24 April 2019

South Africa: Athlone Arts Hub Shuts Its Doors

Photo: Mary-Anne Gontsana/GroundUp
Andre Marais, founder of the Athlone Cultural Hub, says its closure has left him “beside himself”.

The Athlone Arts and Culture Hub, offering activities like music, yoga, and a well-stocked library, has closed its doors.

This follows the collapse of Catholic Welfare and Development (CWD) which owns the building. Dwindling donor funds and mismanagement have left CWD with a debt of at least R17 million, according to Graham Wilson, Financial Administrator of the Archdiocese of Cape Town.

In November last year, 49 staff members were given retrenchment letters.

Former staff member and arts and culture manager of the CWD, Andre Marais, who started the hub three and a half years ago, said he has been left "beside himself" by the closure.

"We had music, yoga, literature, hiking, hip hop, film, and it was a place for NGOs and social movements to discuss and hold meetings. There was a library with 30,000 books. This was a space to be human. How many spaces like that do we have in our communities? None."

On 15 April the Western Cape High Court granted an interim interdict barring Marais from entering the premises or from encouraging others to do so. Marais's supporters picketed outside the court with banners written: "Save the Athlone cultural hub".

A hearing is set for 27 May.

CWD's massive debts would be settled by the orderly sale of a significant portion of its properties, said Wilson in a statement earlier this month.

"Donor funds have been misused and where we can prove fault, CWD will pursue any and all criminal and civil charges against those responsible."

Wilson said Archbishop Stephen Brislin had pledged to restart CWD's work. "Since the new board took over in October all donations that CWD has received have been ring-fenced and not used to settle debts. The donations have instead been safeguarded for future welfare and development work. Any properties not sold will similarly be safeguarded for such work," he said.

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