which is close to BCC. But, of course, we have used the facility before,” Msadala says.

But, while life goes on for Bpam, other arts associations, including Mam, are billed to stat singing the blues!

After all, Kunkuyu insinuates that moving at a snail’s pace has almost become part of the warm-heartedness that is Malawi, contributing towards the stagnations of the arts in the country for more than four decades.

“As I have said, there is need to change the way we do things,” Kunkuyu says.

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