The Royal Agricultural Society of Natal Show 2013 – Final Report

With its plethora of emotions, from ‘merriment’ to ’tragedy’ – the 2013 Royal Show was akin to a Dionysian festival. 

Deemed by exhibitors and visitors alike to have largely exceeded expectations, the Royal Show was tragically marred by its first death of a guest in its 163-year history; this, involving a six-year old child.  The incident took place in the funfair, allegedly the result of the youngster extricating himself from a ride in motion.  Whilst the technical and SAPS investigations are completed, the findings of the formal inquest are still awaited.

 

Total Royal Show attendance was 142 451, 7,2% down on the 153 451 visitors in 2012; almost certainly the result of the down-turn in the economy.

The commercial side of the show hosted in excess of 450 exhibitors and feedback has been largely positive, with acceptable sales being reported from across the mix; from capital and agricultural equipment through to bric-a-brac.

It was particularly enlightening to see the continued growth in the construction and materials handling section, again indicating that the Royal is considered to provide a conduit of benefit befitting the participation of major international role-players.

Four of the commercial halls hosted dedicated displays; the Olympia catering for The Mercury Food and Fine Living Festival, Hall 2, with The Daily News Absolutely Fabulous range of displays focused on health and beauty, Hall 4, the SAPS, together with the Department of Correctional Services and related role-players, and Hall 7, The Witness Hall of Technology.  In all instances, high standards were achieved, very especially in the case of Hall 4, where the safety and security services put together one of the most informative and inter-active exhibits ever seen at the Royal.

The official opening ceremony held on Friday, 24 May saw the City partnering the Royal Show by way of a joint launch of Pietermaritzburg / Msunduzi’s 175th anniversary celebrations, coupled with the opening of the show.  Senior government officials, several MECs and nine mayors from across the province attended, with the senior guest of honour being the premier, Dr Zweli Mkhize.

Incorporating a military parade, a grand fireworks display and musical performances by Jason Hartman and Thokozani Langa, the occasion translated into a pleasing event, notwithstanding relatively poor attendance; probably the result of the function’s early commencement on a working day.

From an agricultural perspective; the first weekend of the show is focused on commercial on the hoof judging, as well as the youth and future farmers.  All components were well supported. 

A spirit of camaraderie prevailed throughout the cattle and sheep section and this was enhanced by 50 young farmers competing in a variety of technical but fun-filled challenges.  The overall event was won by the Owen Sithole College of Agriculture, who walked away with prize money of R5 000.

Monday, 27 May saw the introduction of classes for non-registered heifers; the intention being to broaden the scope of the cattle section by bringing into the mix non-stud animals ‘in their working clothes’.  The pilot exercise achieved its objectives and it is hoped that this new addition will expand in future years.

With in excess of 800 livestock on site and the hosting of the Angus, Ile de France, Suffolk and Hampshire Down Nationals, the stud component did not disappoint.   In particular, it was pleasing to see a large number of out-of-province exhibitors, some from as far afield as Stellenbosch, Vryburg, Schweizer-Reneke and Tzaneen.   

Equally, the Standard Bank Gold Cup dinner and parade – the culmination of the livestock programme – on Friday evening, 31 May turned out to be a grand affair with in excess of 180 persons attending and with the guest of honour being Alita van der Walt, editor of Farmer’s Weekly.

The Land Bank corporate sponsors’ dinner was held on the Monday evening, preceded by a polo demonstration match.  The guest of honour was Angela Quintal, editor of The Witness and the occasion was also used to acknowledge the contribution of both the City and Maritzburg College to the Royal Agricultural Society as they celebrated their 175th and 150th anniversaries respectively.  Framed certificates were presented to both organisations in recognition of services rendered.

Moving on to entertainment.

Under the leadership of Captain Scully Levin, the Eqstra Flying Lions aerobatic team participated by way of five displays during the course of the first weekend, including an evening performance with special lighting effects.

Saturday, 25 May saw the return of the world-renowned Jungle Rush FMX bikers with a breath-taking display, followed by the Royal Show concert in partnership with East Coast Radio.  Artists on the evening included Toya Delazy, the Graham Watkins Project and Lonehill Estate.

The Royal symphony performance took place on Sunday and despite the unseasonal heat, was well supported.  This was followed in the afternoon by the ever popular RSG concert catering largely, but not exclusively, for the Afrikaans-speaking KZN community.

Also, an interesting Working On Fire demonstration took place, incorporating the use of air support with water buckets.  A most informative and exciting event.

Ably overseen by Colin Scott, Jacquie Pappas and Priscilla Young, the show hosted a meaningful equestrian presence, focused largely on young riders and concluding on the final weekend with the South African national tent pegging team competing against provincial sides in two exhibitions.

More so than in previous years, the SANDF contributed to the entertainment mix – virtually every day of the show – by way of bands, drill demonstrations and dog displays; the highlight being the South African Medical Corps medal parade held on the second Saturday, with over 100 military personnel in attendance.  This pleasingly choreographed event was well received by the large number of visitors on the day.

Over an extended period, the Royal Show has become a ‘home from home’ for the dog agility fraternity and we were again privileged to host the KZN Championships in 2013.

The final weekend saw the return of the Jungle Rush display, on this occasion incorporating motor vehicles performing to a capacity audience and this was followed by the Radio Hindvani Bollywood Extravaganza.

The show concluded on Sunday, 2 June with the Ukhozi FM concert, which attracted some 22 000 visitors.  Whilst such numbers are daunting, the largely family-oriented audience had an enjoyable day and no incidents were reported. 

Having said this, the tendency in recent years for persons not attending the concert to gather outside the grounds along Chatterton Road – ostensibly to hold private parties – continues to cause headaches for the South African Police and the traffic authorities.  This matter requires addressing going forward.

Whilst the fairground incident will cast a perpetual shadow for all stakeholders, the favourable feedback received from exhibitors and visitors alike point to the show having been an overall success.

As is customary, exhibitors were electronically canvassed to adjudge their participation in terms of expectations having been met.  A 48% response was received and the results are as follows:

Score (out of 10)

Percentage

10

17

9

19

8

26

7

25

6

7

5

2

4

2

3

1

2

0

1

1

0

0

From a security perspective, the SAPS reported that the 2013 Royal Show was undoubtedly the most crime-free in recent years, with only eight incidents being reported, relating primarily to the opportunist theft of handbags, cell phones and laptops.

This notwithstanding, the following negatives – some more serious than others – will require attention in 2014 and beyond.

  •  For the third time in 20 years, a cow broke loose from the cattle stalls and entered the main body of the showgrounds, causing an element of panic on the part of the public.  Although the heifer in this instance did not come into contact with any individual, five persons sustained scratches and abrasions and one a broken arm as a result of trips and falls whilst hastily moving out of the way.  In future, permanent barriers (of the type traditionally used on school days) will have to be erected.
  • Whilst, pleasingly, the show continues to attract vast numbers of youngsters; especially school groups attending on the Wednesday and Thursday; it has been determined that in many instances – especially in the case of young children – that inadequate supervision prevails.  Again, this will have to be addressed.
  • Following the vibrant activity of recent years, during which time their substantial exhibition area was utilised for an eclectic mix of displays spanning the entire first week, the chain sawing component failed to meet the expectations of an anticipating public.  Sadly, competitions and demonstrations only took place during the course of the first three days, leaving a (relatively) substantial area moribund for the balance of the show.
  •  Although the cattle arena witnessed a significant number of visitors and exhibitors, it is distressing to note that many of the adjacent breed clubhouses appear to be consistently under-utilised; this at a time when the Society is struggling to accommodate ‘blue chip’ equipment exhibitors as a result of space constraints.
  • During the course of both Saturdays, the public car parks under the Society’s control reached capacity, resulting in a number of guests (including members) being forced to find alternative areas along adjacent roadways.  This caused consternation, especially on the part of the elderly, who were compelled to walk substantial distances.

Whilst 2013 wasn’t without its challenges, we were blessed with good weather, exhibitors with satisfactory sales, favourable reports from a significant number of visitors and a low crime rate; and on a positive note we look forward to 2014.

The Royal Show records its appreciation to the numerous volunteers and sponsors who contributed to this year’s event; very especially Telkom, ABI and the Land Bank.

Issued by the office of the CEO

Royal Agricultural Society of Natal

13 June 2013

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