Mpondo Culture and Heritage Festival to be celebrated virtually

By HRH Stella Sigcau

10 September 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected economies and how business is conducted globally. It has necessitated for different and innovative ways and approach to doing business capitalising on technologies. Virtual meetings, virtual shows, e-commerce, e-diplomacy, e-marketing and so forth have become the norm. There has been less emphasis on people to people interaction. Working remotely online has become most common. One thing is for sure, it’s no longer business as usual. Hosting of festivals has not been immune. Covid-19 has necessitated for different ways of hosting festivals. The Mpondo Culture and Heritage Festival is one of the festivals that have been affected necessitating it to be hosted virtually in 2020 for the first time since its inception in 2006.

Cultural festivals play an essential role to economies including contributing to tourism. They attract local as well as international tourists who travel to experience diverse cultures boosting sectors such as hospitality. Covid-19 has affected travelling including international travel impacting on these festivals leading to cancellations or postponements.

Most of these festivals attract quite a number of people. With international travel banned in South Africa at the moment due to the pandemic, it has impacted on tourists travelling from abroad to attend such festivals. Lockdown regulations and measures have discouraged hosting of such festivals limiting the number of people in a gathering to no more than 50 observing the necessary safety measures. These developments thus necessitated organisers to also be creative in hosting, hence the virtual hosting to conform with times.

The Mpondo Culture and Heritage Festival, which is one of the biggest cultural festivals in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, and the biggest in the Mpondo Kingdom attracting over 20 000 tourists and revellers both locally and internationally had to be postponed until 2021  due to Covid-19. It is one of the biggest contributors to local and rural economies contributing also to the broader Eastern Cape and South African economy in particular,  to for example the hospitality and transport sectors. People come from far and across borders to witness this festival meaning they contribute to South Africa’s economy through for example payment of transport including road and air transport, accommodation, entertainment, food and beverages and so forth. People exhibit their work during this festival. Those into cultural business for example beard makers, artists, musicians, cultural performance groups, catering, vendors, fashion designers benefit from festivals such as this one.

Virtual events are however planned for South Africa’s heritage month, September, to celebrate the Mpondo Culture and Heritage Festival held every second week of September at Lwandlolubomvu Great Place, Ntabankulu, Mpondo Kingdom since 2006 to promote, share and market Mpondo culture and heritage, promote unity within the Mpondo Kingdom and unity in a diversity of cultures, contribute to preservation of Mpondo culture and heritage as well as to rural economy and development as well as tourism.

2020 marks 14 years since this festival was launched. A virtual commemoration of the Mpondo Culture and Heritage Festival is planned which will include tributes from various stakeholders including government, local and international stakeholders as well as other Kingdoms whilst also showcasing Mpondo culture and heritage.

Two virtual competitions are being held to promote isiMpondo culture and heritage namely the virtual Mpondo Culture and Heritage Festival on awareness about gender based violence (GBV) and love your roots, culture and heritage virtual competition. Lwandlolubomvu project to promote social cohesion, cultural exchange, environmental tourism and preservation of environmental heritage through activities like hiking in Ntabankulu is also in the pipeline. Mapping of the hiking routes is one of the focuses that form part of the initiatives for this month.

President Ramaphosa has referred to GBV as a second pandemic during his speech on Women’s day. South Africa has been witnessing a rise in GBV cases. The competition on GBV seeks to contribute and create awareness in this regard. In this competition, participants are encouraged to write a short story or do a video in isiMpondo which creates awareness on GBV. The stories must be in isiMpondo language to also promote this language which it is hoped becomes one of the officially recognised languages in South Africa. It is one of the oldest languages but has not been developed or scientifically researched. It is however wildly spoken in the Mpondo Kingdom or by Mpondo people in various parts of South Africa in particular by the older generation. To ensure continuity and that the language does not die it needs to be developed, promoted, taught at schools, there is a need for investment in the research of this language, books written in isiMpondo language and about Mpondo history. Language is also integral to one’s cultural identity.

For the second competition participants have to forward their photos dressed in their Mpondo traditional clothing with a short text on their love for their, roots, culture and heritage in isiMpondo language. These will be posted online for the public to vote. This will also create awareness around Mpondo culture, language and the distinct traditional clothing and bearding. Prizes include a designer outfit by the creator of Madiba shirts Prince Sonwabile Ndamase who was the designer of both the late former President Mandela and mama Winnie Mandela who was also a Princess from the Mpondo Kingdom. The winners will be announced virtually on 24 September 2020 which is Heritage Day in South Africa.

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on how festivals are hosted necessitating organisers to be creative.  These developments necessitated the Mpondo Culture and Heritage Festival 2020 to be celebrated virtually.