The much anticipated Global Citizen Festival has come to a close. The festival, which sought to commemorate the centenary of the late Nelson Mandela, brought to South Africa some of the world’s biggest entertainers – including Beyonce, Jay Z, Cassper Nyovest and D’Banj, – as well as world and corporate leaders in a bid to end extreme poverty.
The event was held at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg and was co-hosted by Naomi Campbell, Trevor Noah and Bonang Matheba, among many others. Oprah Winfrey delivered the keynote speech in which she spoke about the meaning of being a global citizen, as well as the lessons the world can learn from the legacy of Nelson Mandela.
This year’s festival was done in the philanthropic spirit of Tata Madiba who was venerated by many speakers as a leader in the global fight against poverty and inequality. However, the event was plagued with a lot of controversy from the beginning.
Organisers of the event have been elitist from the get go. Tickets to the festival were earned by those who could keep up with the content posted on the organization’s website, who in turn then shared this information through social media, emails and petitions. Winners were selected through a random draw.
In as much as the festival was modelled around philanthropic values, selecting the winners over the internet meant that only a few people stood a chance to attend the event. In a country marred by huge economic inequalities and high levels of poverty including high data costs, it is elitist to offer the opportunity to attend to a small group of people with the privilege of access, while those who can’t afford to tweet, email and petition were denied. The irony is that the festival was established within the goal of ending extreme global poverty.
This exclusionary nature was also shown when the national broadcaster, to the dismay of many, only aired 25 minutes of the performance of the much loved music power couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z , preventing those who were not in attendance from witnessing the couple on stage.
It has been reported that corporate and government officials pledged close to R100 billion in the fight against poverty. This has implicitly gone on to show that the event was designed to be a a theatrical show off of the power of the rich – architects of poverty – in ending extreme poverty of the poor. Why did they have to wait for a world stage to share with the poor? Why are they in a position of mass abundance while others are in a position of lack? What constitutes the conditions necessary for others to have it all while others have nothing?
Reports indicate that there were spats of violence and muggings at the stadium after the closing of the show. Ordinary attendees who came without the private protection many of the dignitaries afforded, were quickly reminded of the harsh and violent realities of their lives, even before the venue was fully evacuated, further highlighting the differences between the have and the have nots in the South African economic landscape.
It escapes many that the event was held in a township, in Soweto, presumably to the exclusion of many Sowetans, many who are among the country’s most underprivileged. It seems the organizers were out of touch with the aim of their exercise and were more concerned in the feel goodism of peripherally indulging in poverty porn more than ending the conditions that create poverty in the first place.