Warning: Essence Festival, ARTiCULATE Africa, Durban

To all writers:

On 18 December 2017, I sent the following letter to Darryl Earl David, the eThekwini Municipality, the eThekwini Municipal Library, the Essence Festival, the Book and Art Fair ARTiCULATE Africa, and the UNESCO Creative Cities Network:

At the end of August 2017, I was invited by the eThekwini Municipality and the eThekwini Municipal Library to Durban to participate in the city’s second Book and Art Fair, ARTiCULATE Africa, as part of the Essence Festival. Hosted by the eThekwini’s Parks, Recreation and Culture Service Unit between 28 September and 1 October, the fair offered a platform for local and international writers to speak about their work. The invitation was sent to me by the curator of the Book and Art Fair, Darryl Earl David, and offered the following: a return flight to King Shaka International Airport in Durban, accommodation for the duration of my stay, transport to and from the airport, and an honorarium for my participation. After I accepted the invitation and confirmed my attendance, I was asked to invoice the Essence Festival for my participation and to supply other supporting documents – which I did. I was told that all my documents were in order and that I would be paid soon after the festival. It is now two-and-a-half months later and I – and, as far as I could establish, all other participants (apart from two who insisted and received an advance of 50% on their fee) – have still not been paid despite repeated assurances from officials that the matter was on the verge of being resolved. I am not only concerned by this unacceptable delay of payments, but that we might not be paid at all. I was informed that participants of the first ARTiCULATE Africa suffered a similar fate, and since 11 December none of the people responsible for this year’s payments have been replying to my letters. This is no way to treat anyone under any circumstances, but especially not writers by a city named as the first UNESCO City of Literature in Africa.

My experience and concerns are shared by the following local and international participants who asked their names to be added to this letter: [names of half of the participants].

We would like to urge you all to make sure that all the participants of ARTiCULATE Africa are immediately remunerated for their work.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Karina M. Szczurek

The first payments were made to a few participants within a few hours of my letter being sent. This might be a coincidence but, under the circumstances, I doubt it. On 20 January, a Durban-based journalist investigating the story wrote to me and asked for comment. It might be another coincidence that my own cheque was deposited into my account that day (but was cleared by the bank only in early January, three months after my attendance of the festival!). Nearly every day, I keep receiving letters from other participants who have still not been paid (one just came in while I am typing this text), despite several further interventions by them and Darryl Earl David. No official apology was ever issued by the people responsible for the fiasco. No one, apart from the woman responsible for depositing the cheques and David, has acknowledged the letter above. I doubt I will ever be invited back, but it does not matter, because after all this humiliating begging for what is owed to us – payment for our work – I cannot imagine going through this process again. I am putting this on my blog to warn other writers: should you be invited, please demand to be paid in advance – don’t go otherwise. It is actually not worth it. I have been to numerous festivals and book fairs and have never been treated in such a way before. I had a great time while in Durban, but all my memories of the event are soured by the experience of what happened afterwards. It is simply unacceptable.

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