The French Cultural Centre (FCC) in Blantyre was that playhouse without borders-hosting Joyce Banda, then the late president Bingu’s wa Mutharika’s deputy, in a crowd of show-goers from all walks of life at the launch of Patricia Matupi’s album one Sunday last year.
Despite the wave of expectation and roaring applause that has welcomed JB’s rise to the presidency, Malawians must continue enduring the long wait with hope as government envisions putting the place back to use by the end of this year.
In an interview, Principal Secretary for Tourism and Culture Fletcher ZenengeyaÂ said a ministerial inspection instituted after The Nation investigation last year, shows the venue has suffered “extensive damage” and could hardly be ultilised “unless and untilÂ it is put in order”.
However, Zenengeya was optimistic that the renovations would start soon after the passing of the 2012/13 national budget in Parliament as the Ministry of Lands and Housing toured the place and came up with estimated maintenance cost.
Said Zenengeya on Sunday: “The inspection by the Lands Ministry was delayed because the country was mourning president Mutharika, but the completion of the exercise is a step in the right direction because it tells us the cost of the damage and what needs to be done to bring back the FCC’s lost glory.
“Currently, there are partners such as Blantyre Arts Festival and the donor community who expressed interest to renovate the premises prior to the inspection. ThisÂ too is a great development as government cannot go it alone. If everything goes according to plan, the cultural centre would be open by December.”
Under vote 360, Parliament last year passed K300 million for the acquisition of the FCC, estimated at K500 000 more by a bidder (name withheld) from the private sector. However, the French Embassy held on to the keys until forex-strapped Capital Hill in Lilongwe remitted the amount in US dollars to Paris this year.
Zenengeya said the amount did not take into account rehabilitation works as government envisaged smooth handovers.
However, the prolonged face-off that ensued since June last year left the place with no security detail and reduced it to nobodyâ€™s land, a playground for looters, thieves and loiters which used to be the focal point of local and international arts, entertainment and culture.
Recently, the Daily Times quoted Grammy-winning star Angelique Kidjo, one of the pilgrims to grace the FCC, as describing the centre as “a link between local and foreign musicians”. However, that is a mere flashback.
Other international stars that shined at the neglected entertainment spot include Senegal’s Ismael Lo, Oliver Mtukudzi, Jamaica’s Mutabaruka and Algerian-born Bibi Tanga who closed the curtains in June last year.