Records broken at arts fest

first_imgDonkey rides around town were a hit during the arts festival. Crafters were supported by the localgovernment to showcase their work at the Village Green arts and craft market. Festival goers bought tickets in their numbers, breaking a number of records in the event’s 35-year history. (Images: Khanyi Magubane)Khanyi MagubaneOrganisers of the 35th National Arts Festival held in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, say a record number of tickets were sold during the 10-day event from 2 to 11 July.The festival, labelled 10 days of Amazing, saw over 400 theatre, dance and music productions, photography and art exhibitions, crafts, poetry readings and book launches culminating in a feast for art lovers.After the first weekend, ticket sales were up 7.7% from the same period last year.“At the same stage last year we had sold a total of 84 897 tickets. The comparative figure for this year is 91 487,” said festival chief executive officer Tony Lankester in a statement released after the first weekend of performances.  According to the organisers, both the fringe and the main programmes showed increased ticket sales, with figures for the main festival going up by 11.7%, while the fringe performances enjoyed a 5.4% growth.“The overall picture can still fluctuate wildly over the next week, so it is too early to celebrate or to make predictions about where we are likely to end. We are happy, though, that we have had a solid start to the event,” Lankester continued.In another first, on Saturday 4 July, the third day of the festival, tickets to the value of R413 000 (US$49 000) were sold, making it the biggest selling day in the festival’s 35-year history.Fortunately for the organisers, the upward trend continued throughout the festival.On 8 July, with just three days to go, more tickets had been sold than during the 2008 festival, with ticket sales after that serving as a surplus for the event.The ticket sales were however not the festival’s only success.Rural boost through art Xoliswa Tom, MEC for sport, recreation, arts and culture in the Eastern Cape, was pleased with the progress of the festival, especially the positive influence it had on the province’s rural communities in the province.“141 projects from all seven districts (of the province) benefited through the sale of their crafts at the Village Green. As at 8 July, crafts to the value of R48 288.50 ($5 800) had been sold,” said Tom.In a bid to support the local crafters, government paid for their transportation, accommodation, and meals.The government also covered the cost of the crafters’ sites at the festival’s market fair, The Village Green, ensuring that all the proceeds from sales made at the market, went directly to the artists.Hospitality owners of bed and breakfast guesthouses in the townships surrounding Grahamstown also benefited from a new programme aimed at encouraging festival goers to opt for township style accommodation.The Kwam-Emakana Homestays project, comprising 82 homes, housed a number of performing groups, government officials, tourist groups and private individuals.According to the Eastern Cape government, on average, around 153 people were booked in at the Kwam-Emakana Homestays from 27 June to 12 July.The project generated R659 800 ($56 000) during the festival. This amount includes accommodation, meals, transport, booking office agents’ fees and community liaisons who ensured guests were taken care off during their stay.Preparing for 2010 According to organisers, traditional music is set to feature more prominently in 2010.This year, the Indigenous Orchestra, an ensemble of various traditional instruments played by various ethnic groups, enthralled audiences.The performers were taken to the rural village of Ngqoko in Lady Frere, in the Eastern Cape, where they spent eight days rehearsing for the show.Locals and tourists were treated to donkey cart rides, a new addition to the annual festival.According to Tom, the donkey rides will feature more prominently next year and will resemble the popular rickshaw carts as seen in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.In another change, the festival will be extended by 10 to 15 days to accommodate the expected influx of tourists attending the 2010 Fifa World Cup.The Nelson Mandela Bay, one of the host cities of the World Cup, is an hour away from Grahamstown.The local government, in conjunction with the South African Broadcasting Corporation, will have a public viewing area in Grahamstown, where festival attendees will have the opportunity to keep abreast with all the soccer action.An extensive jazz programme has also been added to next year’s festival line-up. The existing jazz shows will be extended with more artists and various collaborations.Do you have any comments or queries about this article? Email Khanyi Magubane at: [email protected] Related articlesG’town arts take to the streets Spotlight on words at arts festHair duo wows crowds at art fest  Useful linksGovernment of Eastern CapeNational Arts Festivallast_img read more

Watch: Assam flood takes its toll on people and animals

first_imgThe flood situation in Assam remaines grim with 29 districts marooned by the deluge, which has so far claimed at least 27 lives and affected 57 lakh people, officials said.According to the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) bulletin, a rhino died in the Kaziranga National Park while the Brahmaputra and its tributaries are flowing above the danger mark in various places in the state, including in Guwahati.last_img

How militants fighting Pakistan’s covert war with India are trained for battle, martyrdom

first_imgTARGET INDIA: A model of a Ghauri missile in Muzaffarabad, 182 km from SrinagarFour bearded militants warm themselves at a gas heater in an Islamabad safe house. A wireless set suddenly crackles. “Our boys have entered Srinagar Airport,” a grave, distant-sounding voice announces.The voice, speaking in Urdu and broadcasting from,TARGET INDIA: A model of a Ghauri missile in Muzaffarabad, 182 km from SrinagarFour bearded militants warm themselves at a gas heater in an Islamabad safe house. A wireless set suddenly crackles. “Our boys have entered Srinagar Airport,” a grave, distant-sounding voice announces.The voice, speaking in Urdu and broadcasting from deep within India’s part of Kashmir, is detailing the progress of a suicide mission by Lashkar-e-Toiba, a ruthless, Pakistan-based militant group waging war to wrest Kashmir from India. Other militant groups in Pakistan can tune in to the same radio frequency.So can the Pakistani military. A phone in the house rings, and one of the men, all members of Lashkar-e-Toiba, answers. He is asked what’s happening. His reply: “Why don’t you find out from your side?” After hanging up, he explains the caller was a Pakistani army colonel.That scene occurred in early January. Five Lashkar operatives disguised as police officers attempted to attack the Srinagar airport that day. But Indian Army guards turned them away, and the operation was aborted. However, a second attempt a few days later succeeded, leaving six Lashkar-e-Toiba men and four policemen dead. Two civilians were killed and 12 injured.Since Kashmir erupted in 1989, India has pointed a blunt and unwavering finger at Pakistan, accusing it of fomenting the entire problem.It’s a large and cynical exaggeration: anti-Indian sentiment runs high within Kashmir, and in the first half of the 1990s, Kashmiris themselves provided the steam in the anti-Indian militant movement.They were disorganised and willing to murder, but passionate and anxious to plead their nationalist cause with the outside world.Today, however, India’s charge rings a lot truer. Despite a decade of denials – Islamabad insists it provides only moral and political support, not training or tangible aid – Pakistan is fuelling militant activity in Kashmir.advertisementOf the five main militant groups operating in Kashmir, four are based in Pakistan, where open recruiting and fundraising are commonplace. Training of militants is also done on Pakistani soil. The Pakistani military is deeply involved, especially in the smuggling of anti-Indian militants across the Line of Control.Militant groups have roots all over Pakistan, from well-equipped training centres in Muzaffarabad – the capital of Pakistan’s slice of Kashmir-and the North West Frontier Province to Lahore and Islamabad. Here is an inside look at how Pakistan runs its covert war in Kashmir:Recruiting and trainingThere are thousands of young, motivated Pakistani men anxious to join the militancy in Kashmir, which they consider a holy war. They come from all walks of life: not merely from the religious schools known as madarsas, or the far-flung, poverty-mired towns and villages, but also from Pakistan’s educated and westernised middle and upper classes.And for these highly religious volunteers, many of whom are still in their teens, there is nothing more sacred in life than achieving the status of a martyr. These are the grunts in the war. The leaders are Pakistani veterans of the Afghan war.LONG MARCH : Foreign militants on an uphill walk in south Kashmir. The fittest volunteers from the training camps cross over into India from forward posts of the Pakistani ArmyThe largest training camp in Pakistan is run by the Lashkar-e-Toiba, a wing of an Afghan mujahideen group known as Markaz Al Dawa Wal Irshad. It is set on a vast mountain clearing overlooking Muzaffarabad. Armed men guard the facility round-the-clock. There are only two structures, one an armoury, the other a kitchen. Trainees live and sleep in the open. The field is dotted with installations used to teach the fervent young – some no older than 14 – how to cross a river, climb a mountain or ambush a military convoy.The day of a trainee begins at four in the morning. After offering prayers, the militants go for exercises. A breakfast of tea and bread is at eight, followed by a full day of rigorous drills, which are interrupted only for prayers and a simple lunch, usually rice and lentils.Coursework covers how to use sidearms, sniper rifles, grenades, rocket launchers and wireless radio sets, as well as the art of constructing bombs. The teachers are Lashkar veterans of action in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Sports, music and television are forbidden.Trainees are only allowed to read prescreened newspaper articles. Training is divided into two stages. The first three-week session gives religious education and basic knowledge of how to handle firearms.Once a volunteer has passed that course, which costs the organisation about $330 (about Rs 15, 500) per trainee, he is sent to a designated city or town, often near his birthplace, to work at the group’s offices and become more involved with the organisation.When a volunteer proves himself capable, motivated and loyal, he is enrolled in a special three-month commando boot camp, which costs the group $1,700 (roughly Rs 80, 000) per student. (The money is raised from overseas groups and the Pakistani public.)advertisementIn the final weeks, recruits use live ammunition, construct actual explosives and perfect ambush techniques. The final exam lasts three days. A group of trainees, sometimes as large as 100 individuals, hikes and climbs through high-altitude, wooded terrain for three days without food or sleep.They are not allowed to slow their pace except for a few naps. At the end the hungry and thirsty survivors are given a goat, a knife and a matchbox. That’s their reward, and they have to cook and eat it in warlike conditions.Going inOnly the fittest from each graduating group are given a chance at martyrdom across the border in Kashmir. The local commander makes his choice, and the fortunate few are despatched to safe houses along the Line of Control known as “launching pads”. At this point, the Pakistani Army plays a crucial role in helping to arrange the infiltration of the militants across the Line of Control.Militants officially deny Pakistani Army involvement, but those who fought in Kashmir tell Time that the wait at the launching pad is dictated by their leaders, who are in touch with the army. “Until an unmarked vehicle turns up at your safe house,” says a veteran of Al-Badr, the first Pakistan-based militant organisation to get members across the line, “you don’t know when your number will come.”When it does, this is what happens: “The vehicle, covered from all sides, will pick up two, three or four militants according to the plan and dump them at one of the forward posts of the Pakistani Army,” the Al-Badr veteran says. “People in civvies give us arms, ammunition, food and money [Indian currency].We are asked to check our weapons. After a day or two they give us the signal to go ahead.” The next step is the most hazardous: from the Pakistani Army post, the group embarks on a three-to-seven night journey into Indian-controlled Kashmir, travelling by night, hiding during the day.The group leader wears night-vision goggles. The rest follow blindly across the mountains. There are numerous obstacles: Indian mines, tracer flares, Indian border patrols anxious to shoot at them. “But whenever such a situation arises,” says a Lashkar militant, “the Pakistani guns come to our rescue to provide cover.”Militants making the return trip go through a reverse route, ending up at a Pakistani Army base. In the 1990s, the Pakistani militants hired local guides – ethnic Kashmiris – to help them get across the mountains and into India.”On a number of occasions,” says Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, 42, the supreme commander of the Lashkar-e-Toiba militants, “they took the money and tipped off the Indians. So we trained our own manpower.”advertisementIn other words, the Pakistani militants don’t always trust the Kashmiris on whose behalf they are waging this war. The Pakistani militancy, which had its roots in the Afghan war, is now an institution unto itself.last_img read more