One woman’s quest to restore the Hamburg artist’s retreat

By NTU News Reporter

At the 2010 sod-turning ceremony for the Emthonjeni Artists’ Retreat in Hamburg, the vision was for a world class arts and cultural centre attracting international and national resident artists. 

Built by Aspire, the economic development agency of the Amathole District Municipality (ADM), it was meant to be a catalyst for economic growth and social and cultural development that would regenerate Hamburg and the surrounding areas. 

But in 2014, after being open for less than a year, the R35-million centre had become a white elephant, its doors were closed and it was no longer operating. Financial problems and operational challenges were cited. Years of neglect and vandalism followed and in 2017 the ADM handed the building over to the Ngqushwa municipality.

Then businesswoman Nolubabalo Mcinga stepped in, she is the CEO M&C Business Solutions, Executive Director: Sovereign Funds Development & Infrastructure, Airport Parkade, Director for Africa Engineering and Bulk Infrastructure Construction Content. Mcinga, who owns land in Hamburg blessed by late Tamkhulu Mvaphantsi, was motivated and inspired by the local community and the youth there to bring the centre back to life.

 “The youth have a lot of dreams but lack skill hence my expression of interest offering to run the property in partnership with the municipality as a training centre and SME (small to medium enterprise) incubator,” she said. 

Her vision was to refurbish Emthonjeni to operate as an education and training centre, providing skills to the entire country not just Hamburg community, including 4IR, sports, arts and culture, energy and social development special programs for the needy.

After years of no maintenance and exposed to the sea, the building was a mess. There was no roof in the main building and some units leaked. The walls and floors were mouldy and cracked and the geysers had been stolen.

There was no water. Mcinga said she installed a water system from Jojo tanks to supply all the rooms and buildings of the property and she was buying water weekly. 

She said she had to drain the sewage system and reinstall toilet seats, fix aircon and electricity and replace windows and doors that had been broken by wandering cattle. 

Outside, she said, there were snakes and extensive work and pest control measures had to be carried out. 

Emthonjeni is currently operating as accommodation-only because the main building containing the auditorium, kitchen, dining area and offices is sinking and can’t be used. 

Mcinga said she has spent hundreds of thousands of rands on the building and it will take another three years to fully realise her vision. 

But a dispute over the contract with the Ngqushwa municipality means that dream hangs in the balance. A municipal spokesperson said they could not comment at present because it was a legal matter that had not yet been resolved.

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