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Durban mayor pulls plug on R8m online lockdown channel

An online streaming channel hosted by Durban’s parks and recreation department to entertain residents during the Covid-19 lockdown — at a cost of R8-million — has been halted by eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda.

PRCtv, the brainchild of the city’s head of park and recreation, Thembinkosi Ngcobo, was run between April and June on various online platforms, hosting musicians, fitness instructors, motivational speakers and celebrities.

But the programme was blocked earlier this month by the city’s community services committee, which asked the municipal public accounts committee to investigate how the spending took place without the necessary authorisation.

The programme, which ran daily from 9am to 5pm, hosted around 565 artists between April 6 and June 14 on Facebook and YouTube at a cost of R3.87-million, with the streaming services costing the city R1.05-million.

According to a report by Ngcobo, which was submitted to the community services committee, R2.06-million was spent on fitness instructors for the programme, which was aimed at educating and entertaining residents of the city who were at home during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Programmes included a morning fitness slot, a 30-minute “creative couch”, a sports and leisure programme and a daily slot with people who “make Durban tick”, which featured Ngcobo himself. Other programmes included a gospel music session and a daily worship segment.

It is not clear how widely the shows were watched. The project’s Facebook page, which was last updated on May 31, has been liked by just over 6 000 people and has 9 000 followers. 

In the report, Ngcobo said the use of the social media platforms was a response to his department’s need to ensure residents, who were not able to use their library and other recreational services because of the lockdown regulations, were still able to get the city’s services.

“The city has ensured that creative industry and artists develop and curate content that engages the community while it inspires and educates them through the PRC’s programmes during the lockdown,” Ngcobo said in the report.

The report was countersigned by deputy city managers Krish Kumar and Musa Gumede, along with Ngcobo and acting city manager Sipho Cele, but did not secure approval from the community services committee.

Kaunda’s halting of the programme sparked a march on City Hall by artists who had been on PRCtv.

The mayor met the artists, informing them that while the programme had been suspended pending the investigation by municipal public accounts committee, it would be reinstated, but following the proper channels.

Inkatha Freedom Party councillor Ntombifuthi Gumede, who sits on the community services committee, said the programme had been of benefit to residents because it had helped them to “‘stay calm’’ during the lockdown.

‘’The programme was a good thing and I think the department was trying to do the right thing. Their problem was that committees were not sitting and that they went ahead without the Exco [executive committee] knowing,” Gumede said.

City spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela confirmed that the programme had been halted.

“The matter is being considered by the city leadership. They will comment once the matter has been dealt with,” he said.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.

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