The Global Citizen festival. Picture: MASI LOSI
The Global Citizen festival. Picture: MASI LOSI

The Global Citizen Festival descended into chaos early last Monday morning, with concertgoers left stranded outside FNB Stadium in Soweto, targets for muggers and armed attackers.

In the aftermath, the organisation has rattled off figures that seem staggering: in just 10 hours the initiative encouraged more than 5.65-million "actions" (good deeds or social media endorsements), leading to 58 commitments of funding worth R100bn.

But despite the overwhelming interest generated by the event — with calls to action from Oprah Winfrey and President Cyril Ramaphosa, and stars such as Ed Sheeran, Pharrell Williams and Beyoncé performing — security was scant at the Joburg edition, raising questions about planning and funding.

Since its launch in 2012, the Global Citizen Festival has become an international event, held in a different location each year. The idea behind it is to create a movement of engaged citizens who use their voices to raise awareness around the ultimate aim: ending extreme poverty by 2030. This is done by signing pledges and taking action in exchange for rewards (for example, winning a Global Citizen Festival ticket by giving back to the community through good deeds).

The Global Poverty Project, the organisation behind Global Citizen, is a registered 501(c)(3) organisation in the US, which means it is exempt from federal income tax. According to publicly available records, the organisation has about $5.21m in assets.

As of last year, the international initiative had raised more than $37bn in funds, which will affect the lives of more than 2.25-billion people by 2030. And if the nearly 60 commitments made at the Joburg festival are honoured — the $7bn in pledges was well above the $1bn goal — the lives of 137-million people may be improved.

Police could have responded better, promptly and adequately. That’s why we said … we take this as a lesson
Bheki Cele

Michael Sheldrick, vice-president of policy and advocacy at Global Citizen, says the organisation itself is not the recipient of these funds. Instead, they are disbursed to Global Citizen partners, including UN agencies, grassroots NGOs and multilateral organisations such as the Education Cannot Wait fund and the World Health Organisation, to be used to implement poverty alleviation projects.

Global Citizen has in place a rigorous monitoring and evaluation process to track commitments and ensure follow-through, says Sheldrick. "We are committed to publishing timely updates on the implementation of these commitments."

The annual concert is not itself a money-spinner for the organisation, but an event to raise awareness and boost donations. For the Joburg edition, for example, 70% of the tickets (about 70,000) were given away in exchange for "actions", while 30% sold for between R1,840 and R4,285.

Sheldrick says the artists and hosts give their time for free. That means a saving of about $10m in performance fees for an act such as Beyoncé, according to Stadium Management SA CEO Jacques Grobbelaar. But the associated costs of the festival — production costs, engineers, medical services, and safety and security personnel — routinely run into several million dollars.

These are covered by the organisation’s corporate partners and through the support of private donors, Sheldrick says. For example, the Patrice Motsepe Foundation, which hosted the festival, contributed about $1.5m to the event, by Grobbelaar’s estimates.

What it means

Someone dropped the ball at the Global Citizen show, though it’s not clear who

So if there was sufficient funding available, Joburg concertgoers are within their rights to feel aggrieved by the poor traffic management that caused gridlock, stranding them outside the venue.

According to Michael Sun, Joburg mayoral committee member for public safety, the city’s metro police were responsible for traffic management. The department deployed 236 officers, 104 patrol vehicles, 18 motorbikes and 11 horses to ensure the free flow of traffic from 6am on the day of the concert to 7am the day after. The city’s emergency management services were also on standby to deal with any possible incidents.

According to Grobbelaar, the city would have been paid for this service — usually about R400,000.

And while reports in the Sunday Times suggest metro police officers were late and the event’s traffic management plan was abandoned, the city denies that its officers did anything wrong.

Police minister Bheki Cele, for his part, told a media briefing that more than 200 police officers were deployed in the stadium precinct, and eight private security companies provided about 2,000 personnel.

Cele admitted that police could have done better in controlling the chaos. "Police could have responded better, promptly and adequately. That’s why we said … we take this as a lesson."

Amid the buck-passing, it remains unclear who’s ultimately to blame. Grobbelaar, for one, is calling for a judicial commission of inquiry to get to the bottom of a fiasco he’s called "criminal". For a country that’s hosted its fair share of big names at FNB Stadium — and an organisation that conducts this festival annually — there’s little excuse for leaving more than 70,000 people vulnerable after such a well-funded event.