Official spied on over 'combi courts', Monica Newton, is new National Arts Festival boss

The 2019 edition of the National Arts Festival had to broker emergency plans to handle the water crisis in Makhanda (Grahamstown) in the Eastern Cape.
The 2019 edition of the National Arts Festival had to broker emergency plans to handle the water crisis in Makhanda (Grahamstown) in the Eastern Cape.

Makhanda's National Arts Festival has named Monica Newton as its new CEO, effective from January.

Newton was previously head of the Gauteng department of sport, arts, culture and recreation, where she became embroiled in controversy in March after a leaked audio clip in which former MEC Faith Mazibuko was heard shouting at her subordinates.

A recording of Mazibuko's words, reportedly directed at Newton and the department's CFO, Priya Lutchman, made the rounds on social media and became known as the “Combi Courts rant”.

In June, City Press reported, the department installed a new set of cameras, focusing solely on the office and parking bay of Newton, at a cost of R350,000, which it defended by saying it was determined to clamp down on leaks. Last month, Newton's contract was “re-determined,” the paper reported.

Newton has also served as deputy director-general of arts and culture promotion and development at the national department of arts and culture. Before this, she was CEO of the National Arts Council, a statutory body reporting to the arts and culture department.

Chairperson of the National Arts Festival Board, Ayanda Mjekula, said: “We look forward to having her lead the festival forward ... Not only is her experience of working in the arts sector extensive but she also brings institutional and business insight that is an absolute asset to us.”

Newton said: “The National Arts Festival makes a major contribution to the arts ecosystem in SA, and like all things in the current cultural, economic and social climate, must adapt to prevailing conditions. The festival, and in fact all the activities initiated by the Grahamstown Foundation, are also fundamental to the economic and social fabric of the City of Makhanda and the surrounding areas. The task of ensuring that the festival and all activities contribute meaningfully, sustainably and responsibly to the life of the city thus is of equal importance. I am looking forward to taking on this challenging role and its enormous responsibilities.”

She succeeds Tony Lankester, who remains as a board member to facilitate continuity.

Newton will also be the CEO of the Grahamstown Foundation, the organisation that works in tandem with the National Arts Festival to produce Scifest Africa, the English Olympiad, South African Schools’ Festivals and the Monument Movie Club.

The 2020 National Arts Festival takes place in Makhanda from 25 June-5 July.

According to the University of Witwatersrand, Newton holds a master's degree in Industrial Sociology obtained from Wits, where she has previously served as a part-time lecturer.

In 1997, Wits said, she worked on the Cultural Industries Growth Strategy for the national arts department, the first of the country’s strategies to develop the economic potential of the arts, and the cultural industries development portfolio that emerged from the strategy. She was also involved in the planning and development stages of the Ikhaya Lethemba Centre for Victims of Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse, advising the department of community safety on the operational model of the first one-stop centre for victims in the province.

Wits also commended her for her stint as a chief director in the office of the Gauteng premier, where she was responsible for organisational performance monitoring and strategic planning and helped deliver clean audits.

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