The South African Navy (SA Navy) has cancelled the 2018 edition of the annual Navy Festival which was due to have been held at Naval Base Simon’s Town in March.
For well over a decade, the SA Navy Festival has allowed the general public and other naval followers the opportunity to see and experience the activities of South Africa’s maritime arm. Indeed, at the opening of the 2017 event, current Chief of the SA Navy, Vice Admiral Mosiwa Hlongwane, said: “Ever mindful of our current socio-economic climate and the need to account to the people of this country we, each year, open our doors and hearts to the people of South Africa so that they are able to see and experience their Navy first-hand.”
The festival programme normally includes an evening concert by the Navy Band at the head of the dry-dock, displays, demonstrations (including air/sea rescue, anti-piracy demonstrations, Gun Run with its loud explosions, protection force, etc.), canon firings, tug rides, food stalls and opportunities for the public to go aboard the various ships and submarines. The night shoot from Lower North Battery into False Bay was always very popular with enthusiasts and spectators.
Although growing smaller in recent years, the door has now been slammed shut.
There are conflicting reasons for the cancellation, but the official explanation is that the SA Navy Command Council has decided to evaluate the way in which the SA Navy will approach large naval events in the future.
Lt Cdr Greyling van den Berg, spokesman for the SA Navy, explained that “the main reason for this is that currently the SA Navy is experiencing significant budgetary pressures, and hence a decision was made to reprioritize the areas where the budget is to be spent.”
“The decision was also made to change the venues where some large events are to be held in future, or to only hold the events every second year,” Greyling said, “Thus more people will be exposed to the SA Navy across the country. Hence it is possible that the Navy Festival can be held in Durban or another port city in the future.”
One such national representation of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is that of the annual Armed Forces Day. In 2012, the President of the Republic of South Africa and Commander-in–Chief of the SANDF proclaimed that February 21 each year be recognised as Armed Forces Day. Both the 2017 edition in Durban (hosted by the SAAF) and the 2016 programme in Port Elizabeth (hosted by the SA Navy) featured a significant naval contribution. Armed Forces Day for 2018 will take place in Kimberley, an inland location not suitable for maritime exhibitions. Cape Town has yet to host an Armed Forces Day, but the SA Navy will act as host, at an unknown venue, for the 2019 edition.
Budgetary pressures aside, the writing was on the wall for the SA Navy to host large events at the Simon’s Town Naval Base when it was only by a last minute agreement with the City of Cape Town that the 2016 Navy Festival was allowed to proceed. Although exact circumstances are unclear, there appeared to have been a disagreement between the SA Navy and City officials over Health and Safety aspects of the dockyard and its suitability to accommodate large numbers of public visitors. The Festival was allowed to go ahead minutes before the gates were opened to the public.
It would appear that Navy officials did not learn from the 2016 experience and worse was in store for the 2017 Festival.
The first public day of the Festival, a Friday, saw the gates remain closed to the public until the afternoon, leaving the vast dockyard empty of visitors. Many people, including and families with small children were left disgruntled.
Worse was to come on the Saturday, the busiest day of the three day event. Once again, the City of Cape Town, a partner of the Navy Festival, withheld the required approvals to host a large public event. The exact reasons are unknown, but very likely related to Occupational Health and Safety (OHAS) and Command and Control issues. The net result was that the gates to the public were only opened around midday after Navy officials took a strategic decision to go ahead with the Festival.
It did look good for the Navy and in the year since, no further action was taken between the SA Navy and the City of Cape Town to allow this year’s Festival to go ahead.
The Navy has known about the cancellation of the Festival since late 2017, even the official SA Navy website which normally advertises the Navy Festival and calls for market stall applications well before the event has been silent.
A naval officer involved in the organisation of previous festivals (and wishes to remain anonymous) lamented the cancellation of the festival, noting the lack of willingness of the Navy to properly negotiate and organise with the City of Cape Town to allow the 2018 Navy Festival to go ahead as they were always well funded by their industry and corporate sponsors.
Whilst the Capetonian public will no longer be able to “experience their Navy first-hand,” the Navy will revert back to the Navy Festival predecessor by hosting a Family Day at the Naval Base for uniform and civilian members of the Navy and their support structures.