Newtown Diwali Festival

Posted: January 26, 2009 in Investigative articles

©Astrid Stark

Published:  The Event:  South Africa’s leading business tourism industry newspaper, 2008

I was asked to investigate, what initially seemed like a straightforward complaint of non-payment of one party by another. However, on much closer inspection it became very clear that inexplicable and perplexing actions were taking place.

On 22 November 2007 the Newtown Diwali Festival concluded with the feedback that it was an unprecedented success. The festival owner, Nisha Moodley, confirmed that corporate, political, municipal and community support boosted Newtown’s annual highlight. One party that was not glowing in the success of the festival’s aftermath is publicity company JT Communications, and specifically, the owner Vanessa Perumal.  JT Communications, who has handled the festival’s publicity for three years, has to date not received its full payment for 2007.

Perumal’s concerns about the festival however started around October 2007, before the start of the festival and before payment issues became a bone of contention. Perumal raised concerns with stakeholders, as well as the City of Johannesburg with regards to;   ownership of the festival; lack of governance and the fact that Nisha Moodley, the Johannesburg Property Company’s Marketing Manager was the sole owner of a festival with private and public stakeholders. In short, Perumal was questioning whether public funds were being used for private enrichment.  She was also asking how the festival, seemingly without a Board of Trustees, can demonstrate accountability.

 Nisha Moodley stated, with proof, that she has the written permission and support of her MD to host the Newtown Diwali Festival.  When I approached Moodley she wrote that Perumal’s, ‘vendetta started against her weeks before the festival’.  She confirmed that JT Communications has to date not received any payment for labour because of outstanding issues involving photography, media monitoring and media accreditation.

Perumal stated that JT Communications made the decision to withdraw from the festival three days before it began as they had not received their standard 50% deposit at that stage and were carrying the cost of 9 months of labour and suppliers themselves. She was also concerned about unanswered governance and ownership questions that she felt might tarnish the image of JT Communications.

One might then assume that the services such as photography and media monitoring fell by the wayside as the mutual agreement now seemed irrevocably broken.    Both parties confirm that legal processes have now been entered into and the Public Protectors Office confirmed that they are ‘looking into the festival’, but were not prepared to divulge whether any conclusions had been reached.  This was the ongoing response I received from several parties involved in the festival. Perumal claims that the City of Johannesburg who hosted the festival, and in particular Gabu Tugwana the Communications Director confirmed that they will be responsible for the publicity payments. 

When I approached Mr Tugwana with questions, he chose not to give me any written answers on seemingly simple questions such as the City of Johannesburg’s exact involvement with the festival.  Instead he phoned me later to reiterate that I must direct my questions (including the ones specifically directed to him) to Nisha Moodley.

I have no corroboration but I certainly have the feeling that I am being brushed off.    I next approached Jayesperi  Moopen, the Tribhangi Dance Theatre’s artistic director, who was involved with Diwali, for her thoughts  on matters of the Festival’s governance and  accountability.  Moopen was only prepared to divulge that she had been advised by her Board of Directors to distance herself from this matter.  She concluded that she felt that the Joburg City Council must be accountable for ‘this’ as the public should have been given the opportunity to tender for the Newtown Diwali Festival.  Ashwin Trikamjee who was at one time the acting executive director of South African NGO coalition and the Chair of Transparency International confirmed that at the time he was approached by ‘some people’,that raised questions of transparency and accountability within the festival.  He did not say who, or answer my questions, instead he stated that no conclusive evidence of misconduct were found but that it certainly appears that there are issues of governance that are not transparent  He had tried to get city officials to deal with it proactively, but failed.  

Further complaints by Vanessa Perumal included the use of her own copy righted publicity strategy by the Diwali Festival without her permission.  Perumal also stated that The Diwali Festival has for three years running used JT Communications’ telephone number on their posters despite repeated written communication that permission for this has not been granted.  A small matter at a glance, but considering the masses that were expected to make enquiries about the festival, it is a burden and unexpected expense for JT Communications. My list of, “he said, she said” communication in this matter is endless and ongoing.

There seems to be an agreement that the Newtown Diwali Festival has renewed downtown Johannesburg and created a much needed positive and proactive platform for arts and culture.  However to date there are too many unanswered questions concerning responsibility, governance and transparency with regards to the festival.  When most parties involved refuse to answer simple, yet pertinent questions raised, and others refrain from written correspondence but rather use telephone comment, one can’t help but feel a dreaded sense of unease and suspicion.  

Interested parties are invited to send their comments to



  1. Court backs leading publicity company’s claim

    In a significant move for small and medium-term businesses in South Africa, JT Communication Solutions CC has received the backing of the court in a claim launched last year.
    The January 6th judgement by the Witwatersrand Local Division High Court sees Johannesburg-based JT Communications awarded outstanding fees owed to it by organisers of the annual Diwali festival as well as costs of the legal suit.
    Says JT Communication’s co-owner Vanessa Perumal, “This is not just a much-needed victory for my company but one for small and medium-sized businesses around the country. For too long, we have had to stand at the end of the queue, waiting to be paid for the work that we do on jobs, and often not seeing anything come our way.
    “In the case of the Diwali festival, this was a project that involved the City of Joburg as a funder and partner and we believed that it was important to take a stand for the payment of our fees because of the issue of accountability as well. The public has the right to know that public-funded initiatives are being run to the same standards of integrity and accountability that we expect from any business.”
    The court case arose out of the non-payment of several key suppliers to the 2007 Newtown Diwali Festival (including JT Communications) by festival organizer, Nisha Moodley. The 2007 event drew a massive 40 000 people, making it one of the most successful projects to be held in the city.
    “It’s one thing if small suppliers don’t deliver on their contracts,” says Perumal.
    “It’s quite another when we all pour our hears-and-souls into making a project successful in the way the 2007 Newtown Diwali festival was and we are still not paid. I am very happy to have secured this judgement and await payment from Ms Moodley.”
    JT Communications is one of South Africa’s leading publicity companies, specialising in the field of arts and culture. Among its clients are SAMRO, the Moshito Music Conference and Exhibition, the Wits Arts and Literary Exhibition and many others.


  2. shipar says:

    Ashwin Trikamjee is mentioned in the article aboe; word out is that Trikamjee and Moodley have joined forces and with the backing of FNB will be hosting this year’s festival.

    So much for business ethics.


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