Public Forum at Future Africa

Post-Elections: What now for the Arts and Culture Dispensation?

The May public forum at the Future Africa Campus explored the topic Post-Election: What now for the arts and culture sector? (What should be the priorities of a new Minister responsible for arts, culture and heritage?).

Four panellists with extensive experience in the arts – Zwai Mgijima (Eastern Cape), Bongi Dhlomo (Gauteng), Mashupe Phala (Limpopo) and Thami Mbongo – responded to the question from their provincial and national experience.  The panel was facilitated by artist-in-residence, Mike van Graan.

Mgijima recounted the difficulties he had trying to make a living for twenty-nine years as a theatre-maker in a province neglected by national government.  To confirm his experience, he cited veteran Eastern Cape actress, Nomhle Nkonyeni, who, a week after she received the Order of Ikhamanga in silver from President Ramaphosa, announced that she was not going to vote as government had made empty promises to artists for twenty-five years.

Having experienced and worked with government in numerous forms, Dhlomo used the Gauteng Legislature’s art collection as a metaphor for the state of the arts.  In 1994, she was part of a panel commissioned to buy art for the legislature; this year, she has been called in to help restore the art collection which has been “vandalised”.  With the rising unemployment rate, she wants government to have a system in which the employment of artists can also be monitored; she would also like to have a thorough evaluation of what the Department of Arts and Culture has actually achieved in twenty-five years. 

Mashupe Phala told the gathering that Limpopo is the only province that does not have a theatre, and that none has been built in 25 years.  He would simply like government to create an enabling environment for artists to be able to do their work.  There should be bilateral agreements with other departments and other tiers of government so that artists are commissioned to stage school setworks, to educate communities about a range of themes using their creative skills and for visual artists to have their works bought for the hotel industry.  In the same way as all government departments allocate Wednesday afternoons for interdepartmental sports in Limpopo, he would like government to support culture days with civil servants encouraged to engage in arts activities.  But he also had harsh words for the arts and culture sector itself that failed to act in its interests and was absent from policy discussions. “Even taxi drivers made input into the Integrated Development Plan in Limpopo,” he said, “but not the arts and culture sector”.

Having engaged with all the major political parties in the Western Cape – the ANC, the DA and the EFF – Thami Mbongo announced that he was now agitating for change as a  member of the EFF.  He supported the call of civil society activists for a knowledgeable member of the arts and culture sector to be appointed as minister for arts and culture as previous politicians had failed.  He stressed the importance of having more creatives asking uncomfortable questions and called for the sector to be united, to clear up the CCIFSA (Cultural and Creative Industries Federation of South Africa) “mess”, and to use it as a vehicle to improve the sector, even against its government creators.  He called for a Commission of Inquiry to investigate nepotism and corruption in the sector, for a review of the Cultural Institutions Act and for a skills audit in national and provincial departments as well as in publicly-funded institutions as “we are led by fools”. 

The discussion with the audience was wide-ranging given the many themes that were raised but picked up on themes such as the regulation of the sector to protect artists from exploitation, the disunity within the sector and the divide-and-rule tactics employed by government and the pursuit of political imperatives by the DAC rather than an artistic or cultural vision.

Dhlomo said that she was still involved because she wanted a better a society for her grandchild who will be 30 in 25 years’ time, an irony considering that many – like Dhlomo - were involved in the struggle against apartheid to make a better society for their children, but the first twenty-five years of democracy had deferred their dreams to the next generation. 

Mgijima told of how he has been asked why he writes such sad plays when we should be celebrating our democracy; his answer is that because there are still so many sad stories to tell.  “I wish the dreams we had in 1994 would come back”, ended Mgijima.