White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage 2016, A Critique


The Revised White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage made public in November 2016 is an improvement on previous editions of this policy position paper.  Inputs by members of the Reference Panel as well as submissions made by the broader arts, culture and heritage sector, have helped to advance the revised White Paper as an overall policy statement.  However, there are still major deficiencies within this document, and this critique is provided as a contribution further to improve the document and its legitimation within the creative sector.  It can be considered by itself, but it would be of better value if it were considered along with two previous submissions:

  1. Revised White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage (2013), A Critique and
  2. Theatre and Dance Discussion Document

Both these documents were sent to the Department of Arts and Culture in November 2015 for consideration as part of the development of the Revised White Paper.  Some ideas and criticisms contained in those documents have been incorporated into the current draft of the White Paper, and it is hoped that further points made here, will be considered.


Policy is a product of its time, more particularly, of the social, material, political, cultural and economic conditions that prevail at the time.  It is absolutely necessary then that polices are regularly reviewed, with amendments made and appropriate policies created that respond to the conditions that exist at the time of the review.

The Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) tabled a Revised White Paper (RWP) on Arts, Culture and Heritage in June 2013 under its previous minister, Paul Mashatile.  This edition was drafted internally by the DAC – either by a consultant and/or DAC official/s, with the Department reluctant to reveal the identity of the drafters, particularly after the first draft encountered stiff opposition.  An indaba – which many feared would simply be to rubberstamp this draft – was held later that year, where delegates were informed that the Minister hoped to have a new White Paper ratified by parliament before the end of his term in office.

An election took place in May 2014, and a new minister was appointed that in turn led to what has now become “normal practice” i.e. that senior staff – more particularly, the Director General – is removed to make way for a candidate preferred by the new minister (in this case, Nathi Mthethwa, the former minister responsible for police at the time of the Marikana massacre).

Under Mthethwa’s Acting Director General, Mr Vuyo Jack, the process of revising the original White Paper of 1996 was started afresh in March 2015, given the criticism levelled at the 2013 edition of the Revised White Paper – both for its content and for the manner in which it came about (with limited consultation with the arts, culture and heritage sector).

At an Indaba on the revised White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage (26-27 November 2015), further inputs were received from the creative sector.

The current RWP, in the “Process and Methodology” section, states

“On 4 November (2015), the Honourable Minister of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, appointed an eight-person Reference Panel to revise the 1996 White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage.  The team was subsequently expanded to include a ninth member representing the country’s youth.” (p4)

The panel comprised Prof A Oliphant, Dr S Fikeni, Prof M Nkondo, Ms A Joffe, Father S Mkhatshwa, Dr A Beukes, Mr T Kgoroge, Ms L Mashile and Ms T Goso.

According to a DAC briefing on the process of revising the White Paper to the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Arts and Culture on 30 August 2016:

  • A provisional draft for internal discussion was due in March 2016, followed by subsector public consultations in April, resulting in a revised draft in May which would then be circulated for public comment in June, after which it would be revised based on feedback received before being submitted to the Minister at the end of July 2016
  • Consultations were held in all the provinces from May to June, but “compilation of the first draft (of the revision of the Revised White Paper) was delayed since only three Reference Panel Members have contributed”
  • “The first draft of the White Paper was due on July 30, 2016. However, due to the lack of capacity within the Reference Panel as a result of several members dropping out, the three remaining members were over-stretched.  A request was granted by the ADG (Acting Director General) to extend the deadline for the first draft to 31 August 2016”

Notwithstanding this lack of contribution from the Reference Panel appointed to revise the White Paper (only a third of the panel remained or actively contributed), the DAC outlined the proposed new dispensation to the Portfolio Committee on 30 August 2016, much of which is contained in the “Second Draft” published in November 2016.  It is unclear, then, whether this new, proposed dispensation was the result of the panel fulfilling its mandate, or the DAC’s own invention (panel-beaten from earlier drafts of the revised White Paper) or a combination of both.

A year after the November 2015 indaba, the “Second Draft” of the Revised White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage was made available publicly, and another indaba was called for 17-18 November to discuss this latest edition.  Further submissions have been invited, with 15 December 2016 as the deadline for these.

Critique of Process

  1. The 1996 White Paper process was premised on two key elements largely absent from the current process

1.1  extensive consultation with the arts, culture and heritage sector over a period of nearly a year, led by individuals nominated by the arts and culture sector and

1.2  extensive research into the nature of the arts, culture and heritage sector – eventually comprising the Arts and Culture Task Group (ACTAG) Report – which served as the basis for the recommendations contained in the 1996 White Paper

Notwithstanding the fact that the current version of the White Paper has been in development for nearly three times longer than the research and consultative process of the 1996 White Paper, it sorely lacks comprehensive research of the sector as it currently stands: the gains since 1996, the gaps, the new challenges of our society 20 years on, etc.  Accordingly, it makes recommendations or statements that are often generalised and unsubstantiated by research.  At best, the RWP makes recommendations that allude to various reports or studies that have been done e.g. DAC National Mapping Study (2014) and the VANSA Report on the Visual Arts (2013), but these reports have not necessarily been interrogated within the broader arts, culture and heritage sector, or within the specific sector that it relates to, so that – unlike the ACTAG process – the recommendations may lack the legitimacy of sector knowledge and support.

The RWP references many different reports, but there is no list of links to these reports in an appendix at the end of the RWP which would allow the sector to familiarise themselves with these reports and provide feedback to the recommendations made on the basis of these reports.  In other words, there is a distinct lack of transparency in the formulation of the Revised White Paper which may be by design, by poor management of the process, or both.

2. Unlike the Arts and Culture Task Group (ACTAG) that was appointed by the then Minister from nearly 300 nominations received from the public – and the arts, culture and heritage sector in particular – the Reference Group appointed to draft the Revised White Paper in November 2015 was done largely by ministerial decree, probably informed by senior DAC officials.

2.1  This reflects how far our society and the governance of the arts and culture sector has moved from the founding principles of “arm’s length”, “transparency” and “participatory democracy” contained, or alluded to both in the 1996 White and the ACTAG process that led to the White Paper.  While the 1996 policy affirmed the transparent appointment of structures governing the arts, of bodies that dispensed public funds and of institutions supported by the public purse, there have been significant changes to this policy position without the policy being formally changed through a White Paper process i.e. policy changes have occurred by stealth, or by unilateral DAC decision-making rather than through consultation.  Thus, the governing boards of publicly-funded theatres, museums and monuments have their chairpersons appointed by the Minister, rather than being elected by their colleagues; in this way, the ruling party has a direct conduit into publicly-funded institutions, and boards may be intimidated into self-censorship because their chairpersons carry political blessing.  Such ministerial appointments also grant disproportionate power to the chairpersons of such boards.  This is also the case with funding agencies such as the National Arts Council, National Film and Video Foundation and the National Heritage Council.

2.2  Publicly-funded institutions now have to declare, as part of their branding, that they are “agencies of the Department of Arts and Culture”; in other words, they are accountable – not only for the public funding they receive – but also for their programming, strategic and implementation plans that have to be aligned with the vision and aims of the DAC.  The unilateral, ministerial appointment of the Reference Group – the presence of some independently-minded individuals notwithstanding – is indicative more of a desire to control and ensure the interests of the DAC in the White Paper, than the interests of the arts and culture sector.  That the President of CCIFSA – a sweetheart organisation of the DAC that supposedly represents the sector to the exclusion of other civil society bodies that have been around for longer and have more policy-making expertise – is part of the Reference Group together with individuals who serve on the boards of other DAC-funded entities – further reflects the bad faith of the DAC in formulating a policy document that genuinely seeks the best interests of the arts, culture and heritage sector in the context of contemporary South Africa.

2.3  In its report to the Portfolio Committee on Arts and Culture, the DAC stated that several members of the Reference Group dropped out, leaving the three remaining members over-stretched.  In other words, two-thirds – 66% of the Reference Group appointed by the Minister – failed to deliver anything of substance.  Nevertheless, at that very briefing and prior to the deadline for the first draft of the RWP, the DAC outlined what the “new dispensation” would look like. This raises four further points of concern

2.3.1      who were the individuals who withdrew from the Reference Group, why did they do so and who were those who may have remained, but did not contribute anything?  If they are serving – on Ministerial appointment – on other publicly funded boards, are they fulfilling their mandate there, and do they have the requisite skills, experience and commitment to do so?

2.3.2      it reflects the shortcomings of unilateral ministerial appointments, where individuals are appointed to serve the arts, culture and heritage sector, but fail to do so – for whatever reasons – and neither the minister nor those failing individuals are held accountable

2.3.3      if the Reference Group was largely dysfunctional, who was responsible for the drafting of the RWP?  How could the DAC outline the “new dispensation” to the Portfolio Committee before the deadline for the RWP, unless it was substantially involved in the formulation of the RWP?  Is the RWP largely a reformulation of earlier drafts of the RWP that were devised internally within the DAC?

2.3.4      The presence of particular individuals within the Reference Group e.g. Andries Oliphant who chaired the ACTAG process and was initially involved in the formulation of the 1996 White Paper, and Avril Joffe, a UNESCO expert on the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions who has worked with other African governments on formulating cultural policies may give some comfort that – even if the process leaves much to be desired – at least the content of the White Paper would be informed by a degree of policy-making experience.  On the other hand, the numerous editing deficiencies within the White Paper and the uneven structure and patchy content of the White Paper raise questions about whether this final draft has been signed off by even the remnants of the Reference Group?

3. The consultative processes related to the revision of the White Paper have entailed meetings with the publicly-funded institutions, provincial workshops and two-day national gatherings of stakeholders to discuss the latest version/s of the RWP. While there are inherent power relations that favour the DAC in their consultations with institutions that are dependent on them for funding, with the DAC being able to make and drive decisions affecting such institutions whether these approve of them or not, broader consultations – to have legitimacy – require adequate preparation e.g. the distribution of documentation beforehand, sufficient time for stakeholders to engage with the documentation within their respective organisations, opportunities for stakeholders to interrogate versions of the RWP as it develops after provincial and other consultations, etc.  This can be done in face-to-face gatherings but also through technology and online platforms.

The RWP states that it has adhered to “the participatory and consultative principles on which South Africa’s democracy and public policy development practices are founded…” (p5).  However, the experience of stakeholders in the revision of the White Paper has generally been one of it being rushed, with inadequate time to interrogate the RWP and a feeling that the “consultations” have been box-ticking exercises rather than genuine attempts to engage the views of stakeholders.

Why the process matters

There are some who would argue that while there may be limitations in the policy-making process, criticism in this regard should be muted since at least there is a (better than the 2013 version) policy document on the table.

However, the process of formulating the primary policy document that will affect the arts and culture sector nationally is as important as the content of the policy recommendations for at least the following reasons:

  1. South Africa is a constitutional democracy and is a work-in-progress in this regard; we are both a democracy because our Constitution decrees it so, and we are becoming a democracy as we contest what this means for society as a whole and for our respective sectors. It is the democratic right of arts, culture and heritage practitioners to participate actively in the formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies, strategies and structures that directly affect their practice and livelihoods.  When government – in this case, a minister and the Department of Arts and Culture – restricts the participation of the sector in policy-making, it compromises democracy and creates a version of democracy in government’s image, and co-opts democratic processes and principles to serve their narrow, pre-defined interests.
  2. In a democracy, the arts and culture sector – like all sectors of society – have a right to create and belong to organisations that they believe best advance and defend their interests, including holding government accountable for poor or non- implementation of policy, decisions that adversely affect the sector, wastage of resources, etc. The DAC however, has imposed an organisation from the top down on the sector – the Creative and Cultural Industries Federation of South Africa (CCIFSA) – which in its two years of existence has done little to warrant the support or respect of stakeholders within the sector.  By appointing the president of CCIFSA to the Reference Group, the Minister both marginalises organisations established by practitioners themselves and seeks to legitimise the policy recommendations in the RWP as those bearing the support of civil society through CCIFSA.  This strategy serves only to divide and rule the sector, rather than unite it in the best interests of arts, culture and heritage stakeholders, a situation that serves the interests of the DAC far more than it does the development of South Africa’s creative sector.
  3. Whereas a genuinely consultative and participatory process aids the legitimation of the policy recommendations, a process that is undemocratic, restrictive and politically manipulated serves to undermine the credibility of the policy recommendations and further sows distrust of and suspicion about the motives of the DAC and casts doubts about the good faith of the Minister. The lack of time in calling for participation in national indabas and the hosting of such indabas also raises suspicions about  whether service providers organising the indabas have gone through the required tender processes, or whether work has been allocated on the basis of deviations to preferred service providers close to officials within the DAC.  Accordingly, this distrust will continue to manifest itself in the implementation, monitoring and evaluation phases of the policy whereas the formulation process should be one of building relations and trust between key stakeholders.
  4. A poorly managed or politically-manipulated process disempowers the arts and culture sector and creates cynicism. A lot of what has taken place – certainly with regard to achievements – within the creative sector has been despite, rather than because of government policy, government support or government intervention.  Whereas there had been much expectation of the DAC and the government in the period immediately following the adoption of the White Paper in 1996, the sector has become increasingly cynical about government, about its commitment to and management of policy processes, particularly since the annus horribilis of 2000 when many state-funded institutions and cultural NGOs suffered terrible losses.  As cynicism about government generally and the DAC in particular grows, so the arts, culture and heritage sector increasingly finds alternative ways to grow and sustain their work, outside of government policies and structures.  This perpetuates and increases a huge divide within the sector between those dependent on government resources on the one hand but still in relatively early stages of their career and market development, and others who could assist those in need of development but who are alienated from government and its processes, and simply get on with their lives, seeking to have as little to do with government as possible.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the Afrikaans arts market where – unrestrained or supported by government – Afrikaans music, theatre, festivals, movies, literature, television programmes, newspapers and magazines, visual art by Afrikaans artists, etc – flourish because of a market with the disposable income, passion and knowledge to support such work.  On the other hand, many theatre makers from peri-urban and/or less-resourced provinces who make their way to the National Arts Festival, with or without public subsidy, struggle to find a market and generally return to their homes poorer than when they left.  For all its talk about social cohesion and nation building, the DAC simply lacks the respect of many skilled practitioners who could play a role in the development of the sector, but are alienated from the DAC’s lack of vision, and its ways of operating.
  5. Even if the process were above board and legitimate, that the revision of the White Paper has taken more than three years under the auspices of two different ministers and three different directors-general,

5.1  does not boost confidence in the DAC and its capacity and leadership ability as the primary vehicle to manage, implement and evaluate the policy and the responsibilities assigned to it within the policy and

5.2  shows that the Department and its effectiveness are subject to the factional battles of the ruling party, so that any investment in the leadership of the DAC (ministerial and staffing) on the part of the sector, would be relatively meaningless in the medium-to-long term as it is likely that a new minister and director general will be appointed in which such investment of effort and time will have to start afresh.  Normally, what this means is that politicians and senior bureaucrats with little knowledge and understanding of the sector resort to formulaic and tired notions of “transformation” as their starting point with which to engage the sector, without a more comprehensive historical overview, contemporary analysis and vision to guide them, so that – when politicians and senior officials change – there is often the debilitating feeling that we are at the beginning, again.

This, then, further encourages the arts and culture sector to seek ways to survive and grow outside of government structures and policy as any dependence on it, will be subject to decisions and political interventions largely outside of the sector’s – and individual artists’ or organisations’ – control.


The RWP assigns the primary responsibility for the implementation, management and evaluation of the RWP to the DAC.  However, there is no analysis of the DAC as the primary vehicle through which the 1996 White Paper was driven. In the absence of an evaluation of the DAC, the following are examples that illustrate the need thoroughly to interrogate the DAC, its vision, leadership and capacity in being able to drive, implement and monitor the RWP.

1. Illegal appointment of the National Arts Council in 2015

In the interests of transparency, the National Arts Council Act requires that nominees for the Council of the NAC are interviewed in public, and that the public be given the opportunity to object to any nominee.  However, the interviews for the 2015 Council were held behind closed doors and the public was never informed of who the nominees were, with the Minister subsequently appointing the Council members.  Civil society organisations and individuals wrote to the Minister, to the NAC, the Department and the Portfolio Committee on Arts and Culture pointing out this contravention of the NAC Act, but the appointments went ahead and the Council was inaugurated in late 2015.  A year later, the Minister terminated the services of the Council precisely because of this contravention, of which he had been informed!

This episode resonates with another example of a few NAC Councils back when the DAC attempted to deny a legitimate Council member a seat on the next Council.  In terms of the Act, the sitting Council elects three of its members to serve on the next Council to provide a degree of continuity.  Among the three members elected, was an individual of whom the DAC did not particularly approve as she had constantly raised critical questions of the DAC in the various positions she had held.  The DAC did not appoint her to the next Council, even though it was pointed out to them that this was against the Act.  Eventually, due to legal engagement, the DAC was obliged to reappoint the individual to the next Council.

These examples point to at least four challenges within the DAC and/or the challenge that the DAC represents for the arts, culture and heritage sector

1.1  Its laissez faire attitude to the laws (and thus policies) for which it is responsible – can it then be trusted with this new White Paper and the implementation responsibilities assigned to it?

1.2  the attitude of the DAC to independent thinkers and critics i.e. that while one of its core mandates is to promote and defend freedom of expression, in reality, it prejudices individuals and organisations that raise critical questions

1.3  the lack of commitment to transparency which denies the creative sector its legal rights and undermines democracy

1.4  its refusal to take seriously the protestations of civil society who monitor policy implementation and raise criticisms in good faith (can it thus be a good partner of civil society as called for in the RWP, can it be trusted by civil society, is civil society better off acting on its own in parallel to the DAC, and simply ignore it in the same way as the DAC treats civil society?)

The problem with the breakdown in trust and the relationship between the DAC and civil society actors is that there is much expertise within civil society which could and should be used to realise the goals of the RWP.  However, many in the sector simply do not trust the DAC and refuse to engage with the policy recommendations of government, whether it tries to encourage compliance by incentive (which it rarely does) or by coercion (which it more often threatens but lacks capacity to carry it through, fortunately)

The DAC’s mandate appears to be to serve the political imperatives of government and not the vision or interests of the sector.  Where there may be overlap and mutual interests, the DAC is unable to articulate these overlapping interests in a manner that encourages cooperation and its historical failures are such that it lacks credibility particularly within a large part of the skilled, resourced, networked and experienced creative sector.

  1. Management of international policy instruments

South Africa played an influential role in the devising of the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, and was one of the first countries to ratify this international legal instrument.  In terms of the operational guidelines adopted by the signatories to the Convention (South Africa had a representative on the Committee devising these guidelines), signatories are to submit a report every four years detailing how they have implemented the Convention, the successes and challenges in doing so, and how they have worked with civil society – a key element within the Convention – to achieve this.

The first report was due in 2012.  Arterial Network South Africa (a civil society body established by some in the arts sector and linked to similar chapters across the African continent) organised a conference on the Convention – with the financial support of the DAC in late 2011 – and elected a working group to liaise with the DAC to prepare and submit this report.  However, notwithstanding numerous attempts to engage with the DAC before the April 2012 deadline, Arterial Network submitted its own – civil society – report on the implementation of the Convention as the DAC failed to meet the deadline.  The DAC instead called for tenders for consultants to complete the report (a report template was made available by UNESCO that would not exceed 25 pages) and three tenders were received, ranging from R600 000 to R990 000.  The DAC selected the most expensive tenderer to host provincial workshops on the Convention and to complete the report.  Four years later, the report was still not submitted.

This episode again underscores-

2.1  the DAC’s inability to work with independent civil society organisations within the creative sector where the leadership is provided by the members and the elected leaders and

2.2  the DAC’s inability/lack of internal capacity to manage the instruments (laws, conventions, protocols, etc) for which it is responsible

It also reflects the DAC’s lack of education of the creative sector about the opportunities, rights and obligations of the sector in terms of such international and local legal instruments.

Why, then – based on such patterns of poor management – should the creative sector have any confidence in the DAC’s ability to manage the implementation of the RWP, or that it will work – in good faith – with the organisations established by the sector to represent their interests?

  1. Lack of capacity within DAC institutions

The DAC is responsible for at least 26 institutions which receive subsidies through the DAC.  These institutions are accountable to the DAC for how they spend their subsidies on an annual basis.  They include museums, statutory bodies like the NAC and NFVF and theatres like the Market, Artscape and PACOFS.

Parliament’s Portfolio Committee has often reprimanded the DAC because of the qualified audits of many of the institutions under its wing.  If the DAC were committed to transformation and building capacity, and if it had the capacity itself, it would ensure that over time, capacity would be built within each of its institutions to ensure sound governance, effective management and accountable use of public resources.  However, earlier versions of the RWP rather recommended the amalgamation of institutions as a way of dealing with this challenge i.e. combine poorly performing institutions with better performing institutions in the hope that this will improve capacity, or at the very least, cynically reduce the number of institutions for which it may be reprimanded by the Portfolio Committee.

What this points to are

3.1  the DAC’s own inability and lack of capacity to empower and so substantially to transform the institutions for which it is responsible (beyond superficial demographic transformation of its governance and management structures)

3.2  the hollowness of the DAC’s call for transformation within the sector to be expedited when its own institutions are not substantially transformed in terms of real empowerment through upskilling, building capacity, sustaining effective management and governance over a lengthy period of time, etc.

4. DAC’s management of (its) civil society organisations

While the above point refers particularly to the cultural institutions of the DAC, the DAC also has a poor record in managing relationships with the “civil society organisations” (can they really be labelled such?) that it establishes to “represent” civil society.

In January 2015, the DAC hosted a national conference for theatre and dance practitioners, at which a National Dance and Theatre Advisory Group was elected by attendees (one theatre and one dance representative per province).  This Group was mandated to devise policy and other strategies to serve the interests of the dance and theatre sectors, and yet, for nearly two years, this Group struggled to obtain the resources from the DAC that it believed it needed to do its work.

Under a previous Minister, an interim committee was unilaterally appointed to drive the establishment of a representative body – the Creative and Cultural Industries Federation of South Africa (CCIFSA) – for the sector and with which the DAC could “negotiate” and collaborate as civil society partners.  Even with a reasonably healthy budget, this interim body only managed to host a national launch – flawed in many respects – nearly a year after its appointment.  Since then (March 2015), this “representative” structure has done very little representing of the sector (the President of CCIFSA was appointed to the Reference Group to draft the RWP, yet failed to make any meaningful contribution to its work).

This reflects:

4.1  (again), the lack of respect that the DAC has for the independent organisations established by artists themselves

4.2  the DAC’s preference to establish “civil society” bodies that would be dependent on it for funding and generally do its bidding, even though they have little credibility within the broader creative sector

4.3  the DAC’s emphasis on superficial demographic transformation (the leadership of all these formations have been overwhelmingly black African, consistent with the demographics of the country) but without ensuring that the requisite skills were in place for the structures to do the work required; consequently

4.3.1      the structures are set up for failure and thus to earn the cynical dismissal of the sector and/or those who believe that “affirmative action” – or some version of it – is to blame and

4.3.2      substantive transformation does not take place while superficial, demographic transformation gives an impression of “transformation”, but without the structural changes having taken place

The RWP speaks of “forming professional, local and regional arts and craft associations and networks with membership benefits and development programmes” (p4); if the examples of the National Dance and Theatre Advisory Group and CCIFSA are indicative of the DAC’s formation of such networks, then it would be far better for the sector if the DAC refrains from doing so.  As with other sectors of society where workers form unions and professionals such as teachers, doctors and accountants form their own associations, it must be professionals within the sector that form organisations to defend and advance their interests and to have public funding to support their work, without compromising their independence and accountability primarily to their membership, rather than to their public funder.

5. The DAC and its dislike of Freedom of Expression and independent, critical thought

The 1996 White Paper affirmed the Constitutional right to freedom of creative expression by asserting that that policy would “ensure that all persons are free to pursue their vision of artistic creativity without interference, victimisation and censorship”.  In support of this principle, was the arm’s length principle of funding where “the state shall facilitate mechanisms for peer evaluation and decision-making regarding the funding of arts and culture activities” (to avoid politicians and government officials making such decisions and so asserting a political bias in such decisions) and the principle of autonomy, described as “the full independence of publicly-funded arts institutions, organisations and practitioners from party political and state interference”.

The RWP lists “Freedom of expression and access to information” as one of its principles (whereas in fact, they are two quite different principles); the DAC would be hard-pressed not to list freedom of expression as a principle, since this is a right guaranteed in the Constitution.  However, it is in the practice and execution of this right that the DAC’s commitment to this principle needs to be evaluated.

First, there is no longer any reference in the RWP to the principles of arm’s length or institutional autonomy, at least not as a commitment to these principles in support of the right to freedom of expression.

Secondly, notwithstanding the 1996 White Paper and these sound principles, the DAC instituted a law by which all the institutions it funded on a regular basis would have the chairpersons of their governing boards appointed directly by the Minister of Arts and Culture, thus providing a conduit of political influence on the one hand, and a source of political intimidation on the other (the chairperson would be accountable to the Minister, a political appointee, rather than to the Board members who would have no say in electing her/him).

Thirdly, publicly-funded institutions are now required to carry as part of their branding the fact that they are “agencies of the Department of Arts and Culture” i.e. they are no longer autonomous entities but bodies required to fulfil the mandate provided to them by the DAC.

Fourth, as alluded to in other paragraphs above, the DAC has a long record of marginalising or seeking to marginalise critical voices – individual and organisational – within the sector, and in seeking to establish “representative” voices and structures that are largely compliant, not least as they depend on the DAC for funding.

While the Department of Arts and Culture may do some good, without interrogating its capacity, ideological and management failures, we cannot be confident about the implementation and management of future policies.  What previous experience points to are consistent patterns of failure in that

  1. there is no real commitment to freedom of expression and organisational autonomy
  2. the DAC prefers to liaise/negotiate with organisations that it funds and establishes as so-called representatives of the sector, without acknowledging the inherent and unequal power relations and the compromising of democracy
  3. it does not empower the organisations and institutions for which it is responsible, thus rendering them incapable of representing or undertaking substantial transformation of the sector
  4. it manages the laws, international instruments and policy processes for which it is responsible with an ambivalence that favours its interests as a Department rather than what these instruments require or that would in the best interests of the creative sector

Against this background, the question has to be asked: can the DAC in its current form really – and be expected to – fulfil the functions and responsibilities assigned to it by the RWP (see p75 and the latter pages of the RWP).

False Analysis of the Failures of Policy

It has been necessary to point to the failures of implementation of policy, of poor management of stakeholder relations and of contradictions in the mandate of the DAC and its actual practice e.g. with regard to freedom of expression, precisely to alert the arts, culture and creative sector to the potential challenges in implementing this Revised White Paper, to provide the DAC with an opportunity to prove its credentials and good faith going forward and/or to encourage the creative sector to act in parallel (as many components of the sector have been doing) to the DAC in order to grow and sustain their work, overlapping only minimally, if at all.

As if the above illustrations are not sufficient cause for concern, the RWP itself is premised on fundamentally flawed – indeed, false – analyses of the failures of policy, rather than the failures of the DAC in implementing and managing policy.  The drafters of the RWP have largely confused these two issues as this section will show.

Policy must be evaluated regularly to ascertain its impact, if any, and to ensure that it remains relevant to changing conditions.  If the management and implementation of policy are not evaluated and addressed, then changing policies will have little impact as the same poor management and implementation mechanisms will prevail.

This is one of the key failures of the Revised White Paper – a false analysis of the failures of 1996 White Paper (pg 10).

Given the wide-ranging proposals for policy changes carried out in the context of the historical transition, it was to be expected that the initial democratic culture and policy interventions would not, somehow, magically resolve the legacies of the past. Two decades of implementation experience laid bare the limitations of the founding policies (my emphasis) These include:

  • A lack of coherence in the design of the overall system resulting in overlaps between different agencies and institutions;

Comment: This is not necessarily the fault of the policy, but rather poor subsequent planning, legislative inconsistencies and uneven implementation of policy

  • Slow transformations in the sector;

Comment: The 1996 White Paper calls for substantial transformation of the sector and has as its basis the transformation of the creative sector as a whole; that transformation has been “slow” is not a fault of the policy but of those responsible for driving and implementing transformation.

  • Inefficient and cumbersome administrative procedures;

Comment: Again, this is not the fault of policy; administrative procedures are put in place as the result of legislation such as the Public Finance Management Act or the National Arts Council Act; administrative procedures can be changed relatively quickly where there is vision and political will, and without having to change policy necessarily – unless policy has built-in administrative procedures for example, the manner in which an arts council is to be appointed, in which case attempts to change these procedures may have less to do with their “cumbersome” nature, than with authorities preferring a different method to transparent and participatory appointment of publicly-funded bodies.

  • A lack of coordination between national, provincial and local arts, culture and heritage policies and the need for greater interdepartmental cooperation;

Comment: Again, this is not the fault of policy.  This may be because of different levels of government being controlled by different political parties, or different factions within the same party, or with constitutional limitations on the role of local government in the creative sector, or on inefficiencies and incompetence within the different government structures; it is imperative that the causes of such a lack of coordination be properly analysed and addressed, as any future, changed policy may suffer from similar lack of coordination in its implementation. In addition, as Lance Nawa has pointed out in various forums, there is a Constitutional challenge with arts and culture being declared a concurrent competency of national and provincial government, but not of local government, even though it is at the latter level that arts, culture and heritage services can best be provided in response to citizens’ needs. The lottery has played a major role in the arts, culture and heritage sector during the period of implementation of the 1996 White Paper, and yet, there is no mention of its positive and – in too many cases – negative impact on the sector, and the absence of coordination between the lottery and other funding agencies in the arts and culture sector; this is a structural problem within government, not a fault of the 1996 White Paper.

  • Inadequate formal education and training opportunities for art, culture and heritage

Comment: The 1996 White Paper has a section on the development of human resources for the arts, culture and heritage sector; that there are inadequate opportunities, again, is not the fault of the policy, but of those required to implement this policy!


  • The uneven distribution of infrastructure, facilities, material and resources outside the main metropolitan areas;

Comment: It is the Department of Arts and Culture that decided to fund three theatres in the country’s richest province – the State Theatre, Market Theatre, Windybrow Theatre – and none in Eastern Cape, North West, Limpopo, Northern Cape and Mpumalanga – it is not the fault of the 1996 policy! The 1996 White Paper called for the establishment of arts centres throughout the country to improve access to the arts and to cultural infrastructure to create, produce and distribute art; that this has not happened, or that it has been poorly implemented is the responsibility of government, NOT a deficiency in the original policy document).


  • The persistence of the perception of arts, culture and heritage as marginal luxuries;


 Comment: The drafters of this RWP do not explain how this is a fault of policy, or how changing the policy will change this perception – this is a matter of education, not of policy.  However, previous editions of the RWP – and this one – emphasise the “creative and cultural industries” as drivers of economic growth and job creation, no doubt, in the hope of changing the perception among politicians at least about the value of the arts in reducing inequality, unemployment and poverty.  The truth is that the 1996 White Paper already spoke about the economic potential of the creative sector, and the DAC’s Cultural Industries Growth Strategy (launched in 1998) was based on this.  Notwithstanding this lengthy period of emphasis on the cultural and creative industries (at least 18 years), our poverty, inequality and unemployment indicators have deteriorated. It is a false and unfair burden to place on the arts and culture sector what other sectors of our economy and the political class generally, have been unable to achieve.

  • Insufficient attention to the role of the private sector in funding and developing the sector;

Comment: The 1996 White Paper called for greater incentivisation of the private sector to support the arts; the DAC’s response was to create Business and Arts South Africa, and to make a contribution to the endowment of the Arts and Culture Trust, a private sector initiative.  This is how the DAC chose to implement policy; what is required is an analysis of how this has failed to deliver on the vision which the DAC has of private sector support for the arts sector, rather than attribute any such failures to the original policy.

  • Inadequate monitoring and evaluation of institutions, programmes and events.

Comment: Evaluation and monitoring should be standard elements in any implementation – not necessarily policy – strategy.  Implementing policy through institutions, structures and strategies requires regular evaluation of impact to determine whether the policy goals have been/are being realised.  Again, to blame inadequate monitoring and evaluation of institutions on policy is to absolve the DAC of its manifold failures in this regard which has led to countless institutions for which it is responsible having qualified audits, being poorly governed and managed, failing to deliver on institutional mandates, etc.  Changing the policy and even insisting on evaluation and monitoring within the policy, does not improve the DAC’s ability or commitment effectively to provide such oversight.

That the RWP is premised on a fundamentally flawed analysis i.e. “the limitations of the founding policies” is a real cause of concern since:

  1. it reflects poor analytical capacity with the resultant recommended changes in the RWP not addressing the real reasons for the failures regarding the implementation of policy rather than the policy itself
  2. there is no analysis of the Department of Arts and Culture and its management, implementation and evaluation of the 1996 White Paper, leaving it largely intact as the primary vehicle for implementation
  3. recommended changes for structural changes within the RWP e.g. amalgamating the National Film and Video Foundation and the National Arts Council would appear to have less to do with the failures of policy than with the DAC’s desire for such changes for whatever reasons, since many of the structural changes proposed are to institutions that came into being after the adoption of the White Paper


There are many positives in the RWP, at least relative to previous versions of the RWP.  These include:

  1. a recognition of the different values of art, culture and heritage (intrinsic, educational, creative, therapeutic, recreational, social, economic, etc, pg 2, 7, 8) and accepts that “humans are holistic beings with material, psychological, emotional, cultural, spiritual and intellectual needs” rather than the previous RWP editions’ emphasis on the economic dimension of arts, culture and heritage in order to address the country’s principle challenges of inequality, unemployment and poverty
  2. sector-specific proposals to enhance each of music, theatre, dance, literature, heritage, etc (pgs 15-35) – these were largely absent in previous versions of the RWP
  3. the intention of the RWP effectively to “contribute to a cohesive and united society in which everyone has access to arts, culture and heritage, resources, facilitated and opportunities…” (p3) and to extend “art, culture and heritage infrastructure, facilities and resources beyond the colonial urban centres into peri-urban and rural communities” (p4) – this affirms the 1996 White Paper’s premise that “everyone shall have the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community and to enjoy the arts” (Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and the Freedom Charter principle “The doors of learning and culture shall be open”. The creative industries approach of the previous versions of the RWP meant that it would be those with disposable income who would best have their arts, culture and heritage needs catered for, rather than “all” South Africans
  4. it speaks of “transforming South Africa into an inclusive society based on actual equality” (p3), a recognition that the idea of “the rainbow nation” works only for people of a particular class (middle to upper) and that poor people are generally excluded in our society
  5. it promotes human resource development through formal and informal programmes (although, this was a recommendation of the 1996 White Paper too)
  6. it envisages expanded markets for local creative products and services into regional, continental and global markets (p4)
  7. the emphasis on digital aspects of the creative sector both in production and distribution, but also in archiving is to be welcomed
  8. more detailed outlines of the potential social benefits for arts and culture practitioners are contained in this document than previous policy documents


Notwithstanding these positives, and the deficiencies already dealt with in regard to the process, the flawed analysis of the “limitations” of the 1996 White Paper and the DAC as a vehicle for implementing the RWP, there are further flaws in the RWP that will be dealt with thematically.

Conceptual weaknesses

There are numerous conceptual weaknesses, contradictions or gaps in clarity in the Revised White Paper.

  1. Alignment of the White Paper with the core mandate of the Ministry

As the first objective of the RWP, it is stated that the intention is “to align the revised White Paper on Arts Culture and Heritage with the core mandate of the Ministry of providing arts, culture and heritage services, facilities, funds and resources; contribute to addressing poverty and job creation; and promote social cohesion and nation-building by providing access, resources and facilities to all who live in South Africa, with special attention paid to injustices and imbalances of the past.” (p3) The introduction to the vision and mission of the White Paper also states “the vision and mission of this White Paper affirm the vision and mission of the DAC…” (p5).

Comment: The 1996 White Paper arose out of a vision for the arts, culture and heritage sector based on the realities of the time, and as determined largely by the creative community.  The Department of Arts and Culture took its mandate from the White Paper, rooted in this vision for the arts, culture and heritage.  This RWP has a fundamentally different starting point which is the “core mandate of the Ministry”, a mandate determined by the Ministry itself and/or by government more generally.   In other words, the vision for arts and culture has to be aligned with what the Ministry is “mandated” to do, rather than the Ministry being “mandated” by a vision contained in the RWP.

The vision of the RWP is “a dynamic, vibrant and transformed arts, culture and heritage sector, leading to nation-building, social cohesion and socioeconomic inclusion” (p5) and the mission is “to create an enabling environment in which the arts, culture and heritage can flourish and play a significant role in nation-building and socioeconomic development…” (p5).

The assumption of the RWP – clearly mandated by the National Development Plan – is to deal with the country’s major challenges (inequality, poverty and unemployment), and, in the process, also to achieve – or at least contribute significantly to – nation-building and social inclusion.

The RWP presents these – inequality, poverty and unemployment – as new contemporary challenges that require a response from the DAC, the White Paper and the arts, culture and heritage sector.  However, these challenges are not new and existed at the time of the adoption of the 1996 White Paper, a policy document that sought to address these exact – and other – challenges.  What is different now, twenty years later, is that these challenges have been exacerbated i.e. we have a more unequal society than in 1996, unemployment is higher than then, and were it not for the massive roll out of social grants with nearly 17 million citizens receiving a state handout, poverty would be significantly greater too!

So, rather than paying “special attention…to injustices and imbalances of the past”, the RWP should also pay attention to the factors that have contributed to greater injustices and imbalances of the last twenty-two years e.g. macro-economic policies, poor service delivery, high levels of corruption within the state – factors mentioned in the Diagnostic Study of the National Planning Commission that led to the National Development Plan, but which are completely absent in this RWP.  Without addressing these broader factors that have contributed – and continue to contribute to rising unemployment, inequality and poverty – the intentions of the RWP in addressing these “triple challenges” and the harnessing of the arts, culture and heritage sectors in doing so, will be meaningless and ineffectual.

While the RWP – correctly – calls for the renaming of the Department as the Department of Arts, Culture and Heritage to reflect its true mandate, it is in the area of “culture” that the RWP is particularly weak.

There is no articulation of the “cultural dimension” of development, or of nation-building, of human rights, of social cohesion i.e. what values, worldviews, traditions, religious and other beliefs, social and interpersonal modes of behaviour, social constructs, etc impact on the goals of the RWP?  How do they impact – in real terms and potentially? And, what – in policy terms – must be done to mitigate such impact?

The RWP states that it should “ensure the cultural dimension of development is adopted, adhered to and implemented across all relevant government departments” (p66) but it does not give clear direction as to what this actually means.  To simply leave it to departments to interpret, would render this meaningless; this policy document should clearly articulate an understanding of “the cultural dimension of development” and the practical implications of its transversal nature.

Culture is a transversal phenomenon and impacts directly on social cohesion, nation-building, development strategies, economic growth, the spread of HIV/AIDS and strategies to reduce the disease burden – what, in policy terms, is the RWP’s position with regard to this understanding of culture?  It is largely absent, an absence that does not resonate with recent international campaigns to infuse culture into the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Furthermore, one of the biggest contradictions in the last twenty years, was the exercise of freedom of artistic expression versus culture in the case of The Spear painting by Brett Murray.  On the one hand, the artist was exercising his constitutional right to freedom of creative expression by making a painting that depicted the rape of the public purse (long before the State Capture Report), while one of the chief criticisms levelled at the painting was that it was insensitive to African culture by publicly depicting the genitals of the President.  The RWP fails to interrogate this contradiction, and to assert a position with regard to culture and human rights, or culture and freedom of expression in particular.

  1. Who is the RWP for?

The Revised White Paper talks about providing access and resources “to all who live in South Africa”, to address challenges to do with “factors of exclusions” and to “promote social cohesion” (p3); however, the RWP refrains from addressing xenophobia, particularly as manifested towards millions of African nationals from other countries on the continent who have migrated to our country in search of better lives or refuge from conflicts at home.  Is this a Revised White Paper for “all who live in South Africa” (p3) or for all South Africans, only?  There is an allusion in the RWP to new immigrants into the country, but given the number of refugees and migrants in South Africa, the history of xenophobic violence against African nationals and the RWP’s emphasis on nation-building, social cohesion and culture, there needs to be a greater policy emphasis with regard to the integration of African nationals in particular.

  1. Hasten transformation to enable accelerated transformation?

The fourth stated objective of the RWP is to “reconfigure the existing art, culture and heritage sector and the policies underpinning it to eliminate duplication and hasten transformation to enable the accelerated transformation (my emphasis) and optimal performance of the sector in relation to current social, education and economic policies.” (pg 4)

Comment: It is unclear from the above how the White Paper will “hasten transformation to enable the accelerated transformation…of the sector”, implying – tautologically or nonsensically – that transformation needs to be sped up in order to speed up transformation.

Such imprecise use of language is fairly common in this policy document, giving the impression that terminology is employed to convey particular meanings or to satisfy the authorities but which have little meaning in policy and practical terms; it’s as if the document sometimes gets lost in political-speak, making it difficult for the reader to understand what is meant.

Another example of gobbledygook language is to have arts, culture and heritage “flourish and play a significant role in nation-building and socioeconomic development by leading nation-building and societal transformation through social cohesion” (p5).  What does this actually mean?  That the arts, culture and heritage will play a significant role in nation-building by leading nation-building? That it will do so through social cohesion?  What is the difference between nation-building and building a socially-inclusive or cohesive society?  Is one a strategy and the other an end?

Part of the stated mission of the RWP is to create an enabling environment in which the arts, etc can flourish and play a significant role in nation-building and socioeconomic development by “providing leadership to the arts, culture and heritage sector to accelerate transformation” (p5).  It is unclear whether this – providing leadership…to accelerate transformation – is the role of the RWP or the DAC or both (since the RWP affirms the vision and mission of the DAC).  The White Paper of 1996 was premised on the need for transformation stating the principle of redress, meaning “…the correction of historical and existing imbalances through development, education, training and affirmative action with regard to race, gender, rural and urban considerations”.  The DAC had the principal responsibility for driving such redress and transformation.  Twenty years later, this is simply being repeated, without an assessment of the nature and quality of transformation of the last twenty years and of the DAC’s role in driving and managing such transformation of the sector.

  1. African Knowledge Systems (AKS)

The RWP genuflects to the current debates about decolonisation in tertiary institutions by inserting decolonisation as a principle and defining it as “placing African knowledge, epistemology, art, culture and heritage at the centre of policies, practices, institutions and programmes” (p6).  However, it also lists “openness” as a principle, defining it as “all cultures in every country in the world, balanced by national and local needs and priorities, are in principle open to and act upon each other”, without seeming to recognise that cultural values, ideas and beliefs embedded in creative products from more resourced economies are more able to act on, and influence the cultures of less-resourced societies.  According to the RWP, there is thus a need – on the one hand – to decolonise our culture, but, on the other, to be open to other cultures.

The RWP states that it seeks “to integrate AKS into arts, culture and heritage policy” (p13).  It further states that “the origins of AKS can be traced back to the development of a new concept in organisational theory and social developments in the United States of America in the 1980s”, without reflecting on the irony of importing an “African” concept from America, in the context of a discussion about “decolonisation”.

More confusing though is the critique of AKS embedded within the RWP:

“AKS mainstreaming is a problematic means to achieve the goal of the equality of knowledge holders for a number of reasons:

  • AKS mainstreaming is too vague a concept to be utilised effectively for the equality of knowledge holders
  • Different understanding of the usage and meaning of AKS mainstreaming
  • The employment of AKS mainstreaming as an efficiency vehicle without attention to its redistributive effect
  • The attempt to conceptually integrate the equality of knowledge holders form the beginning with existing knowledge institutions and programmes has been counter-productive” (p14)

Notwithstanding – or perhaps because of – this critique, the RWP “supports” (rather than directs or affirms) the establishment of a National Institute of African Knowledge Systems with an arts, culture and heritage component at a tertiary – or many tertiary – institutions. (p14).

There is no definition of African Knowledge Systems that would be useful for policy purposes and the discussion about AKS in the policy document appears to be a cut-and-paste job from another document.  It is so conceptually meaningless and woolly as to be counter-productive for inclusion in this document.  One of the principles of the RWP is “good governance” (defined as “sound, transparent and accountable governance and management principles and procedures”) – what would be uniquely African and exemplary of African epistemology in this regard, since “good governance” is generally a term employed by international donors – and European donors in particular – to demand a certain form of government by global south, including African governments?  While claiming to place AKS at the centre of the RWP, there is, in fact, very little integrating of “African Knowledge Systems” into the various sections of the document.

  1. Social Cohesion and Nation-Building

The RWP states that

“Social cohesion and nation-building is (sic) a response to the ongoing and unfinished national project which began with the transformation of South Africa into a constitutional democracy in 1994.  The DAC is the custodian of this national outcome.” (p13)

If, as the Diagnostic Study of the National Planning Commission points out, our society is as divided as ever, what has the DAC done – and what has been its impact – over the last twenty years as the custodian of nation-building and social cohesion?  The RWP correctly points out elsewhere that reducing inequality will be a key strategy to integrate the marginalised poor into the mainstream.  This is not something that the DAC can do; this is a matter of macro-economics, of job creation, education and myriad other interventions.  What, then, are the key interventions that the DAC can or should be making in this regard?

The RWP states

“The arts, cultural and heritage dimension of social cohesion and nation-building is integral to the DAC’s mandate to develop South African culture to reduce inequalities, exclusions and disparities based on ethnicity, gender, class, nationality, age, disability and any other distinctions which engender divisions, distrust and conflict.  This is to be achieved by eradicating the divisions and injustices of the past and to foster unity and a sense of being proudly South African”.

The above is a typical example of the woolly, circular thinking that permeates too much of the RWP.  This section is descriptive and general, without having any relevance or practical meaning in policy terms.

  1. Performing arts traditions

The RWP speaks of traditions within the South African performing arts comprising “African, European, Asian and Jewish strands…”. (p15) There are three continental references and one religious/cultural reference – why?  If “Jewish” is included, why not Hindu, Christian and Muslim?  For a document that seeks to build social cohesion and to build a nation, such language and references are extraordinarily provocative.

Conclusion: Some parts of the RWP are more clearly written than other parts.  There are better definitions and more precise uses of language that bring clarity in some parts of the document than in other parts.  Then again, some of the definitions – listed in the Appendix – are not carried into and through the document so as to be meaningful in terms of policy.  It is as if different writers have contributed based on their areas of interest or expertise – and some on the basis of gaps being identified, but not really having the clarity to fill these gaps – and the document as a whole is a copy-and-paste job that is poorly edited, does not reflect an overall “eye” and consistency in language and conceptual meaning and whose structure in unwieldy.  Many parts are also descriptive without having policy relevance.

Some paragraphs stop in mid-sentence e.g. “The objective of the NDP is to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030…as a long term strategic plan, it serves four broad objectives:…???(p12)” and “The objective of this policy proposal is not rationalisation but the elimination of duplication and overlaps for greater integration, consolidation, coherence, optimal functioning and effective delivery by the…???” (p24)

The RWP in its current form can do with a substantial edit.


The RWP defines transformation as follows: “to reconfigure the personnel, programmes and collections, exhibits, performances and events in arts, culture and heritage to reflect the demographics of an African society with diverse cultures” (p6).

A much more detailed analysis of transformation is contained in the critique of the 2013 edition of the RWP, and so it will not be repeated here.

The 2016 RWP states that transformation has been “slow”.  However, there is a complete absence of research into how the sector has been transformed over the last twenty years.  The report on Visual Arts states that the demographics in producers of art are much more reflective of the country, but that raises the key missing research for this policy document: what is the state of human resources, ownership and leadership at every level of the value chain (education, creation, production, distribution and consumption) for every discipline (music, theatre, dance, film, design, visual arts, literature, festivals and events, etc)?  Without such detailed research, it is impossible to determine whether transformation has indeed been slow, or whether it has taken place at all?

This, though, would only be an analysis of quantitative transformation – how the numbers of women, black, disabled, etc people have changed in each discipline and at every level of the value chain.

What is also missing is research into qualitative transformation: how demographic/quantitative transformation has contributed to the substantial and sustainable changing of lives, how structures and processes have been changed to benefit the majority of South Africans, how infrastructure, resources and skills have been redistributed nationally, etc.

The DAC’s own record with regard to transformation and infrastructure – building arts centres and supporting theatres – is a rather poor one, with most infrastructure supported by the national purse still based in the more resourced provinces and urban centres.

The most disturbing, frustrating and sad thing about this Revised White Paper, is that for all the pontification about transformation, social cohesion, the National Development Plan, alleviating poverty and reducing inequality, there IS VERY LITTLE IN IT THAT ARTICULATES A VISION, POLICIES AND PRACTICAL PROPOSALS TO MAKE THE ARTS, CULTURE AND HERITAGE AFFIRM – AND TO MAKE THESE ACCESSIBLE TO – HISTORICALLY MARGINALISED, POOR AND UNDER-RESOURCED COMMUNITIES AND INDIVIDUALS.  While it takes a broader focus than previous editions that foregrounded the creative and cultural industries, this RWP also emphasises the creative and cultural industries in the misguided belief that these will contribute to social and human development and to meeting the country’s major challenges.  The document repeats phrases about nation-building, social cohesion, poverty alleviation, etc, but there is little in it that would excite an arts practitioner in Limpopo or Northern Cape, or indeed, in Nyanga, Alexandra or Mafikeng.


This lack of research into the nature and state of transformation over the last twenty years reflects the lack of research that generally informs the RWP, with the following illustrative examples:

  1. The impact and limitations of the 1996 White Paper

The assessment of the implementation of the 1996 White Paper (pp 8-11) is a caricature of research and analysis, most exemplified by the following:

“Against the historical background of apartheid education, which was designed to deprive children of basic, secondary and tertiary education, including art, culture and heritage education:

  • The introduction of arts education at all levels of education was adopted as policy
  • The establishment of arts, culture and heritage administration, management and policy programmes at tertiary institutions was endorsed
  • The provision of basic infrastructure and resources in historically underdeveloped rural and urban communities commenced”

There is no research that analyses the current state of arts education at primary and secondary levels (the absence of qualified teachers, the lack of facilities and resources, etc).  To say that arts education “at all levels was adopted as policy” without showing its impact, and what now needs to be done, is disingenuous.

Similarly, tertiary programmes to develop human resources “was endorsed”; the 1996 White Paper did not call for arts education simply to be adopted as policy and for management programmes to be “endorsed”; it called for the implementation of these in order to develop the skilled human resources that would be required radically to transform and sustain the transformation of the arts, culture and heritage sector.  This has been one of the key failures of the DAC – to develop human resources to lead and manage cultural institutions and civil society structures, and this is reflected in the state of many institutions under its watch.

Another key failure of the DAC is the roll-out of infrastructure in rural and deprived urban communities; this had indeed “been commenced”, but despite this being a key strategy recommended in the 1996 White Paper, it was poorly implemented with infrastructure created, but without ensuring that local government would continue to support such infrastructure in the long term and without the requisite human resources being developed effectively to manage such infrastructure.

While the RWP talks of developing a coherent and integrated system, it is precisely because of the lack of coherence and integration over the last twenty years that much of the 1996 White Paper’s recommendations remain unfulfilled, which, again, goes to the vision, capacity and leadership ability of the DAC.

The RWP talks about how the 1996 White Paper’s recommendations on the economic dimension of the arts was developed into the Mzansi Golden Economy programme and how its recommendations for ongoing research was made manifest in the recent launch of the Cultural Observatory.  However, in the same paragraph, it also mentions a third item – the original White Paper’s recommendation to promote the rights and status of arts and culture practitioners – and yet, despite many false starts, very little, if anything has been done in this regard.

It has already been pointed out how the RWP drafters have falsely analysed the lack of implementation of the 1996 White Paper as the “limitations of policy” rather than as the failures of management and implementation of policy.

  1. The National Development Plan: Vision 2030

The RWP makes much of the National Development Plan (NDP) and of the role of arts, culture and heritage in contributing to the NDP’s goals of eliminating poverty and reducing inequality by 2030.

Whereas the NDP is based on a thorough diagnostic study (much as the 1996 White Paper was based on the comprehensive ACTAG Report), this RWP is based – at best – on a patchwork of (largely untested) reports (see below), generalisations and a distinct absence of research, both into what currently exists, what has been achieved since 1996 and what remain as key challenges.

The Diagnostic Study lists the key factors that hold back the development of the country:

  • A high disease burden
  • Communities that remain divided
  • The uneven performance of the public service
  • Apartheid’s spatial patterns continue to marginalise the poor
  • Too few South Africans have jobs
  • Increasing levels of corruption
  • Economy is dependent on resources
  • Crumbling infrastructure
  • Poor educational outcomes

In addition, it speaks of the weakening of state and civil society institutions, poor management of the economy, the flight of skills and capital and politics dominated by short-termism, ethnicity and factionalism as factors that contribute to a decline, and that need to be arrested.

Based on this diagnostic study, the NDP makes comprehensive proposals to alter the direction of our society and to reduce inequality and eliminate poverty.

While the RWP makes much of the NDP, in truth, the NDP devotes little more than two paragraphs in its 440 pages to arts and culture.  As a document that interprets the NDP, and integrates arts, culture and heritage into the NDP vision, the RWP is as weak as the NDP is in integrating arts, culture and heritage into its vision.

Reference is made to the Cultural Industries Growth Strategy (CIGS) – initiated in 1998 – and to research that shows how well the music, craft and visual arts industries contribute to the GDP and to employment; if this is the case, should we not simply be continuing what has been done in the last while?  On the other hand, if the cultural and creative industries have been making such significant contributions over the last twenty years, how come inequality and unemployment have increased?  Are there broader factors that impact adversely on the potential contribution of the arts, culture and heritage sector to these noble goals, and over which the sector has no control?

The political imperatives of the RWP (NDP goals, social cohesion, etc) are the over-arching and dominant drivers of the RWP rather than a vision for arts, culture and heritage.  There is no guarantee that taking this approach will realise the goals of the NDP.  A case could be made for an alternative approach (contained in the 1996 White Paper) – for a vision for the development of arts, culture and heritage among all the people of South Africa, that with proper management and resourcing, could realise the goals of the NDP more effectively than the approach taken by the RWP.

  1. Reports and documents

The RWP references a number of documents and claims to be informed by these.  These include:

National Development Plan Vision 2030 (2011)

Constitution’s Bill or Rights (1996)

African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (1981)

Charter for African Cultural Renaissance (2006)

UNESCO Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001)

Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003)

Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005)

The African Union’s Agenda 2063 (2014)

Charter of the United Nations

IDC Music Industry Study (2013) – as yet unpublished (p19)

Research Report: An Assessment of the Visual Arts in South Africa (2010)

DAC National Mapping Study (2014)

Towards Optimally Functioning Community Arts Centres in South Africa (2002)

However, there are no links to these reports or documents as an appendix.  The drafters of the RWP may have had insight into many of these reports, but the creative sector has not necessarily had similar access.

It would have been really helpful to have a document that combines the key findings of these various reports and lists the international protocols referenced by the RWP, which would then also have saved the drafters from having to include so much descriptive text within the policy document.

Within the RWP itself, there is little clarity about how a particular document informs a particular recommendation.


  1.  Theatre

It is a substantial improvement on previous editions to include bold and precise policy recommendations (pp15-17), based on submissions made by theatre practitioners.  Some of the recommendations though e.g. “introduce a formula of 50% in-house productions and 50% external independent productions” – which are not from the sector – are potentially unworkable and restrictive.  The implementation of these recommendations – necessarily summarised from the larger Dance and Theatre Discussion Document – need to be done in accordance with the recommendations in that Document (it should be referenced in the RWP along with other reports and documents which inform this RWP).

  1. Dance

This section is not written by someone informed about dance; changes to the dance sector (aesthetically and in terms of collaborations) began in the mid-80s through Dance Umbrella.  Some excellent dance companies e.g. Vuyani are still dependent on international funding, and other excellent companies e.g. First Physical, have collapsed because of the lack of local support!  The recommendation of employing dancers on a 50/50 basis (p18) is illiterate.  This section needs to be rewritten to make it consistent with the kind of recommendations made in the theatre section as dance employs similar principles – theatre infrastructure, companies, resident choreographers, touring circuits, etc.

  1. Music, Visual Arts, Audio-visual Media, Heritage, Literature, Language, etc

As with dance, these sections are poorly articulated in policy terms, and require significant editing.  There appears to be much copy and pasting e.g. the Heritage and Literature sections, without editing this copy for the purposes of policy.  There is too much repetition, generalisation, broad meaningless statements in these sections for a policy document; a good edit is required.

On page 22, we are introduced for the first time to “the governance body for the National Arts and Audio Visual Council of South Africa”, an amalgamation of the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) and the National Arts Council (NAC).  There is no introductory motivation for this, nothing till/at this point to indicate that it is necessary for social cohesion, NDP, transformation, or other purposes – and yet, this is a pretty major structural change being proposed.  It also needs to be pointed out that both these bodies – NFVF and NAC – are post-1994 structures; the reasons for their proposed amalgamation then would be instructive.

4. The Cultural and Creative Industries

After the section on policies for the different disciplines, there is a section on the cultural and creative industries that is almost as long as the preceding section.  What is the relationship between the creative and cultural industries on the one hand, and the core disciplines and the policy recommendations associated with these on the other?  Again, there appears to be much description, copying and pasting in this section with little reference to or resonance with the policy proposals related to music, theatre, heritage, etc.

This is a structural problem within the RWP, and it reflects a lack of coherence and the kind of woolly thinking mentioned earlier.

  1. Arts, Culture and Heritage Education and Training

The RWP correctly pays attention to the urgent need for the development of human resources and capacity within the arts, culture and heritage sector.  However, much of the relevant section is about description, with few practical policy recommendations, and the reader has to imply potential policy recommendations from the descriptions.


There is much more than can be said and written about the Revised White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage.  However, this intervention seeks to address some of the more fundamental issues; others will provide their perspectives and submissions, and hopefully, the next version will be a better one.

This White Paper has been in the process of becoming for such a long time, more than three years!  And yet, the arts and culture sector has kept functioning.  As with other sectors of our society, it is the resourced, the educated and the networked who are able to get on and prosper with limited, if any government assistance, while the marginalised and the poor for whom government and policy should most work, remain on the fringes due to the delays in policy formulation, and more importantly, in the poor implementation and management of policy.

That this process is still open, represents an opportunity for a visionary, inspirational policy to be drafted, and for relationships between key stakeholders, including civil society actors, to be brokered.

Very little in the last three years though give one hope that the DAC – principally – and the Minister will grasp these opportunities.

This, however, does not mean that the arts, culture and heritage sector should not find ways of addressing the key challenges within the sector, and the key challenges in our society through the sector, whether with, or without government.




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The National Arts Festival Fringe as Animal Farm

Many theatre-makers on the Fringe of the National Arts Festival often wonder what they need to do to attract audiences in a highly competitive market with more than 300 productions on the Fringe alone, in addition to the Main programme’s offerings.

The Festival has released its 2016 attendance figures (“…ticket sales and attendance at Festival events totalling 227 524”) and a list of the top 30 Fringe shows in terms of gross income.   What, many may ask, are the “top 30” doing to get their share of the 220 000 plus people attending the Festival?

Both for the sanity of fringe theatre-makers and for informed marketing, it is necessary to interrogate these figures.

The first myth to debunk is that 227 524 different individuals attend the festival in Grahamstown; the town itself has a population of less than 100 000, and it simply does not have the infrastructure to support its own population, let alone accommodate an increase of more than 200% in its population albeit for only ten days.  The Festival statement talks of “ticket sales and attendance at Festival events”, a combination that includes festival attendees who generally buy multiple tickets, and free attendance at festival events such as exhibitions.  The Festival calculates attendance at Fringe and Main exhibitions at 50 and 120 persons per day respectively (that was a few years ago; I’m not sure if these attendance figures are subject to inflation), and such free attendance is included in the overall attendance figures.

To my knowledge, the Festival has never released data of actual Fringe ticket sales and actual Main programme sales per genre that would give Fringe artists a better idea of the realistic size of their potential market.  If one removes the free attendance figures from 227 524, and then subtracts the ticket sales for main programme events, what is the figure for actual Fringe ticket sales?  And, more tellingly, what is the total number of tickets available for sale on the Fringe, versus the actual number of tickets sold?  From actual ticket sales on the Fringe over the last ten years, how many Fringe productions could expect to generate 50% box office income?  My suspicion is that the answer to this question would be “less than 80%) i.e. there are simply too many productions on the Fringe for the size of the Fringe market for the average producer to generate a reasonable box office income.  It is unlikely that the average Fringe theatre producer will make sufficient money at the Festival to cover festival expenses, let alone production costs.

And yet, some are doing well on the Festival Fringe, and the Festival tells us that there were three “sold out” productions on the Fringe, including my own show, Pay back the Curry.  However, contrary to what one would expect, only two of three “sold out” shows featured in the top 30 sellers at the Festival, which reflects the need for further interrogation of the figures.

Of the three “sold out” shows, “Big Boys the Third” had 12 shows, “Brent – A Mobile Thriller” had 16 and “Pay back the Curry” had 8.  But, although “Brent” had the most shows, it could only accommodate a mobile audience of three at each show so that its total “sold out” audience would be less than 50% of one “Curry” show in the 100-seater Masonic Hall Front.  On the other hand, despite “Curry” selling out all of its eight shows, it achieved less than 50% of the “Big Boys” total audience since they played 12 shows in the 220-seater Kingswood Theatre.

Being “sold out” means different things depending on the size of the venue, and while it may be theoretically true, “sold out” does not necessarily equate in practice to high income.  Still, it is very rare for a show, particularly a new one such as “Curry” without any previous profile at the Festival, to sell out all its shows, and even for “Big Boys” with its previous popular incarnations, achieving this distinction is no mean feat.

According to the Festival release “comedy continues to dominate the National Lottery Fringe accounting for 49% of ticket sales. Follow Spot Production’s Bon Soir 1.5 topped the leaderboard of top grossing productions, closely followed by the same company’s Big Boys the Third and the perennial Raiders franchise from Theatre for Africa.”

Of the 30 top-selling shows, 19 are listed in the comedy category (63%) and 7 in theatre (23%) with illusion (2), dance and musical theatre (1 each) making up the rest.  Twenty-five of these shows (83%) had six or more performances, and 18 (60%) charged ticket prices of R80 or more, with “Raiders” being at the highest end at R120 per ticket.  (Most of the theatre shows on the Main Programme were priced at R75 or below).  At least 25 of the top-selling shows were presented at the National Arts Festival before, either in their current form or in another form, with the title and/or participants recognisable to the Festival audience.  Even within these top-selling shows, there would be a wide range of “gross income” from the high R40 000s shows to the R200 000 plus shows.

From the above, the following deductions may be made:

  1. A combination of a long run (6 or more shows), relatively high ticket prices (R80 or more) and a large venue (150 seats or more) are ingredients – though not definite guarantees – for a top-selling show on the Fringe
  2. In addition to the above, having a production in the comedy genre is significantly more likely to attract an audience than the theatre genre.
  3. “Brand recognition” in the form of production titles or artists who have profiles at the Festival and beyond, is a significant factor in driving ticket sales.

We conducted some – not particularly scientific – research over the course of “Curry’s” run at the Festival principally to determine how people became aware of the show, and then what persuaded them to buy tickets.  From the responses to more than 220 questionnaires, we concluded that the primary ways in which people became aware of our show were:

  1. through the Festival programme (we had a full-page colour advertisement in addition to the insert that all shows have) (38%)
  2. through word-of-mouth (others who had seen the show as part of its development process in Cape Town, or at the Festival itself) (22%) and
  3. through a teacher i.e. they attended as part of a school block booking (12%)

The latter, I believe, was significant to our success as it helped to fill up the first two shows (an important strategy both to get out word-of-mouth about the show, and to build ticket-buying momentum for the remaining shows).  Our first show was sold out before we arrived in Grahamstown and the reasons for this may be gleaned from the answers to the second key question i.e. what convinced you to buy tickets for the show?  The primary reasons given were:

  1. the comedy genre, thereby affirming the Festival’s release about the importance of comedy for the Festival market (25%)
  2. the title of the piece and the writer were the joint second reasons for people buying tickets (15% apiece) followed jointly by
  3. the director and being part of a block booking (10% each).

The director, Rob van Vuuren, has a strong festival brand (as is reflected in his having three other shows in the top-selling band of 30 shows), and some schools have prescribed my plays, which accounts for some of the school block bookings.  Word-of-mouth is imperative at the Festival itself based on the quality of the production, but genre and artist brands account importantly for pre-Festival ticket sales (we had sold more than 50% of our tickets by the time we opened).

We did not have a poster (usually an expensive marketing item that is lost in poster clutter), but we did have flyers as well as advertisements in Cue.  Cue does not carry the “Fringe in a Flash” reviews on days when the show is not happening, and with our actor being involved in three other shows at the Festival, we did not run for two days in the middle of the Festival.  We were fortunate to have two Cue reviews (one “Fringe in a Flash” and one from the Cue specialist theatre writer), but from the research, the Cue reviews were less important than general word-of-mouth and other factors listed above, in driving ticket sales.  Through an administrative error, our “Fringe in a Flash” review was not listed on a further two days when we did have shows, but word-of-mouth kept up the sales momentum with numerous punters having to be turned away at the door for the last shows.

There are clues in the above information and analyses that may provide producers with insights about the kind of shows and the marketing of their shows at future festivals.  But, beyond these figures, there is another tale that is being told which the Festival – and more broadly, the theatre sector – needs to address, and this is a tale of inequality within the sector – still principally along racial lines – and as reflected in the Festival in a range of ways.

Applying a general classification of “black” and “white” shows where the participants in each are wholly black or wholly white respectively, and “mixed” where there is a combination of black and white creatives, it would appear that:

  1. of the top-selling 30 shows, 21 are white, 6 are mixed and 3 are black
  2. 85% of the 81 black shows are theatre with 15% comedy, compared with 43% theatre and 57% comedy for 65 white shows, and 40% theatre and 60% comedy for 42 mixed shows
  3. 85% of black shows have five performances or less, compared with 32% white shows and 31% mixed shows

From the above figures and anecdotal experience of the various shows I attended at the 2016 Festival, it may be possible to make the following generalised deductions (and I would welcome alternative analyses):

  1. that black shows are generally concerned with the exploration and depiction of black life experience which continues to be painful and challenging
  2. that the Festival market/audience, still overwhelmingly white and historically privileged, has more of an appetite for comedy and escapism than with learning about, or being exposed to “black pain”
  3. that most white and mixed theatre producers have an appreciation of this market and provide this market with what it desires
  4. that, for as long as the Festival market remains as it is in terms of its demographics and buying power, black shows will struggle to generate income, let alone break even at the Festival
  5. that, with the market being overwhelmingly white, there are few brand names in black shows that this market knows or identifies with
  6. that black shows are treated differently by the Festival in that relatively few are given 6 or more shows in which to develop an audience
  7. that black shows may be “ghettoised” with a number being allocated to a particular venue e.g. the Glennie Festival Centre, with its incredibly poor sight lines (from two rows back)
  8. that the Festival structure/system – allocation of venues, lengths of runs, Cue reviews, Ovation awards, etc – does few favours for black shows, and generally favours white and mixed shows


While the Festival claims the Fringe to be a democratic space in which all artists have the right to compete with each other equally, this simply is not the case.  Those of us with theatre and marketing skills, access to resources to create works with superior production values, festival histories, brand recognition within the primary festival markets, who speak and work primarily in English, who live in the more urban centres and who lead relatively privileged lives in the context of contemporary South Africa, are far better able to compete in the Festival market and on the terms set by the Festival.

The Festival attracts public sector sponsorship – from the Eastern Cape government, from the National Lotteries Commission, the National Arts Council and over the next three years, R17m from the Department of Arts and Culture – on the basis of its much vaunted economic contribution to the province and to the city of Grahamstown.   However, there is little interrogation of the actual beneficiaries of the Festival’s economic impact; as with the Festival itself, I suspect that it is largely the historically privileged and resourced who are the primary beneficiaries of the Festival’s economic impact (certainly the stubbornly high levels of poverty and unemployment in Grahamstown over a long period of time do not tell a story of Grahamstown’s indigent benefiting from the Festival).  These public funders either do not have the capacity nor the political will really to interrogate the economic and social impact of the Festival, and appear to be happy to tick some box and to accept the word of the Festival, which at a superficial level appears to be have “transformed”.

In a previous exchange on this theme, it was pointed out to me that the Festival is not only about the economic impact (ironically by someone who drafted the report on the economic impact of the Festival to prove its worth to donors), but also about the opportunities that it provides artists to carve out a name for themselves, to build their brands and to learn from other shows at the Festival.  It is on these premises too that the Festival largely fails black artists on the Fringe.  The Festival presents a huge learning opportunity for theatre practitioners, particularly from less-resourced provinces, to observe theatre from other parts of the country and even the world, and that could inspire them and provide insight into different forms of presentation.  Many black theatre practitioners simply do not have the means to purchase tickets to see other shows on the Main or Fringe, and notwithstanding the artist ticket that allows practitioners free entry into shows when seats are available, in practice, it would appear that a kind of “audience stokvel” prevails, with casts of one black show being provided with free access to other black shows in exchange for similar access, and so that at least these shows have something of an audience.

The Festival has put the municipality on notice, advising it of the potential loss of the Festival if the municipality does not arrest the infrastructural decline e.g. water shortages, that impacts adversely on the experience of festival attendees.  With the changes taking place within the Festival’s leadership currently, and with the availability of three-year funding from the DAC, it is an opportune moment for the Festival – in co-operation with the broader theatre community – to reflect on itself, both as a symptom and as a contributor/perpetuator of the divides and inequalities within the sector, and to take serious, concerted action to address these.

It’s all very well staging and celebrating a production of Animal Farm that speaks to the perpetuation of historical inequalities under a new political regime “out there”; however, we would do well to reflect and do more introspection about the Animal Farm that is us, about the divisions and inequalities between shows and producing companies at the Festival, and the South African theatre sector more broadly.

With less arrogance from the Festival’s leadership, and more of a vision and political will to address these inequalities, it will not take that much in the way of goodwill, effort, time, planning and resources to contribute to real, rather than superficial transformation of the theatre sector and of the Festival itself.

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Barbarism, Burnings and Becket 3

Beyond “decolonization”: towards an emancipatory discourse and practice.

Our social media and public discourse has become increasingly polarised and polarising; there is little room for nuance, for reflection rather than point-scoring between “us” and “them”. This is the final in a series of three articles, published in an attempt to negotiate this minefield. They are stand-alone articles, but they need to be read in their totality.

Our social media and public discourse over the last two years has been fraught with the language of decolonisation, white supremacy, intersectionality, racism, white privilege, institutional and systemic violence, and “must fall” hashtags. It has been a period of unprecedented youth and student activism since 1994, with many new, engaged and impressive voices emerging that have sharpened our insights and debates, highlighted many issues about which society has become complacent and alerted us to generational differences in understanding our history and its impact on our contemporary experience.

During this period too, there have been, and continue to be, numerous incidents of overt racism that have brought latent wounds to the surface, reflecting the limitations and superficiality of the post-apartheid “reconciliation” and “rainbow nation” narratives.

While the student activism and the incidents of racism have been key discourse-shaping headlines, there are a few hard questions that have to be asked: Is the focus on university transformation and tertiary education access the most important focus for us as a country right now? Is our primary struggle really against racism and white privilege? How liberating is the language and discourse of “decolonisation”? What does our greater awareness of systemic and structural violence mean for transformative strategies and tactics?

While there may have been initial hostility towards the struggles of students, there is probably now greater awareness of and support within our broader society for cheaper (and for students from poor families, free) access to tertiary education. Access would include the provision of adequate, affordable accommodation (even free for poorer students). STATS SA studies on poverty have shown that poverty is lowest among the cohort of South Africans with tertiary education and highest where education levels are most basic, so that in order to break the cycle of poverty, students from poorer families should be prioritised in accessing – and being supported in – tertiary education. In alleviating poverty, the effect of achieving employment commensurate with a tertiary education is often felt beyond the individual and her immediate family to include extended family networks.

Students have also alerted public attention to the plight of outsourced workers, and to the cynical way in which the university saves costs by stripping the most vulnerable workers of employment benefits, and placing them at the mercy of profit-driven companies, rather than as employees of a publicly-funded institution.

But while the tertiary student struggles have sustained public awareness, it is the 2015 matric results that revealed where the major educational challenges in our country lie. There is little point in repeating what many analysts have said, but who has access to tertiary education (and thus the best chance of moving out of poverty), is directly related to the quality of schooling received at pre-primary, primary and secondary levels. Notwithstanding the huge amount of public resources allocated to pre-tertiary education, hundreds of thousands of learners do not complete matric, and hundreds of thousands more do not qualify academically to enter tertiary education.

According to Equal Education’s website, STATS SA indicates that two-thirds of people without education live in poverty, reducing to 55% of those with primary school education and 24% of those who matriculate. 58% of whites enter some form of tertiary education, along with 51% of Indians, 14,3% of “coloureds” and 12% of black Africans.

Surely then, our collective efforts – if we are to deal decisively with poverty in our country – need to be expended on ensuring that everyone does indeed have access to decent, quality education at pre-tertiary levels?

Which brings me to the second question: is our primary struggle really against racism and white privilege?

Doron Isaacs is a young, white man. He helped to start Equal Education (EE), a national, community-based advocacy organisation, campaigning for quality education for all, with their campaigns rooted in research and policy analysis. Having initially served as Deputy Secretary General, he is now the treasurer of EE, the only white person in a national council of nineteen people.

Equal Education does outstanding work in seeking to address the systemic problems that plague our education system. Isaacs is using some of the benefits of his privilege – his education, his networks, his access to resources – to be part of addressing one of the key problems inherited from our apartheid past. There are many – privileged, white – “woke” individuals like him, working in trade unions, social movements, community-based structures, advocacy groups and think tanks, who have made life and career choices to help transform our society, in partnership with and under the leadership of black people, to ensure the better life for all that is the stuff of electoral promises. (There are also numerous privileged Indian, black African and “coloured” people who choose to apply their educational, economic and other unearned advantages in this way, so that privileging structures and systems do not have, or do not necessarily have, deterministic outcomes that rob individuals of agency).

There are other white people who may not choose to work in these system-changing organisations but who, with the privileges and benefits they enjoy from the prevailing and historical structures, seek to make a difference in the lives of individuals whom they know or with whom they have some relationship. They do things like pay for the Model-C schooling of the children of their domestic workers, and in some cases, for their tertiary education. They assist their domestic workers to acquire more skills and qualifications to help advance their social and career positions and they may help them to purchase a house, paying them well above the paltry minimum rates.  Others support educational funds, charities that address symptoms and organisations that deal with causes of social ills, while still others – generally not those who gripe about paying too much tax that government steals anyway – give away 5% of their gross annual income to address poverty as part of the Five-Plus Project.

Some may dismiss these as “liberal”, conscience-salving and ineffectual with regard to changing the structures from which the privileged continue to benefit, but the beneficiaries of such actions might have quite different perspectives. Besides, what is the point of demanding that people check their privilege and face up to the benefits that they enjoy simply by virtue of their colour, if their attempts – whether genuine or conscience-salving (does it matter?) – to employ their privileges to help change the lives of those who do not enjoy such privileges, are summarily dismissed? Surely the number and scale of the challenges in our country require the collective efforts of as many as possible, and of those who are privileged in particular (who, it may be argued, have a moral responsibility to “give something back”), beyond white students being asked to form a barrier between black students and security personnel?

There can be no equivocation about racism being called out, about conscious or unconscious “white privilege” actions and behaviour that adversely affect others being exposed, but we need to move beyond discourses that disempower progressive action or that are ideologically pessimistic. To say, for example, that all whites are racists by virtue of benefiting from structural and systemic racism, is to declare that people have little agency, and that they are obliged to act in the ways that their structural privilege dictates. By the same logic, in our patriarchal society, all men are sexists and given the overwhelming structural bias against gay people, all straight people are homophobic. Similarly, all South Africans are xenophobic because the employment laws, visa regulations and funding structures favour South African citizens, rather than African nationals from other countries.

While they are just about on par with whites in terms of education levels and income, are Indians less racist – like being less pregnant – than whites, because they have not benefited from structural racism as much as whites? And, are coloureds who share many poverty and education indicators with black Africans, not racists, because they are victims rather than beneficiaries of systemic racism?

Can men be part of a struggle against sexism? Can straight people help to advance gay rights? Can white people – and Indians and coloureds – fight racism? Can able-bodied people actively promote and defend the interests of physically- challenged people?

Is there a hierarchy of struggles against oppression? Does the struggle against racism take precedence over the struggle against the oppression of women, or over the marginalisation of gay people? Theoretical paradigms emerging through the student struggles, particularly from the more resourced tertiary institutions, emphasise intersectionality, the multiplicity and inter-relatedness of oppressions. At UCT, a leading – woman – member of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, faced the wrath of some of her colleagues when she queried gay relationships in terms of her religious beliefs on her Facebook page.

Does one have to be passionate about opposing all oppression before one can legitimately engage in opposition to one form of oppression? Is it possible for a white gay activist to be racist? Can black male leaders against racism be sexists? Could a disability activist be homophobic? The nature of our current discourse is such that while it is of course possible for all of these scenarios to exist, it would be best for individuals not to declare it.

Privilege theory – imported largely from the USA and the UK – has helped to make us more conscious of unearned advantages that inform our actions when our particular race, gender, sexual orientation, etc is dominant within society, but it has also contributed to polarisation that does not always take into account the multiplicity of forms and practices of discrimination and oppression in our country.

The need and goal to change our society into one that is more equitable, that does not discriminate against anyone on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc; a society that reflects the ideals of the Constitution, are clear. However, the process of doing so, is less clear, is less pure, is complex and messy, filled with contradictions and tensions. What does our middle-class discourse and point-scoring about “white privilege” really mean for the non-delivery of school text books in Limpopo, or for the lack of clean water in the North West, or for the poor school facilities in parts of the Eastern Cape?

Rather than attempt to reach a state of theoretical purity, perhaps we should be harnessing available and interested expertise, networks and resources to address our key challenges of inequality and poverty, and the ways in which these violate the dignity of people. Through participating in such struggle, we would constantly educate ourselves and each other about our shortcomings and our failures to face up to, and address our unearned advantages, but always with our efforts geared towards eliminating inequality and poverty.

The third question has to do with the limitations of the discourse of “decolonisation”. There are those who feel under threat and typically respond to this language of decolonisation defensively with statements such as “universities are the result of colonisation, so should we take away your university?”. However, I understand the “decolonisation” project to be saying that practices, language, symbols and educational content that resonate with the colonial project of denigrating indigenous knowledge, that preferences one – often non-indigenous – culture above others, and that violates the dignity or undermines the humanity of historically oppressed people, should be revisited, and be contextualised, amended or removed as the specifics may require.

But while the “decolonisation discourse” has informed student activism on historically white universities in particular, it is now common cause that our economy is increasingly integrated with that of China, that much of our energy future will be linked to Russia and that a family from India has captured a faction of the ruling party, and with it, has compromised many of our state institutions, purely for the financial gain of elites, rather than to improve the lives of the majority of South Africans. At the same time, our country has itself become a neo-colonising force on the African continent through the tentacles of our corporates, our media organisations, our military capability (relative to most other African countries) and our proxy and facilitative roles in structures such as BRICS.

In a globalised world, with capital extending both to and from South Africa and with direct implications for addressing our key inequality, unemployment and poverty challenges, we need to devise new, re-affirm old, or create hybrid discourses that speak to the overarching narrative that would reflect the needs and interests of our country’s majority, while multiple other narratives are devised and applied to their specific conditions.

Finally, to the issue of structural and systemic violence. We live in a world where economic, political, military/security and cultural power intersect at global, regional, national and even institutional levels to allow those who wield, or who best have access to such power, to prevail. The irony of our continued human existence is that it is maintained and secured by the threat of its very violent obliteration – the so-called “nuclear deterrent”.

Struggles to change oppressive systems then require strategies that take account of the ways in which power is exercised and maintained, with an evaluation of the balance of forces – the relative strengths and weaknesses of those in power and those seeking change – informing tactics. Given the nature of systemic violence and the ability of those in power to wield coercive force, it is seldom a good tactic simply to “meet violence with violence”. There are indeed times when the use of force and violence to counter violence is necessary and appropriate, and our own struggle against apartheid is replete with lessons in this regard.

The occupation of Tahrir Square by activists in Cairo ultimately brought about the decline of the thirty-year-long Mubarak dictatorship. Egypt had one of the strongest military forces in the world, so that for the activists to take on the military would have been foolhardy. The sustained occupation of a public space combined with massive national and international media coverage that helped to shift public and political opinion in favour of the activists, eventually contributed to the overthrow of a regime that few would have thought possible. Despite extreme provocation from government security forces, the activists stuck to their tactics in order to win and sustain broad support.

Murder in the Cathedral, a play by T.S. Eliot, tells of the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket, an opponent of the King, perceived to be an unjust authority, in 1170. The Archbishop faces four temptations: to seek his physical safety, to serve the king and gain power and riches, to form a coalition with the elites against the king, and finally, to embrace the glory of martyrdom. The play speaks to the temptation to act selfishly, to appear to be acting for the right, moral reasons, but actually, the real motivations are more egotistical, even if they have to do with death and martyrdom.

Sometimes, we are tempted to be revolutionaries, we fall in love with the idea of being a revolutionary, and we act as we believe revolutionaries should act. The correctness and the goals of the cause take second place to “revolutionary acts” which for some are best expressed through violence. Others are tempted to be counted among the revolutionaries, the self-sacrificing martyrs, the “cool kids” and to stand in solidarity with them, with anyone in a position of authority or power, regarded as the enemy, or collaborators with the enemy. In particular contexts, this may very well be the case; in the case of a university in contemporary South Africa, this singular approach is questionable, more particularly when the aims of student activism – affordable or free access to tertiary education, accommodation for students accepted to study, but who cannot afford such accommodation, changes to the university curriculum and public symbols, and the insourcing of vulnerable workers – may generate (in some cases, reluctant or grudging) broad public sympathy and potential political support.

In conclusion, while it is only right that struggles for progressive change occur on a number of fronts, we should guard against one struggle assuming importance and dictating the overarching struggle narrative, which should be shaped first and foremost by the needs, interests and aspirations of the majority of our citizens who are poor, black, under the age of 35 and mostly (by a slim majority) women. It is a narrative that as many of us as possible should seek to understand, and engage with as contributors to progressive change, not in a happy, clappy “rainbow nation” way, but with rigour and constant self-reflection. We do not have to be fully evolved in our politics to make a constructive contribution; if we believe in social justice and accept that the dignity of all human beings requires an approach that is anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic and anti-xenophobic (even if we have not fully reached these states ourselves yet) , that would be a good start.


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Barbarism, Burnings and Beckett 2

Barbarism, Burnings and Beckett 2


Our social media and public discourse has become increasingly polarised and polarising; there is little room for nuance, for reflection rather than point-scoring between “us” and “them”. This is the second in a series of three articles to be published on three consecutive days, in an attempt to negotiate this minefield. They are stand-alone articles, but they need to be read in their totality.

The “rainbow nation” is a myth. It is not dead. It has never existed. The sooner we get over it and drop the term from our discourse, the less disappointed we will be about the increasing evidence to the contrary, and perhaps we’ll get on with building a truly inclusive nation.

If ever we needed a metaphor to expose the myth of the “rainbow nation”, the recent Varsity Cup rugby match between the University of Free State (UFS) and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) painfully obliged.

Imagine for a moment that rugby represents contemporary South African society or our economy. Once a playground reserved for a white minority, rugby – through the Varsity Cup – now seeks to be inclusive, representative of the “rainbow nation” created in the image of the Mandela, Tutu and De Klerk trinity.

The players on both sides in Bloemfontein were probably all younger than the twenty-seven years spent in jail by our country’s first “post-apartheid” President. All “born free”, but not all born equal.

According to the official Varsity Cup website, the UFS team has a squad of 35, with 29 white players and 6 black players, while the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s squad attempts to pay homage to its name-giver by including 17 white and 10 black players. Even within the relatively privileged tertiary education sector, there are sharp differences with formerly white universities being significantly more resourced than others.

Even though all the players may have been born after 1989, and while everyone now has access to rugby, it is young white players with the benefits of better schools, better training and coaching facilities, greater rugby networks and a longer rugby history and culture that are best able to participate and excel in the “rugby economy”.

There are indeed black players, some of whom have made it on merit because of sheer talent (the individual examples of exceptionalism which often mask the structural restraints that limit broader participation and achievement), or by virtue of having had access to the country’s better rugby schools, or both. Other black players participate because of affirmative action regulations that require each match-day squad of 23 to include 7 players “of colour”, with at least 3 of these in the starting line-up (20% of fifteen).

It is not surprising then that the (historically white) University of Free State “thumped” Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (a “merged” institution) 46-19 in “their most convincing win of the year” as one reporter put it. (Picture the irony…a mostly white squad of players “thumping” a more non-racial – rainbow – squad nicknamed Madibaz!)

Let’s further indulge the rugby metaphor. As we now all know, the UFS win came after a 50-minute break during which the match was interrupted by protestors who sang and danced their way onto the field in support of outsourced workers, who are at the university, but not of it. Their student supporters draw the links between their own struggles on campus (feeling marginalised in a system and a culture that are alien to their life experiences) and those of the outsourced workers who are not full participants in, or beneficiaries of university employment, and are poorly paid to boot.

These outsiders wanted to let the “rainbow nation” – the privileged insiders, the mainly white and some black participants in the rugby eco-system – know that they wanted to be “inside” too.

The response of the insiders was to unleash violence on the outsiders. Hordes of white students (and parents and lecturers, apparently) descended onto the pitch, not content only with chasing away the protestors, but assaulting them physically, with verbal abuse further violating the dignity of the protestors.

In his post-match interview, the Shimlas coach – Hendro Scholtz – opined “The main thing should stay the main thing and that is playing rugby and enjoying”. This goes to the very heart of the “rainbow nation” myth. For a few with the means to do so, the “main thing” is about “playing rugby and enjoying”. For most others in the country though, as represented by the protesting outsourced workers, the “main thing” is about daily survival, about making ends meet, with their children unlikely to attend a decent school, so that their chances of a university education – let alone a place in the rugby team – are virtually nil.

This rugby metaphor speaks to the realities of our broader society, with the Marikana massacre being the ultimate expression of how the “rainbow nation” – at best, a “multi-racial” elite – deals with disruption to the status quo.

There is a general middle-class abhorrence of violence, with many believing that the Marikana miners got what they deserved for carrying traditional weapons, and for – somehow – collectively being responsible for the deaths of two policemen and other miners in the days before the massacre. Yet, what of the violence done to the miners – human beings – who lived in conditions that even Cyril Ramaphosa described to the Farlam Commission as “appalling and inhumane”?

From behind electric fences, beams and armed response fortresses, we pontificate about communities who take the law into their own hands and mete out their version of justice to criminals preying on locals. Yet, a reporter at the rugby match stated “With a lack of adequate security at the game, spectators took matters into their own hands and violence broke out”. What makes these – white – spectators any less “barbaric”, any more “civilised” than vigilantes acting against criminals?

Still, some argue that the protestors forced their way into the stadium, and, in the process, physically assaulted people – including women – so that they got what they deserved. By this argument, our country should have been in flames long ago, and should constantly be in flames for the daily violence done against the majority of people through institutions, systems and structures on the one hand, and personal interactions on the other that treat them as less than human.

While there is horror and outrage at T-shirts and graffiti that shout “fuck whites” or “kill all whites”, the physical attacks on black protestors by white youths, their parents and lecturers and the reported subsequent arming of white men on the UFS campus, shows not just intent, but actual capacity for doing harm to black people.

It is telling that black workers and students at the University of Free State were arrested with various charges laid against them; yet, at the time of writing, no white person who assaulted workers and students at the rugby match has been arrested. How is that possible? Marikana miners too were arrested after the massacre by the police, and were charged with the deaths of their colleagues (the charges have since been dropped), while no-one has been found criminally responsible for the shooting of 34 miners!! And then we would still like to believe that we have a rainbow nation, a constitutional democracy that works for all?

When 20% of our population earns in excess of 65% of the national income, with more than 30% of our economically active people being unemployed, when 11 million plus people keep their heads above the poverty line only because of government grants, we do not stand a chance of being an inclusive, socially cohesive “rainbow nation”. Even the top 20%, those who have the best chance of “living the rainbow”, how many of us actually have sustained social interaction, genuine friendships that cross apartheid’s old divides within the middle-class, let alone across class boundaries? We have no right to bemoan the decline of our “rainbow nation” dream if we make so little effort to live it on a daily basis.

Until we acknowledge and begin to address the fundamental inequities in our society, and the manifold ways in which the majority of our fellow citizens have been, and continue to be dehumanised and have their dignity violated in physical, psychological, emotional, intellectual and other forms, we will always be wondering about the increasing radicalisation of the language and protests of discontent, and we damn ourselves and our country by judging and responding to symptoms, rather than causes.


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Barbarism, Burnings and Beckett 1

On art, statues, language and other burning issues

Our social media and public discourse has become increasingly polarised and polarising; there is little room for nuance, for reflection rather than point-scoring between “us” and “them”. This is the first in a series of three articles to be published on three consecutive days, in an attempt to negotiate this minefield. They are stand-alone articles, but they need to be read in their totality.

“Send these barbarians to jail”, was one impassioned plea that probably represented many a middle-class viewpoint in response to the burning of art works, photographs and portraits at UCT recently. Implicitly, those deemed responsible for this lack of “art appreciation”, were deemed to be “uncivilised”, not worthy of being at a university.

Yet, the Rhodes Must Fall student activists – generally regarded as having been engaged in this “bonfire of colonial vanities” – clearly do have an appreciation of symbols and metaphor; they had built a shack to highlight the lack of accommodation for black students.

One of the leading RMF activists is a doctoral student employed by Iziko Museum, and serves on the National Arts Council. RMF will itself host an exhibition in March to mark its year-old anniversary.

So it is not that RMF activists are “uncivilised barbarians” unschooled in, or unappreciative of the value and meaning of art; on the contrary, it might be that precisely because they are conscious of how art, images and monuments can exert soft power, that “colonial symbols” on the walls of various UCT buildings were the target of their activism.

There were others who deemed the burnings in the same light as the destruction of heritage sites and antiquities by the world’s favourite “barbarians”, ISIL. I would bet that not many of these voices were raised in opposition to the tearing down of statues of Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein. I still remember the television images of American troops helping Iraqis to topple a huge statue of the latter dictator; I do not remember any arguments in favour of keeping those statues in order that future generations would learn from history. Is it that that one’s ideological or political position informs one’s sense of the value of history, culture and symbols?

Then there were still others who pulled out the hoary favourite – the Nazis and their burning of books – to imply the fascist tendencies of the student activists. Just last week though, “civilised” German people set fire to a building that was being converted into a hostel to house Syrian refugees fleeing the devastation of their war-ravaged country. People cheered as the building burned; some even tried to prevent the firefighters from doing their jobs.

A few stated that they supported the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, but that the burning of art had gone too far. So, they were happy for the Rhodes statue to be removed (but not destroyed?), but not for the portraits of other white men (and women) to be removed (and destroyed). Or was it the burning of artworks produced by a black artist that was particularly incendiary?

Generally, much like throwing excrement at statues, the middle-classes do not take too kindly to burning things (other than at braais, perhaps). And yet, not only has the statue of Rhodes been removed, but its symbolic falling has highlighted legitimate grievances about the university curriculum, staffing and governance at UCT, and inspired unprecedented national student protests around access to tertiary education.

When the Tunisian street vendor, Tarek Bouazizi, set himself alight in protest against his mistreatment by municipal authorities, it is unlikely that many middle-class westerners would have applauded his action. And yet, it led to large scale protests, fondly known as the Arab Spring, and resulted in the downfall of at least three long-serving dictators. Bouazizi was eventually named as “Person of 2011” by The Times in the United Kingdom!

Over the long weekend or the period connecting Freedom Day to Workers Day, thousands of mainly white folk make their way to the Tankwa Karoo for Afrikaburn, where the most spectacular sculptures are built. And then, they are burned. Is that what the “civilised”, the culturally-evolved do? Purpose-build creativity for the purpose of destroying it?

This is not to assign “rightness” and “wrongness” to burning art, or destroying symbols or images; this is about interrogating the values and the perspectives that inform our respective responses to such destruction. Is burning art wrong, because there is something intrinsically valuable in art that needs to be protected? Is the destruction of statues and sites that have historical value, always unacceptable because of the implicit loss to our collective history, or does this depend on our political or ideological dispositions in relation to those statues and sites? Are black people who burn buildings more “barbaric” than white Germans who burn buildings?

Perhaps it is that violence is being done, that we are witnessing acts of physical destruction, which we abhor? We are often blind though to the violence that is done to human beings psychologically, emotionally, intellectually and in other ways in which we may be complicit by omission (failing to do something about it) or as beneficiaries (benefiting from systems and structures that violate other people’s dignity and humanity).

In a society, power and influence are not only wielded through coercive means such as legislation, the judicial system, imprisonment, the police and the army; it is also exerted through “soft” means such as the education system, religious institutions, cultural practices, economic structures, the arts and media. “Soft power” inculcates values, nurtures ways of seeing or interpreting the world, introduces and consolidates belief systems. The UNESCO 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions promotes trade in creative goods such as films, television series, literature, etc not only because such trade potentially contributes to economic growth, but also to encourage greater equity in the global distribution of ideas, worldviews and values. Should we only consume films and television series, or news from international networks based in a few economically dominant countries, we generally imbibe – whether consciously or unconsciously – the values, ideas and worldviews embedded within these. In this way, hearts and minds are won (it is no coincidence that there is more funding for the arts in the US military, than there is through the National Endowment for the Arts, the US equivalent of our National Arts Council).

Artworks are not only political in that they have values, ideas, cultural perspectives, aesthetic tastes, embedded within, or expressed by them, but they also have a political dimension through their associations: who selected the works? For what purpose? What stories do they tell? Whose stories do they tell? For whom? Who had the means to create and distribute the work? Who has the means to access such work? What do these works say to, or mean for, people who may not share the historical, cultural, economic or educational backgrounds of the artists? The arts communicate ideas, tastes, perspectives; they are a form of language. Whose language is being spoken? For many students whose language may not be English or Afrikaans – the only languages of instruction at tertiary level – what additional meanings are being conveyed to them through portraits, statues, the names of buildings, art works, monuments and photographs that adorn such institutions?

Let’s face it. We do not erect monuments and statues in order to learn from history, or to honour those who made some significant contribution to our collective well-being; we do so to celebrate political victories and to assert political hegemony in public spaces. Why else would we have so many statues and monuments to Nelson Mandela, and yet we now have a political leadership so far removed from the self-sacrificing and service-oriented values he espoused; a venal, corrupt set of politicians that “honour” Mandela with a bust in the parliamentary precinct, but only metres away engage in the collective rape of the public purse? The reported neglect of the monument to the Cradock Four – built to honour the teachers Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata and Sicelo Mhlauli as well as unionist Sparrow Mkonto who were assassinated by the apartheid government – is itself a metaphor for a teacher union that is now more in the news for its corrupt allocation of jobs, than for its contribution to the education of learners.

If public art, symbols and monuments are to play a role in building “social cohesion”, we will need to adopt different approaches. In the case of UCT which has an extensive art collection, perhaps it might be an idea for the art, portraits and other symbols in its public spaces to be re-curated every four to five years (with a curatorial committee comprising staff, students and others), so that these works reflect, and help to make meaning of the times in which they are displayed, for the university community.

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Concerning Franschhoek Violence

South Africa’s reputation as a violent country reached new heights at the recent Franschhoek Literary Festival where Democratic Alliance members – thinly disguised as festival audiences – assaulted mostly young black writers with their collective white gaze.

Front-page Sunday Crimes’ photographs of a Pinelands bookclub member, Mrs Emily Parkinson, violently shaking her head during a panel discussion on “The TRC and the Mismanagement of Black Anger”, have gone viral. Raised eyebrows, raised voices and raised temperatures provided the ideal backdrop for the announcement of this year’s Sunday Crimes’ Friction Awards, with How White is This Valley heading the list, followed by Zim comes to Joburg.

One young writer, Ntomba Zana, spoke of her tremendous pain after being hit by a volley of compliments about how well she spoke English. “Phew! I now know what Saartjie Baartman must have felt like”, she said, vowing never to return to the festival as a performing monkey, unless it was “to teach these people to say ‘Nkandla’ properly.”

A black writer who asked not to be named in order to keep his options open (both with his fellow black writers and with the festival organisers) said that he was less disturbed by white audiences disagreeing with him, than when they agreed with him. “As a writer who speaks truth to power, it’s really difficult to accept praise from our former oppressors when I’m critiquing our former liberators. But these are the people who buy my books. My own family doesn’t read my books. Even when I give it to them as presents.”

Cure Pedi, a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle and now a multiple, post-1994 award-winning writer, compared the “violence of exclusion” of his youth – arrests, detention without trial, torture and having his works banned – with the “violence of inclusion” of today’s younger writers. “Fortunately for us, our generation was not subjected to the traumas of the white gaze. They never looked at us, just at our passbooks”, he said in between scones at the Green Room. “But I’ve paid my dues. I’m done with decolonizing,” continued Pedi, who has acquired shares in M-Net, Shoprite, MTN and the Spur as – in his words – his contribution to creating jobs in African countries that once hosted him as a guerilla.

Approached for comment, Awurama Kwame, a writer from Ghana who attended the Festival for the first time, said that she had not noticed the white gaze. On the contrary, she had been relieved to look at the festival’s website before coming, and to learn that Franschhoek was not a township. She had been in two minds about accepting the invitation to attend, but was somewhat assured by the Festival’s predominantly white audience and by its English lingua franca, as she feared that if the main language was Zulu, she would not have known when to start running.

China Amanda Aditchie, the celebrated Nigerian writer whose elderly father had recently been kidnapped, thrown into the boot of a car, and held for ransom on her account, said she was shocked to learn that a white couple had actually walked out of one of the sessions being addressed by black writers at the Festival. Speaking from the safety of America, she said “South Africa is clearly heading for a genocide”.

While students are occupying buildings as part of their strategy to decolonize their universities, an ad hoc group of writers has called upon all black writers to decolonize the Festival by refusing to occupy future festival panels to share their views, insights and experiences. “It is not our role to educate whites. Let them educate themselves. We refuse to tell them our stories. (Which doesn’t mean that Brett Bailey should do it for us!). We decline to be anyone’s object of anthropological interest,” said a spokesperson for the collective, before she boarded a plane for a literary festival in Britain, where she was to appear on a panel of African writers.

We interviewed three white women audience members – Liz*, Jane* and Lara* (*their real names) – for this article. “I take great exception to being dismissed as a white supremacist”, said an indignant Liz. “I have a photograph with Mandela,” continued the former executive member of NUSAS, and current university professor. Jane, a lawyer who was once active in the UDF, suggested that “It’s our role to listen. That’s all we can do. And meditate on our whiteness.” “Bullshit!” countered Lara, a township tour operator who has employed five Xhosa-speaking tour guides, “If I want to make a contribution to this country, I’ll be damned if some kid born after Madiba’s release is going to tell me what I should or shouldn’t do!”

“I buy their books, and I’m both excited and intrigued by their ideas. That’s why I came here to listen to what these young writers have to say,” lamented Jane. “So what’s with this literary bantustans idea? Whites in their corner, blacks in their corner…what happened to the rainbow nation?” the livid Liz was nearly shouting in the restaurant with its white patrons and black waitrons. Lara said that it was at times like this that she really missed Madiba. “We don’t havek any black friends since Themba left our friend Margie for a black woman because it made better business sense for him. So I want to know what black people think about our country. Not in a performing monkeys sense; if I want that, I tune in to the parliamentary channel”. “We must listen. We have to learn to listen”, said Jane. “And then?” asked Lara. “We drink!” said Jane to much laughter.

In response to the post-Mandela suggestion that whites should refrain from doing charity in the townships, Ben Evans Smith of Tamboerskloof said that he’s been doing Charity in the suburbs for years. “It all started when my hetero-normative, capitalist, mono-textual parents decided to take Charity – our maid’s daughter – out of the township, place her in a Model C school, and then support her through varsity. It did not even enter my supremacist parents’ heads that they were depriving isiXhosa of a potential reader,” said an ambivalently-distressed Evans Smith.

Suzette de la Rey – a first time visitor to the Festival in search of an autograph by her favourite crime writer – supported the call for the Festival to be decolonized, and to give greater prominence to local languages. “That’s exactly what we need. Another Afrikaans festival,” she said.

We tracked down festival director, Anna MacDonald, who was hiding deep inside a bottle of white wine. “We too are concerned about the image of the Festival” she said. “In fact, we offered a 51% stake in the Festival to a local chef of colour, Reuben Refill, but he wanted a rarer portion. Now we’re hoping that Tokyo doesn’t lose his Franschhoek farm in his divorce settlement so that we can have him either as our BEE partner and/or to bus in workers from his farm”.

MacDonald, who doesn’t own a farm in Franschhoek but colonizes the leadership of the Festival from her plot in Muizenburg East, indicated that they are brainstorming other innovative ideas to attract a larger black audience. “We’re thinking of having jazz at the start of some sessions, or finding a sponsor for giveaway weaves and inviting a KFC pop-up outlet – just for the weekend,” she enthused.

For the purpose of this article, we undertook research at Exclusive Books in the V&A Waterfront to determine whether an absence of the black literary market is peculiar to Franschhoek. Within five minutes, our researchers encountered two black millennials in the bookshop, one of whom was wearing a “Rhodes must Mall” T-shirt, and the other was looking for a biography of her role model, Rihanna.

In a qualitative research interview, the manager of the bookshop said that despite the name of the bookshop, everyone was welcome although they knew exactly the number of black visitors to the bookshop. This varied between 13% and 27% depending on whether a Biko definition or a post-apartheid definition of ‘black’ was applied. “The reason for our use of security cameras is because of the numerous titles that are regularly shoplifted,” she said. She did not believe that it was racist to assume that it was black people redistributing their books. “Since the rise of the EFF, one of our most stolen books is the biography of Thomas Sankara. So it’s not as if there isn’t a black market for books, it’s just that they don’t want to pay the prices we’re asking”.

Which is a bit like Nollywood. There is great local demand for Nigerian movies and stories, but at the lowest possible prices, hence the proliferation of piracy, we suggested.

“Ja, but even in Nigeria, someone makes money,” said the manager, “even if it is the pirates!”

In response to our query about the allegations of rising book theft, the EFF issued a statement declaring that after the mines, SARS and Jack Daniels, bookshops may be nationalized. As an aside, the EFF indicated that they were less concerned about the rise of the white gaze than the dark daze on the other side of the parliamentary floor, and of the white shirts that protected it.

With tourism as Franschhoek’s leading industry, the literary festival makes no small contribution to the town’s trickle down economy, comparing favourably in this regard with the decolonized National Arts Festival (well, no-one’s calling for the fall of the 1820 Settlers monument), and which, after 40 years, struggles to dent Grahamstown’s 70% unemployment rate.

In a country wracked by deep inequality, it was inevitable that the arts generally, and literature in particular, would again become both sites and weapons of struggle. While ISIS has shown that the sword is in fact mightier than the pen, it remains to be seen whose pens will cut to core of local issues that really matter.

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Towards a policy and strategies for the growth of South African theatre


The initiative to produce a document outlining a vision for the contemporary South African theatre sector arises from Kuns Onbeperk, the holding company for – amongst others – the ABSA Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) in Oudsthoorn, and its desire to employ its networks, access to expertise and resources beyond its traditional base, and in the service of the larger arts (and in this particular case, theatre) community.

In association with the South African chapter of Arterial Network, ASSITEJ, PANSA and strategic theatre individuals, Kuns Onbeperk hosted two theatre indabas in 2013, one in Cape Town and another in Johannesburg, each with a limited number of participants in order to interrogate the state of the theatre industry as rigorously as possible.

A range of recommendations emerged from these indabas based on SWOT analyses undertaken at both, and this document builds on those recommendations as well as other recommendations that have been made in the past, particularly on the 2005 study and recommendations undertaken by the Performing Arts Network of South Africa (PANSA), Towards an Understanding of the South African Theatre Industry.

The aim of this document is to serve as a basis for extensive consultation among the widest possible range of stakeholders in the theatre community, in order to generate sufficient consensus to move forward in the interests of South African theatre, its practitioners and all those who make (at least some of) their livelihoods from the sector.

While it is recognized that government at all levels – national, provincial and local – are responsible for devising and implementing policies affecting the arts, Civil Society is also a key driver and implementer of strategies that serve its interests. Whatever mechanism emerges out of this process to drive the agree proposals, will need to engage with government, the private sector and other macro players such as the National Arts Council and Lottery, but it is intended that such a mechanism will also engage with and mobilise the theatre community itself to take ownership of and to engage in collaborative partnerships to secure the best outcomes, with or without the participation of the state.


1. White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage

The policy governing the performing arts – and theatre in particular – is contained in the White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage adopted by Cabinet in August 1996.

Some of the principal ideas were:
• the performing arts companies attached to the former performing arts councils were to become independent over a three year period and diversify their funding sources
• the performing arts infrastructure would be freed up to become “receiving houses” available for rent
• national government would reduce expenditure on the performing arts infrastructure with provincial and local government picking up the major costs
• the funding cut from the performing arts councils would be channelled to independent theatre-makers and other art forms via the National Arts Council

The White Paper is a product of its time, a time of limited funding for the Department of Arts and Culture. In 1996, when the White Paper was adopted, the budget for the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology was R535m, shared between the two legs, with Arts and Culture being allocated less than 50% (or a maximum R270 million). Today, 16 years later, the budget for the stand-alone Department of Arts and Culture is about ten times that amount – R2, 68 billion.

Even in 2005/6, the total allocation to the six subsidised theatres was R97,7 million while just seven years later, for the financial year 2012/13, it has just about doubled to R190,6 million.

In 1996, the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund had not been established and it has become the single most important source of new funding for the arts. In the last financial year (ending 31 March 2012), R495 million was available for distribution to arts, culture and heritage projects.

The key conclusion is that there is significantly more funding available for arts and culture activities in contemporary South Africa than was the case 18 years ago, which provides a different context for policy formulation with regard to the arts generally, and theatre in particular.

2. Mzansi Golden Economy

The Department of Arts and Culture held consultative forums with the arts community in 2012 around its vision of the Mzansi Golden Economy, essentially a programme through which the arts and culture sector would contribute to government’s New Growth Path goal of creating 5 million jobs over 10 years. This programme emphasizes a creative industries approach linked to tourism, identified as a priority economic activity that would create more jobs.

We generally employ the British definition of the creative industries as
“those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property.”

However, theatre is hardly mentioned in the Mzansi Golden Economy document with craft, music, publishing, film and even clothing and mineral beneficiation receiving greater emphasis. This is similar to the shift in government policy in the 1990s from the human rights-based approach of the 1996 White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage which emphasized the principles of “access to all” to a creative industries approach – the 1997 Cultural Industries Growth Strategy – that favoured craft, music, publishing and film.

Ironically, given that the aims of the Mzansi Golden Economy are essentially around job-creation, the theatre sector is labour-intensive, providing jobs for actors, directors, designers, stage managers, etc, but unlike books, CDs, DVDs and pieces of craft, plays cannot be easily exported around the country or internationally. They require greater funding than what a market-driven approach – which is what the creative industries are about – can deliver.

While there are some proposals in the Mzansi Golden Economy programme that can be of use to the theatre sector e.g. artist-in-residency programmes at schools, companies that promote local and international tours, events that celebrate creativity, the creative industries model is one that prejudices theatre.

The starting point of this policy approach is “job creation” rather than the best interests of the arts and culture sector generally or of theatre in particular. The challenge for theatre practitioners then is either to articulate their interests in terms of this approach, or to engage in a separate initiative to advance their sector.

The one-size-fits-all creative industries approach does not recognize differences between sectors e.g. the differences between contemporary music and theatre, and deal with them accordingly. Neither does it recognize differences within particular disciplines e.g. orchestral music that requires a large orchestra and so creates jobs, but is dependent on subsidy versus pop music sustained in the market place. Similarly, in the theatre, musicals and stand-up comedy are commercially viable practices while drama is less so.


Rather than a job creation imperative, it is proposed that a starting point for the development of and support for the theatre sector be “who are we making theatre for?”

South Africa has a population of more than 50 million. It is a country increasingly divided according to economic well-being with 20% of the population earning 70% of the national income and the poorest 20% earning 7% of the national income. More than 25% of economically active people are unemployed. Of those who have jobs, 60% earn R2500 or less per month. Nearly 50% of the country’s population live on less than the poverty measure of $2 per day.

Theatre does not take place in a vacuum but rather within a society that, in our case, reflects a diverse reality of a relatively small world that is sophisticated, resourced, educated and with disposable income to form a market for creative industries and on the other hand a much larger world characterized by poverty, poor education, lack of access to infrastructure and no disposable income beyond that which is needed simply to survive.

A creative industries approach to theatre would exclude the overwhelming majority of the country’s population from access to theatre, in the same way that they were excluded during the apartheid era. A human rights approach – the premise of the White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage – would seek to make theatre accessible to all people in the country, irrespective of whether they had the means to purchase tickets or not. The latter approach would require greater government and other public agency e.g. the lottery, support, while the creative industries approach would rely primarily on the market and on private sector companies intent on reaching, or consolidating their brands within, particular markets.

The theatre sector – as with many other arts sectors – has three broad areas of practice:
a. theatre for its own sake, generally created less out of an understanding of “what the market wants” and more because of what the creator – the writer/director wants to explore, or say. Such theatre is generally supported by an agency such as the National Arts Council or a festival or theatre.
b. theatre instrumentalised for a socially-good end e.g. theatre to educate communities about health issues. Such theatre is generally supported by government departments responsible for social welfare, health, etc, international aid agencies or the CSI budgets of private sector companies and
c. theatre for economic profit i.e. where government subsidies are not pursued or where theatre is not presented in a “not-for-profit” paradigm, but rather one of the key intentions is to generate profit for the producers e.g. stand-up comedy, large scale musicals. These forms are generally supported by the marketing budgets of private sector companies and/or by the markets they generate, with initial investment made by the producers themselves.

In South Africa, with its large population and great inequities, all three of these areas of practice are valid. Policy – and resultant strategies and funding – needs to take cognizance of this and be multi-layered, nuanced and complex in order to ensure that all enjoy the fundamental human right to participate in the cultural life of the community and to enjoy the arts. There is sufficient funding available in contemporary South Africa to make this right more of a reality than it currently is.


In seeking to make specific recommendations for future strategies to grow the theatre sector, it is necessary to undertake an analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats pertaining to the sector currently (The following SWOT analysis combines the efforts of participants in the theatre indabas in Cape Town and Johannesburg).


Cape Town Indaba

Diversity/Depth of creativity/talent store: Diversity in our country allows for a wide range of ‘stories to tell’. This is supported by an existing talent base in directors and actors with a potential talent store in other areas.

Arts Entrepreneurship/Free market: The Free Market system that is currently in place allows for opportunities to create, low barriers to entry, innovation and incentives for those who work hard, ability to bypass bureaucracy in some areas and an elevation of those who display an entrepreneurial spirit

Flexibility: The industry has learned to adapt and react quickly to changes and obstacles and there is a flexible approach to extending runs of successful productions

Quality: Pockets of quality work occur, although these appear to be cyclical and not consistent

Professional structure: The sector already has significant structure around the profession of the performing arts. This includes the organically development freelance-agency system as well as those specified below and leads to reasonable productivity in the creative arts sector

Festivals: The festivals and festival circuits allow for the development of new work. To a lesser extent creative competitions add to this. They also provide a space for industry and social cohesion as well as a space for good management teams to be built

Theatres: These provide a space for the producing of professional work albeit sometimes determined by ‘gate keepers’ (CT). They provide a space for good management teams to be built and can successfully be used for developing new audiences

Networks: Current networks are effective is distributing information and encouraging collaboration. Also a strong driver of skills development and coordination of development of the sector

Links to other Media: Other media (TV, Film) and current cross-pollination allow wider employment opportunities for creative practitioners.

Commercial Mainstream: Commercial theatre (musicals, comedy) meets with relative economic success

Job creation: The industry allows for significant ad-hoc job creation (livelihood), esp. through festivals and corporate work

Funding and government policy: Relationships with current public funders and government are generally improving and new sources of funding (and varieties of income streams) are becoming available. There are a small number of very supportive funders/sponsors. Mzanzi Golden Economy recognizes basic education and audience development as an important strategic area for growth

Sponsorship: Arts sponsorship is relatively cheap money (Return on Investment) and sponsors receive good value for their sponsorship

Community involvement: Some communities are very supportive of local work and audiences are hungry for work of quality or that is relevant

Affordability: It is still relatively affordable to go to the theatre

Curriculum and Arts Education: The current curriculum encourages theatre going with Arts retained in curriculum (grades R-9) and annual compulsory exposure to live performance. The subject is also growing at FET level

Excellence in Higher and tertiary education: Magnet schools, higher education and tertiary institutions display an excellence in certain areas of training (particularly performance-related)

Informal structures: Strong informal institutions with history of successful delivery and with experts with many years of experience (“assets”) exist as well as students placed informally in professional productions provide growth and connection between education and professional industry

Pool of teachers: Big pool of experience in teaching, development across sectors – formal/informal, festivals, institutions, companies, organisations, Sibikwa, Market Lab, Magnet etc. – allows for a source of possible best practice models and ability to implement educational strategies

Existing unit standards: These exist and can be used to develop arts education training outcomes

Arts as a tool: Arts and arts education is successfully used for developing personal efficacy, capacity and social cohesion

Theatre Criticism: Platforms and critics do exist and are relatively supportive and understand their responsibility towards building the industry. This is particularly true in the Afrikaans sector where critics are informed and all forms of media are used to promote the sector. There is a strong tradition of good, and well regarded, journalists. Festival criticism and media are significantly strong

Archiving and Academics: There is a strong history of archiving in SA (NELM, National Museums, etc) and academics still write articles on theatre. The University of Stellenbosch has recently launched an online theatre archive and a current Theatre Journal exists

Awards: There are current awards in place which are generally respected. They provide acknowledgement, marketing leverage (encourage new audiences to see the award winners) resource opportunities (cash prizes) to the performing arts practitioners.

Competitions: The competitions that exist allow for growth, quality control and recognition of the industry

Johannesburg Indaba

1. There is a number of theatres in the country i.e. we have physical infrastructure with resources and personnel to stage productions, many of them encouraging the development of new South African work.
2. There are numerous festivals that invest in the creation of new theatre work and that provide opportunities for theatre makers to earn income by staging their works at these festivals.
3. There are resources – funds – available for theatre production and touring from a variety of sources including the National Arts Council, the Lottery, Arts and Culture Trust, festivals, theatres, provincial arts and culture councils, the private sector, the international community, etc.
4. There is significant theatre-making and production expertise and experience within the South African theatre industry that allows local productions to compare favourably with international benchmarks.
5. We have excellent training institutions that produce actors and theatre-makers with great potential.
6. There are audiences for theatre as confirmed by festival theatre attendance, as well as by the experience of various theatres.
7. There are nine provincial departments responsible for arts and culture and one national department with the same responsibility, so that, theoretically, there is more funding available for the arts and through encouraging provincial competition, it should be possible to stimulate theatre nationally.
8. Despite the difficulties of working within the sector, there are many actors who continue to be active within the theatre industry.
9. Actors – and those in the theatre industry generally – are generally well-educated.
10. There is provincial and national funding infrastructure in place.
11. Challenges within the industry have obliged theatre makers to acquire a variety of skills e.g. theatre making, fundraising, marketing, etc so that many practitioners are versatile.
12. Much of the theatre work is self-generated reflecting both the creativity available as well as the potential for entrepreneurship.
13. There is a variety of theatre forms that caters for different audiences, but also provide a range of ways in which practitioners can use their skills to earn income e.g. industrial theatre, mainstream theatre, educational theatre, musicals, etc.
14. There is also variety in theatre reflecting different cultural strands and influences, different languages and which attracts different “cultural groups”.
15. Organisations exist that represent different interests within the theatre industry, and which are able to organize in the interests of their respective constituencies.
16. There is increasing experimentation with form as theatre makers team up with visual artists and the film industry to create contemporary theatre.
17. Even post-1994, there is still interest in South African theatre from international producers.
18. There are casting agencies to look after the interests of actors.
19. There are theatre awards at least in the three major centres to incentivise and reward theatre workers for excellent work.


Cape Town Indaba

Limited Development Spaces and Funding: Limited opportunities and established venues focused on the creation of new work (excl Festivals) or post tertiary ‘incubators’ with opportunities and resources to explore.

Limited production funding: Unlike other industries, ‘Start-up capital’ for theatre is generally unavailable, except in limited amounts from the National Arts Council which requires practitioners to operate in a non-profit manner.

No Testing process: Limited opportunities and circuits for testing and growing work are available (e.g. UK Regional to Westend model). The established circuit that exists is too small and there is inadequate funding for touring.

Inconsistent production: Production of work is not consistent leading to maintenance of quality in the industry rather than growth. Quality thus also becomes cyclical or episodic as limits the development of a ‘career path’. ‘Festivalization’ also leads to a lack of technical support time for quality work as well as a segmentation of the life cycles of theatre works between multiple short runs

Limited catering for young audiences: Programming for young audiences at theatres is generally of a poor standard and lacks variety

Few Arts Administrators and administration skills: Lack of current pool and development of quality arts administrators, managers and entrepreneurs. Current practitioners have limited skills to manage themselves as businesses. There is a lack of education in arts marketing

Lack of Access and Transparency: There is a lack of access to established venues (CT) and transparency of requirements for access leads to perception of ‘gate-keepers’ and structural inequality. Opportunities not equally accessible to all, and it is difficult to break into the system without a track record. Even Festivals, which do allow spaces for development of new work don’t encourage new participants. Still a perception of dominant White Director theatre environment (WC) with mainstream structure attitudes not alleviating this.

Poor spatial distribution of infrastructure: Lack of well dispersed and maintained infrastructure catering for theatre needs

Weak information dissemination: Weak information distribution to all and sharing of databases for the greater good as well as a lack of coordinated information sharing leading to uncoordinated distribution of work. (This could be a result of too much unfocussed information, rather than no, or too little, information)

In-effective funding flow and cycles: Lack of current effective finance flow into production (through all of the income generation models – audience, donors, sponsorship) does not allow for continuity. Funding cycles are short term and don’t allow for adequate planning or longer lifespan of productions.

Sponsor ship demands: Sponsors increasingly want ‘national reach’ limiting sponsorship for local product

Poor structural policy frameworks: Current policy and structural environment does not lead to vibrant growth development (Cultural institution/receiving houses). There is a fear of bureaucracy and an attitude of ‘application not worthwhile’ (this includes funding bureaucracy)

Little Industry Knowledge transfer and internships: There is a lack of knowledge filtering systems and coordinated internships for young theatre makers (through both weak information distribution as well as a lack of mentorship and apathy of skilled practitioners in coming forward).

Skills gap in creative disciplines: There is a lack of skills in creative disciplines of writing, lighting and sound and few writing course for playwrights.

Dramaturge support: Limited dramaturgical support for development of quality work

Poor Funder knowledge of industry: Some Funders understanding of the freelance system and knowledge of the industry is limited or non-existent and there remains little collaboration between funders to improve this. Additionally there is a lack of buy-in or understanding of strategy to coordinate the growth of the sector

Few industry standards: Industry standards and recommendation are not widely available making it difficult to budget and work equitably and effectively.

Industry Fragmentation: Fragmentation exists within the sector at multiple levels (e.g. between national theatre traditions, but down to the distinction between ‘mainstream’ and ‘community’ venues within metros, etc).

Regional and organizational competition and fragmentation: Poor partnerships between existing platforms (e.g. PANSA/CAWUSA/SAGA) have led to limited national coordination. There is a lack of formal overarching structure (who is speaking to Government on behalf of the Industry).

Lack of Community involvement: Some communities are not supportive of local work and dis-connected from the arts

Diversity: Diversity, as much as this is a potential asset in strengths it also leads to a fragmented market and audience ‘split’

Poor artist support
Once a career is established, there is limited support for basic functions needed to maintain this – from continued education to medical aid, etc

Poor external arts valuation: Arts is not valued highly as a product in itself or for the value it can add to education of social cohesion, either historically or currently

Transport infrastructure: Poor public transport infrastructure does not allow for the development of new audiences, or in fact access by current potential audiences

Lack and cost of media support: General media support for the arts is poor, with limited platforms available across the spectrum of media for exposure (esp. radio/television and English language media). Theatre critics are not rigorous enough and poorly trained (particularly English critics not informed on the canon of theatre) and there is reliance by industry on expensive traditional forms and portals for marketing. National Arts Festival has poor Fringe criticism and plays are critiqued at one festival and are then not covered again as a matter of some newspapers’ policy

Weak international networks and distribution support: International touring structures and supporting networks are limited and underdeveloped

Archiving and Academics: There is no culture of archiving and resources to do so properly are limited. In particular academic writing is relatively absent. Many plays are not written and therefore we do not have records. We do not build heroes from the past.

Awards: There is no national awards system. No standardized criteria leading to subjective decision making process. There are limited opportunities for awards in indigenous African languages (playwrights and performers) and current awards systems only cater for ‘professional’ industry and ‘community’ theatre is not recognized.

Lack of research and synthesis of data: No objective evaluation of industry as a whole/ marketing and in particular integration of research and reports for young audiences non-existent. No synthesis of resources – e.g. funding reports, monitoring and evaluation, best practices, etc

Industry independence: There is a collapse of all creative industries into one sector by external stakeholders resulting in performing arts not being able to differentiate itself

Arts education and Qualifications: There is a general poor management level of utilization of resources in this area. Funding for Arts bursaries as well as arts educational product is limited. There is a lack of qualified assessors and access to them for accreditation and there is a lack of understanding from both CATH SETA and the Department of education to the environment and deep skills required for arts education. There is a poor implementation of curriculum due to lack of training of teachers (in-service not working, pre-service insufficient). Lack of compatibility exists between qualifications with gaps in terms of early childhood development and aspects of higher education (e.g. writing, arts management, theatre for young audiences, arts criticism, dramaturgy etc.)

“Community” development: Continued perspective of “black”/community/development theatre practitioners always being seen to be in need of development

Johannesburg Indaba

1. While there are funds and funding infrastructure for the arts and theatre, generally, the funding agencies suffer from an acute lack of understanding of the theatre sector, an absence of vision and therefore an absence of policy and strategic coherence with regard to developing and sustaining the sector, and a lack of skilled and experienced capacity to implement effective administrative mechanisms.
2. Media coverage of theatre is shrinking with almost no coverage of theatre on television, little regular coverage of and publicity for theatre on radio, and decreasing space for theatre in the print media, except, perhaps for the Afrikaans media.
3. Government and its agencies have become increasingly alienated from its arts constituency, and there is little consultation between government, funding agencies and the theatre community about new policies or amendments to existing policies with further alienation occurring as a result of unilateral implementation of policy.
4. Funding is generally made available on a project-by-project basis, or, at best, on an annual basis in the case of theatres so that the industry is beset by uncertainty, insecurity and an inability to make medium-to-long term plans (the Lottery is an exception in that it allocates significant funding to selected projects on a three-year basis).
5. There is poor vision, management and strategic and administrative capacity within government at national, provincial and local levels so that policy – where it exists – is poorly implemented and/or managed.
6. The quality of arts journalism is generally poor with few training opportunities for emerging arts journalists, and an absence of respected, informed black voices within the mainstream media.
7. There is an absence of forums for national debate around theatre aesthetics and developments (except on Litnet perhaps) and there is no national journal to document developments, distribute information about these developments, make reviews of shows in one part of the country accessible nationally, etc.
8. Provinces vary in capacity and infrastructure so that most theatre productions tend to travel to one or two festivals, and then to Johannesburg and/or Cape Town, depriving audiences in other parts of the country from access to these productions.
9. Theatres, theatre companies and theatre-makers generally lack expertise and training in marketing so that contemporary theatre – drama in particular – suffers from poor audiences.
10. Training institutions are excellent in providing training in all the technical aspects to do with theatre-making, but generally do not provide graduates with sufficient training in areas such as administration, marketing, touring, fundraising, etc all areas that have become fundamental to the success of making and distributing theatre.
11. There are no minimum rates for actors and the industry is unregulated so that workers within the industry are vulnerable to exploitation.
12. There is no effective, widely respected union within the industry to advance and protect the rights of actors.
13. There are no social benefits directly related to the industry such as pension schemes, medical aid and Unemployment Insurance, particularly to the creative sector of the theatre industry.
14. The absence of coherent planning and funding means that there are few sustainable theatre companies in which actors can experiment, create new works and ply their trade.
15. Government has eliminated the production budgets from subsidized theatres which has drastically reduced their capacity to commission, buy or co-produce theatre works.
16. Opportunities for trained and practicing actors to develop their skills further through master classes and international exposure are severely limited.
17. Unlike in the United Kingdom, there are few structured courses for writers to learn and develop their craft, and to work with mentors to ensure that the work is up to scratch, so that often, early drafts are staged with little development.
18. There is no structured mentoring programmes to ensure the development of new directors, new writers, new administrators, new festival managers, new arts journalists, new theatre educators, etc.
19. There are few barriers to entry into the industry and little regulation so that there are no consistent or commonly understood notions of “standards” within the industry.
20. There is little control over international theatre workers working in South Africa and competing with local actors for work.
21. Within the sector, there is a lack of dialogue and an absence of regular opportunities for those within the sector to discuss the challenges and find ways of dealing with these.
22. There are clusters of power and access to resources, stages, international travel and different individuals and institutions appear to attract and support a set number of individuals within the industry as writers, actors, directors, etc.
23. There are few substantial incentives for writers, actors and directors to do really well, to excel and to be innovative beyond their own desires.
24. There is no national theatre archive or museum to record and document every production in the country
25. The organizations that exist to represent the theatre community are relatively weak, struggle with developing new tiers of leadership and in obtaining sufficient funds to manage nationally representative structures.


Cape Town Indaba

Censorship and Artistic Freedom: Political correctness and perceived/ real blockages to artistic freedom as well as lack of understanding of the arts leading to intolerance and political censorship/interference

Apathy and fatigue: Industry and Funders commitment to change for improvement and understanding and fatigue of those writing and receiving proposals

Bureaucracy, government and corporate politics: Slow bureaucratic turnover and dysfunction between government departments will cause delays in funding, strategic growth and partnership development. Political appointees making decisions about the sector. Changes in corporate personnel often leading to a change in corporate marketing strategy.

Continued short term funding cycles and lack of budgets: Will exacerbate the lack of ability to plan and establish longer term programme life cycles and circuits.

Mismanagement of funds: Excessive amounts being spent on once off productions and not being aligned with current artistic and educational needs

Increasing costs and competition: Rising Festival costs and general economic downturn will put pressure on creation. Additionally limited disposable income and increasing choice of competing products will put pressure on sales.

Brand marketing: Businesses supporting brand marketing rather than creative development and where a particular corporate brand is too closely associated with an event, a new corporate sponsor may be reluctant to take it over or be associated once the original sponsorship ends

Sponsorship of success: Sponsors support successful projects, providing little opportunity for start-up or struggling projects

Poor quality of work or project delivery: Will drive downturn in interest and an increase in ‘theatre as a boring space’ as well as alienate current and future sponsors

Imported culture: Will put pressure on the desire for audiences to consume our own stories as well as lowers the media space given to criticism on our local work.

Continued maintenance trajectory: Continued episodic engagement with learning and working will lead to maintenance rather than growth of the skills and quality

Risk: Statutory non-compliance increases risk especially amongst the independent producers

Industry and social divisiveness: Culture of division in South Africa could exacerbate the current weaknesses.

Crime: Crime will push audiences further away from attendance

Transport infrastructure: Poor current and implemented future transport systems will lower the ability to attract new audiences

Lack of common social spaces: And a desire to occupy common spaces

The market needs: ‘Arts for art’s sake’ and a limited understanding of the market and what it wants will alienate current and new audiences. Also feeding audience’s only commercial product will slow down innovation and creativity.

Dysfunctional Arts education: Continued dysfunction of arts education (in crisis and transition) as well as focus on numeracy, literacy and sciences will force arts and culture out of the system and prevent new audience development as well as value of the arts in social growth.

Fear of sharing information and resources: The assumption that this is a zero sum gain and the real and perceived positions that the industry is ‘fighting over the same pool of money’ leading to a lack of cooperation between stakeholders – ‘scarcity thinking’. Also industry competitiveness will not allow sharing of resources and knowledge (mentoring).

Development funding: Threat of ‘development’ funding falling between identified funding strategies

Critics: Theatre critics are increasingly becoming diverted, they have to multi-task thus not enough focus. There are few good training institutions or opportunities and a continued ‘juniorisation’ of staff who write – lack of experience, skill, knowledge

Media space: Less and less space in media, particularly in English print media

Archiving lack of appeal: Museums and theatre archives are not always seen as politically sexy or touristy enough, and ‘academic approach’ will alienate

Award controversy: Award ceremonies could be very controversial and alienate sponsors. Additionally awards events are expensive and deliver lower ‘return on investment’

Balanced development: Political challenge of “black”/community/development theatre practitioners always being seen to be in need of development on the one hand and on the other hand, the need to develop work and practitioners, irrespective of colour

Johannesburg Indaba

1. Apathy within the theatre community poses one of the largest threats to the future of the industry as the majority of practitioners appear to care little for participating in processes and organizations that could shift the sector in their interests.
2. The lack of sustainable work and income within the sector and the uncertainty around funding leads and could lead to a further flight of skills from the theatre industry.
3. High-paying creative industries such as film, television and commercials that provide work and high income for actors impacts adversely on the theatre industry that has to similarly pay high prices for actors with television and film options, even though the industry may not be able to afford these fees.
4. The high costs of touring and using the same actors around the country, particularly with different fees generally been paid in Gauteng, KwaZulu Natal and the Western Cape, poses a threat to the distribution of local theatre works nationally.
5. Audiences have many more options that are more attractive and multi-faceted than theatre at which to spend their disposable income e.g. shopping malls, casinos, etc.
6. There is a lack of courage within the sector in terms of writing about contemporary issues or in challenging the politicians and government officials of the day, which could lead to the further decline of the sector for lack of civil society voices.
7. Theatre workers often disempower themselves by accepting the way they are treated, the lack of respect they are accorded both within and outside the industry, so that they allow themselves to be intimidated by politicians, officials, funding agencies, theatre managements, etc.
8. The need for survival – to pay the monthly rent, etc – means that theatre makers lack the time, energy and commitment to engage with the macro-conditions that contribute to their need to struggle for survival.
9. The absence of a coherent research agenda means that the industry will develop in a fairly ad hoc manner, rather than in terms of well-informed visions and strategies.
10. Turf and ideological battles between individuals, institutions and organizations within the sector could limit unity and the implementation of collective strategies to advance the industry as a whole.
11. Resistance to change among those who lead or have significant influence within the sector could lead to further decline within and of the theatre industry.
12. The racial and language divides within the sector could lead to further polarization of skills, experience and resources rather than their collective use in the development and sustainability of the industry.
13. Audiences are becoming increasingly less able to sit for long periods, with shorter attention spans and are more entertainment-oriented, thereby posing a threat to serious theatre.
14. Some practices of transformation pose a threat to theatre in that often people who are the “correct demographic” are appointed to senior positions in government and institutions responsible for the sector, but who lack the vision, skill, experience to manage their responsibilities and so impact negatively on the sector.
15. A lack of transformation in the distribution of skills, resources and infrastructure within the country as a whole poses a threat to the accessibility of theatre nationally, and to its sustainability through the creation of new markets across the country.
16. A lack of perceived transformation with regard to demographics will lead to greater pressure exerted by politicians and government officials and the appointment of people who will not be appropriate for the job so that it is imperative that the sector itself takes responsibility for this.
17. The need to build new audiences and the popular strategies to do this e.g. bussing in school children, giving away large numbers of complimentary tickets, etc militate against the development of sustainable audiences as people come to expect free or cheap tickets.
18. High theatre prices are a threat to developing new audiences.
19. International musicals and other shows that have ticket prices set at R150 or more, pose a threat to local productions as they cannot compete with these.
20. Corruption, nepotism and a lack of transparency – as displayed in the previous NAC Board and other performing arts institutions – represent a huge threat to the democratic and efficient use of public resources to promote theatre.
21. Nine different provinces with vastly different historical resource bases and with different stages of political, economic and social development represent a threat to the national agenda of developing the theatre industry.
22. The middle-class position of most theatre practitioners and their access to resources and support from families, friends, etc militate against their taking more militant action in support of their interests.
23. The emphasis on the market as the arbiter of value and what is possible within the arts and theatre, poses a threat to theatre that relies on subsidy and/or which seeks to address human rights issues of access, equity, etc that the market fails to address.


Cape Town Indaba

Cooperation: Era of cooperation, particularly among Festivals and Managements – sharing of research, knowledge and experience

Continued flexibility: Can-do attitude and creative flexibility

New partners: Potential funding/partnerships that hasn’t been explored, particularly in non-Arts related funders, as well as opportunities for different sectors to engage with each other

Corporate need: Corporates need to find new strategies to getting their brands out.

Touring: Both on a local and international level

New Audiences: Segmenting, identifying and retaining new target audiences. In particular new ideas on arts distribution and new models for audience engagement (particularly lower-income audiences)

Recruit champions: From inside and outside the arts industry

Professionalisation of the industry: Build a structure from community/grass roots level to regional, national and international level including identified outputs such as a national theatre conference, national education in the arts conference and national theatre festival (best of the best).

Pool of expertise: There is a pool of hungry graduates entering the industry annually as well as well as a pool of experienced practitioners available for mentoring should the right mechanism be identified.

Curriculum: The curriculum is there and theatre makers should be empowered to understand it as well unit standards developed to train artists to deliver curriculum and to be artists-in-residence

Cross-pollination cross-cultural: Can create vibrant and exciting new ways of delivering arts education

New Media: As expose and marketing platforms

Personality driven criticism: Weekly reviews, in particular on television and radio, presented by personalities will stimulate debate and discourse on theatre criticism in general.

Community media platforms: Community radios and television could be much more being involved

Johannesburg Indaba

1. There are more ad hoc training opportunities to be explored, especially in the discipline of theatre criticism, with for example workshops in universities being presented to not only to the students but other role players
2. UNESCO’s recently-adopted convention promoting cultural diversity globally represents opportunities for creative industries in the developing world – like our theatre industry – to have greater access to developed world markets, skills and resources.
3. The appointment of a new Board to the National Arts Council represents an opportunity to influence this body to understand and begin to serve the interests of the theatre community.
4. Recent emphasis placed on the creative industries by the Department of Trade and Industry and various provincial (e.g. Western Cape) and local governments (e.g. Johannesburg) opens possibilities for theatre to be developed further as an industry, particularly if the sector looks to co-operate more with departments responsible for trade, investment and economic development rather than the traditional focus on departments of arts and culture.
5. The ongoing international success of South African artists – particularly in film, visual arts and literature – keeps open international interest in South African art generally, and theatre in particular.
6. Government has signed numerous “Cultural Co-operation Treaties” with various countries that could be leveraged to tour local productions abroad.
7. The educational system – through the new curriculum – includes arts and culture as an integral part of the curriculum for everyone, thereby opening opportunities for theatre workers to work in schools, and to help to develop new audiences at school-going levels.
8. Increased international tourism means increased interest in the art of South Africa, so that – with better planning and liaison with relevant tourism stakeholders – local theatre could find increasing interest from tourist groups.
9. The successful tours of international musicals such as Cats and Phantom of the Opera points to international markets for South African companies to tour international and local English theatre classics to other developing world countries and to English enclaves in countries that might have a dominant other language, as local casts will be more affordable than their British, Australian or America counterparts.
10. South African expatriates live in countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, all of which have rich theatre traditions and sound theatre markets so that there is the very real possibility of creating an international circuit for South African works that tour – at least – these countries.
11. Sponsorship clutter in the sports scene means that the private sector might be interested in new ways to reach their markets, to set them apart from their competitors and to build their image, so that, if the theatre industry is able to convince the private sector of how it could serve these interests, more resources could be unleashed.
12. CREATE SA and its successor, funded by the skills levy, provides opportunities for skilling and mentoring individuals within the theatre community.
13. For our educational institutions, Africa and other developing world countries offer huge potential pools of students.


It is recommended that the following policies to promote a vibrant and sustainable theatre industry be pursued by national government in association with provincial government and relevant funding agencies:

1. Professional theatre companies

1.1 Types of companies

There are at least three kinds of companies:
1. Companies with full-time, professional practitioners employed on at least year-long contracts
2. Companies with 1 to 3 employees (administrators/artists) who employ artists on an ad hoc, project-by-project basis as funding becomes available.
3. Companies that exist in name, with the members of such companies employed in other contexts, and who organise projects, employ practitioners or come together for regular seasons on an ad hoc basis as funding becomes available.

It is recommended that, by 2015, there be fifteen (15) professional, mainstream theatre companies, with an average of 8 members (including an administrator/producer), for a total of 120 professionals on at least year-long contracts.

1.2 Mandates of companies

Companies are – as far as possible – to integrate
a. youth and experience
b. different languages
c. genders

Companies will be required to deliver a minimum of three productions per year, plus one children’s production or one production aimed at a youth market (16-25).

In addition, they will also be required to undertake productions that speak to the social conditions of people in the area, with an emphasis on both content and aesthetics.

1.3 Distribution of companies

Each province will have at least one company. If there are not sufficient members to comprise a company in a province, a company located in another province may be relocated to that province to help build capacity. Such a company will be provided with guaranteed medium-term funding e.g. three years, in order to have sufficient time to achieve a permanent, skilled, professional company based in that province.

1.4 Categories of company funding

There will be three-tier funding for companies of national significance, and they will be selected according to a set of publicly-transparent criteria.

Tier One: Companies will be awarded a core subsidy of R2,5m for a 3-year period.
Tier Two: Companies will be awarded a core subsidy of R1,75m for a 2-year period.
Tier Three: Companies will be awarded a core subsidy of R1m for one year.

Other companies will receive project-by-project funding to help them to build a track record.

The object is to encourage the pursuit and maintenance of excellence, with those companies that have excellent track records being awarded sound funding, while other companies will have their potential recognized so that they too may eventually be awarded funding on another tier.

1.5 Criteria for selection

It is recommended that the following criteria with their respective weightings i.e. some criteria are more important than others, be used to select companies for subsidy, and to determine the status of such companies where different amounts of subsidy are available per genre.

Artistic merit 20 points
Track record/sustainability/longevity 15 points
Impact on the local industry/discipline 15 points
Redressing of historical imbalances 15 points
Organisational structures and management 15 points
Repertoire and productivity 10 points
Remuneration and working conditions of artists 10 points

Total 100 points

In the initial phases, the above criteria are to apply less to the company (that might not have a track record yet) and more to the individuals who comprise the company.

1.6 Phased implementation

1. That all theatre companies that received “company funding” from the NAC receives be invited to apply.
2. That other companies be invited to apply for such funding, and that an additional list of companies – not exceeding 10 – be given company funding from 2014.
3. That all companies be invited by 30 September 2013 to apply for subsidy in accordance with the above categories.
4. That the NAC – together with representatives from the theatre community – evaluates each company, both on paper and in terms of their work, and decides on funding for 15 companies by 31 December 2013.
5. That legal agreements be negotiated between the NAC and companies from 1 Jan-31 March 2014.
6. That these companies will receive their core subsidies from 1 April 2014.

1.7 Housing of companies

It is recommended that these subsidised companies of be housed in infrastructure which forms part of an official, national circuit of venues.

1.8 Career paths for actors

With these professional companies as the pinnacles of employment for performing artists, it is necessary to map a possible career path for a theatre practitioner.

The following generic career path is recommended:
a. training at an accredited institution
b. membership of a student company (1-2 years) attached to training institutions (such companies would practice for the “real” world, but within safe, supportive conditions)
c. after student companies, practitioners would audition for, and participate in youth companies in the various disciplines, for 18-30 year-olds
d. they could then progress to any one of a range of professional companies operating in their discipline, or form part of a new company which would vie with existing companies for recognition

Individual creative practitioners such as composers, writers, choreographers, directors, etc, could follow similar career paths, by being attached to, or integrated into such companies.

They could also be given residencies with a company, educational institution, theatre or festival for periods of time in which they could create and/or help others to create.

1.9 Student companies

These would generally be attached to institutions. As many training institutions as possible should have post-graduate student companies. Alternatively, various institutions in a province should combine resources to support one student company that draws on graduates from their respective institutions. These would also be the training ground for young arts managers and administrators.

1.10 Youth companies

Ideally, each of the larger provinces should have a youth theatre company.

1.11 Individual, national assets

There are individuals who have achieved great distinction as directors, writers, designers, etc, but who – with the decline in funding at theatres, and with few companies in place – are generally out of work, and struggle to make a decent living in the field they know best i.e. theatre.

These individuals should be considered “national assets”. It is recommended that a database be compiled of individual theatre-makers who have achieved such distinction (with very competitive criteria and rigorous selection processes), and that they are supported with monthly stipends for one to three year periods. They would then be available to work with the various professional companies and other entities including schools and community groups to share their expertise and knowledge.

1.13 Performing arts infrastructure

It is recommended
a. that a national circuit of theatre venues be created – at least one per province – over a five-year period. This national circuit would largely comprise existing theatres or multi-functional arts spaces that could host professional theatre productions
b. that, first, the capacity be identified and/or developed to manage this infrastructure effectively and efficiently, and that the leadership of each venue with less than five years experience, be linked with an experienced mentor to guide, advise and even hold him/her accountable
c. that national government – in the same way that it subsidises six theatres currently – subsidises the core infrastructure and staffing of at least one theatre in every province where a nationally-subsidised theatre does not currently exist
d. that the four subsidized, former performing arts councils be given the following mandate:
i) to stage excellent local and international work through a combination of rentals and buying or commissioning or producing work
ii) to use a smaller theatre exclusively for the development of local theatre work and to provide new entrants into the industry with a subsidized space to test their works
iii) to house a theatre company of national significance
iv) to serve as the coordinating and developmental point for a local circuit of venues in the metropolitan area in which they are located and to play a supportive role to these venues and
v) to provide support, training and assistance with programming in the “national circuit” venues in two provinces linked to that subsidised infrastructure e.g. State Theatre linked to North West and Limpopo, ARTSCAPE linked to Eastern Cape, PACOFS linked to Northern Cape, Playhouse linked to Mpumalanga
e. that each venue on the national circuit be given an adequate production budget annually to commission, purchase, co-produce or produce work, particularly theatre productions
f. that each venue on the national circuit have adequate marketing and publicity capacity and strategies, monitored centrally, to ensure the development and sustenance of markets

There are many existing venues that may be eligible for “national circuit” status. Such venues will be invited to apply and motivate for such status, and concomitant resources.

Criteria to be used when selecting national circuit venues would include the following:
a. the capacity of the venue to stage professional theatre productions
b. the capacity of the venue to host a company of national significance on its premises i.e. rehearsal, office and performance spaces and administrative infrastructure
c. the track record of the venue in hosting productions
d. the capacity, demographics, skills and experience of the management and staff
e. the track record of the venue in securing funds from provincial, local government, private sector and other sources
f. the ability of the venue to provide effective and cost-effective marketing and technical services
g. the state of the equipment (sound, stage, lifts, etc) in the venue
h. the cost-effectiveness of maintaining the venue
i. the proximity and accessibility of the venue to local audiences
j. the willingness and/or capacity of the venue in providing services and development assistance beyond its immediate confines
k. issues of safety: both structural and equipment and with regard to crime
l. the proximity or availability of comfortable but inexpensive accommodation for touring groups

Not all venues on the national circuit will be the same. Some will be large, multi-venue infrastructure with technical, stage services and design departments. Others will be single, conventional theatre spaces while still others will be multi-functional arts centres. There will be three grades of infrastructure, and their roles will determine their level of national subsidy:

Grade A: Large-scale performing arts venues (primarily former pacs)
Grade B: Venues which are part of the national circuit and which host companies of national significance.
Grade C: Venues that are recognized within the industry to be important theatres because of their contributions to the industry, whether they are part of the national circuit or not

It is strongly recommended that national circuit venues meet every six months to plan and coordinate activities.

2. Funding

There is funding for arts and culture. The major problems are
a. to access it timeously
b. for approved funding to be transferred in time for the project
c. for funding to be made available in medium-term cycles as opposed to project-by-project funding

It is recommended that
a. there be one form for all funding agencies in the country, with agencies requiring specific questions having such a section on the form
b. all agencies be required to make decisions about applications within three months of the closing date for applications
c. approved funding is transferred to projects within a maximum of 21 days after such funding is approved, and that tranche funding is transferred within a maximum of 21 days of tranche-releasing reports being received
d. major funding agencies align their deadline and approval dates so that applicants may learn of funding decisions as early as possible
e. once a the industry agrees on a theatre plan, that the industry meets with major funders collectively to discuss who will fund what for the next five years
f. a mechanism be established for theatre makers to lodge complaints about funding agencies, and that this mechanism urges/takes corrective action

3. Festivals

Festivals have become important sources of funding for theatre, and are probably the most important catalysts for new work. The also provide income for artists and develop markets for them. Festivals can be even more effective in achieving the above, and the broader vision outlined in this document, if
a. there was greater co-ordination among them
b. there was more co-operation between them and theatres in ensuring that theatre works have a life beyond the festivals
c. some of these festivals were better managed
d. the timing of the festivals was better arranged so that a festival circuit could provide ongoing/continuous work for local and international groups
e. there were mechanisms to select and reward the best festival works with tours and/or seasons at venues on the national circuit afterwards
f. there were incentives for international travel for the best works e.g. if some of these festivals had exchange links with international festivals

It is recommended that
1. existing festivals be encouraged to form a National Festival Coordination Committee to share ideas, to help to train managers of festivals in less resourced provinces, and to coordinate a national festival circuit which would liaise with, and relate to the national venue circuit
2. new annual festivals be encouraged and located in provinces where such festivals do not exist e.g. a Children’s Theatre Festival in KwaZulu Natal, a Southern African Theatre Festival in Limpopo, a Youth Theatre Festival in Kimberley, a community theatre festival in North West, etc.
3. a national theatre festival that rotates every year to a different province, and where the best works of all the festivals and theatres are staged, along with master classes and discussions for theatre practitioners, and a parallel performing arts market

5. Human resource development and capacity building

Even more important than the need for funding, is the need for effective, visionary and highly skilled arts managers. We urgently require a combination of short-term courses to provide basic admin skills as in-service training for arts practitioners, longer term courses to produce at least theoretically-trained arts managers, opportunities for individuals to be mentored, and an influx of skills to manage existing institutions, NGOs and the implementation of policy.

The following are recommendations in this regard:
1. that, to begin with, a major tertiary institution in each of Gauteng, KwaZulu Natal and Western Cape, offers part-time courses in arts administration, arts marketing, etc
2. that such institutions work towards developing undergraduate and post-graduate courses in arts administration with some specialising in marketing, touring and policy, so that eventually there is at least one tertiary institution in each province that offers arts administration certificates, diplomas, degrees and post-graduate degrees
3. that in the immediate future, the NAC makes available 5-10 bursaries annually for individuals around the country to acquire MBAs, with an agreement that they would work in an arts management position for at least three years after acquiring such an education
4. that twenty to thirty of the country’s top arts administrators, theatre and festival managers be identified, and be paid to mentor individuals (who are also paid) over the course of at least 1-3 years, with funding for this purpose being made available by the relevant
5. that 25-30 of the country’s top directors and writers be paid to mentor new writers so that over a period of five years, we develop 50-75 new South African writers.

6. Administration, management and marketing of professional companies, individuals and productions

Performing artists and companies want to spend as little time as possible dealing with fundraising, report-writing, administration, organising tours, doing publicity and marketing, etc. The current conditions however, demand a high level of administration from individuals and companies who would rather be creating, rehearsing, performing and touring.

It is strongly recommended that
a. entrepreneurial companies be created/encouraged that provide administration, financial services, marketing, management and touring services to professional companies and individuals to oversee their affairs.
Initially, it is recommended that such companies – a critical mass in each province – receive declining subsidies over three years to establish themselves, develop a client base, to become self-sustaining in the long term.
b. independent publicity, marketing, financial services, arts admin, etc companies and individuals form consortiums to take on such work, while maintaining an independent client base at the same time.
c. the notion of “clustering” be encouraged with pilot projects in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban, with companies and individual artists working collectively with administrators, marketers and producers to do all that is necessary to give life to new works, and to give such works legs
d. annually, theatre publicists, marketers and marketing departments of theatres meet for three days to share expertise, document successful case studies, reflect on new challenges, learn from international experience, and chart collective strategies to improve theatre marketing
e. similarly, a cadre of theatre producers be developed and that they meet annually to share expertise, document successful case studies, reflect on challenges, etc in the course of fulfilling the following mandate: to tour local, excellent works nationally and abroad on a regular basis in order to earn foreign income for our practitioners, since the world, rather than South Africa, should be regarded as our market. In this regard, it is recommended that
i) South African artists produce some of the classics in English e.g. Chekov, Beckett, etc, and tour these to English-speaking communities in other emerging economies i.e. with our exchange rate, it would be more financially attractive to such countries to have excellent productions from South Africa than from Britain
ii) we develop an international touring circuit for South African works to major festivals and venues around the world e.g. SA has a stand every year at the Cannes Film Festival; why can we not have a theatre venue at Edinburgh, Brisbane, etc every year too?
iii) develop an expatriate circuit that includes Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand for contemporary South African performing arts works

7. Remuneration and working conditions for theatre makers

The current situation in which funding is in decline and work generally scarce for artists, makes performing arts practitioners very vulnerable to exploitation. On the other hand, theatre managements are hard pressed to maintain financially viable institutions.

It is recommended
a. that clear, reasonable guidelines for the remuneration of performing arts practitioners be created, and that they be reviewed annually between representative artist bodies and unions, theatre managements and major funding bodies (the latter having the responsibility of funding companies that conform to agreed industry remuneration guidelines)
b. that as a matter of urgency, a medical aid scheme be researched and developed for performing arts practitioners, taking cognisance of the nature of the current conditions, the desired conditions and the itinerant nature of current work
c. that as a matter of urgency, a performing arts provident fund or pension scheme be researched and developed, taking cognisance of the nature of the current conditions, the desired conditions and the itinerant nature of current work
d. that labour desks be established in each of the nine provinces, but in the three major provinces to begin with, to which all contracts are to be referred by artists and/or managers to ensure that these comply with South African labour legislation
e. that workshops be held for managers and practitioners around the country, to brief them regularly on current labour legislation, the rights of artists, and any changes to these and
f. that in the interim, and as a matter of urgency, a “labour ombudsman” be appointed to investigate, arbitrate and generally monitor the contracting, remuneration and working conditions of performing artists
g. that a relationship be established with UNESCO’s Observatory on the Status of the Artist in order to work towards maximum compliance with its Recommendation on the Rights and Status of the Artist
h. that the practice of paying half-fees for rehearsals be abolished at all publicly-funded theatres, in companies and projects funded by national, public funding agencies and that promoters and producers using publicly-funded facilities, be required to pay full fees for rehearsals
i. that a union be encouraged, but that it be held accountable by its members for delivery

8. Research, information and documentation

It is recommended that
a. there be regional, monthly “knock and drops” – or inserts in existing “knock and drops” providing publicity on forthcoming productions
b. a monthly theatre journal be produced to encourage documentation and critical discourse within the industry
c. a national, comprehensive theatre website be created and maintained with all information and statistics relevant to the industry
d. an annual Theatre Directory be published with details of theatres, producers, marketing companies, funding agencies, etc
e. the theatre industry, with the NAC, decides on particular areas requiring research each year, and that the NAC makes available bursaries for post-graduate students or academics to pursue this research
f. an annual conference on theatre be held, either nationally, or along similar themes in each province
g. a South African theatre museum and archive be established, which, among other things, will house material on every production produced each year

9. Incentives

We do not have a national system of incentives for our artists to encourage them to continue to work in the industry, and to strive to ever-greater levels of creative and technical excellence. It is recommended that such incentives be devised and implemented on an annual basis. These could include:
a. the best companies e.g. selected at national festivals, winning funds to undertake a national tour of the major theatres
b. the best companies and/or productions winning opportunities to travel to international festivals
c. top practitioners being awarded opportunities for international exchange programmes
d. top practitioners winning opportunities to work in residence in the country’s major theatres or institutions
e. annually, a three-week tour being undertaken with the country’s brightest new directing and writing talents to other parts of the world to be exposed to their work
f. working with the current awards systems to make them more meaningful, more prestigious, and more enhancing of the winners’ careers, and creating new awards where warranted
g. an annual anthology of the country’s ten best scripts, with selection for this anthology – published by the NAC – guaranteeing a writer R30 000 towards writing her/his next play

10. Coordination and governance

There are different organizations representing different constituencies within the theatre industry, but there is no overarching body that can represent the sector as a whole to government, business, etc.

Accordingly, it is recommended that a theatre industry representative organization – the South African Theatre Industry Association (SATIA) or the South African Chapter of the International Theatre Institute (ITI) – be established.

The role and functions of SATIA/ITI will include the following:
a. formulating regulations to govern different aspects of the industry
b. establishing dispute-resolution mechanisms
c. monitoring the development and growth of the industry to ensure that all structures – theatre companies, theatres, festivals, producers, etc – are functioning optimally
d. providing advice and information
e. facilitating international exchanges
f. setting and driving an agenda to achieve substantive transformation within the industry
g. commissioning research, gathering and disseminating data, building databases, etc
h. coordinating the production of relevant publications
i. representing the interests of the industry in policy and related matters
j. developing and updating a national register of theatre industry professionals

The structure of SATIA may include various subcommittees e.g. festivals, national theatre circuit, transformation, status and rights of artists, education and training, etc to ensure that all the primary areas of the industry are being dealt with and monitored.

Key stakeholders i.e. national organizations representing different sectors, within the industry will elect representatives to the governing board of SATIA who will serve for a period of three years. Where some sectors are not organized into a national association, SATIA will facilitate a meeting of representatives from this sector to elect representatives to the Board.


1. Companies

20 professional, subsidized, mainstream, integrated theatre companies nationally, with at least one in each of Limpopo, North West, Mpumalanga and Northern Cape, two in the Free State, three in KwaZulu Natal and Eastern Cape and four in the Western Cape and Gauteng, employing 150-200 theatre makers on a full-time basis, with at least 50% of the total theatre-makers and company managers being black African.

2. National circuit of venues

At least one professionally-managed venue per province, each with a production budget to produce work, with tours by companies to each venue, and with some companies being housed in these venues as their base.

A national co-ordinating mechanism will facilitate planning and sharing between members of this circuit.

3. National circuit of festivals

Each month, there would be a major festival that includes theatre in a different part of the country, so that companies and independent theatre makers may travel the country with a work from festival to festival.

An annual theatre festival in a different province each year, celebrating the best works of the previous year.

Annual school play festivals in each province with the best works participating in a national school play festival, with professional actors paid to work with schools in producing such plays.

4. Human resources and capacity

All national circuit venues will be functioning optimally, with at least 50% of them under the leadership of black African managers, and all of them producing unqualified financial statements.

At least 30 independent (not attached to theatres) producers nationally, with two in each of Mpumulanga, North West, Northern Cape and Limpopo, four in Free State, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal and five in Western Cape and Gauteng with at least 50% of these being black African producers.

At least twenty independent marketing and publicity companies nationally, one in each of Mpumalanga, North West, Northern Cape and Limpopo, two in Free State, three in Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal, and four in each of Gauteng and Western Cape, again, with at least 50% of them being owned by black Africans.

At least 120 plays entered into a national playwrighting competition, with at least 50% of them being from black African writers, and half of these being women.

At least three institutions with arts administration graduate and post-graduate courses and at least one with a “cultural entrepreneurs” course.

5. Incentives

A South African venue at a major festival in Europe, Australia and Canada/US each year to host the best South African works at these festivals.

The best works at theatres and festivals, are subsidized to tour the national circuit of venues and the national circuit of festivals.

6. Rights and status of artists

Agreed minimum wages for different categories of theatre-makers nationally.

A national medical aid scheme and provident fund scheme for all registered theatre-makers.

Free legal advice and representation for theatre-makers in contractual disputes.

A home for retired actors/theatre makers.

7. Audiences/markets

Contemporary theatre playing to a national average of 65%.

8. Information and publicity

National “what’s on” type publication produced weekly as an insert in a national newspaper e.g. Mail and Guardian/Sunday Times.

National Theatre Journal produced monthly promoting critical discourse.

The overall recommendation was to form a small working group to take the momentum of the current indaba forward. That this should be made up (for the moment) of the current Indaba Steering Committee (or nominated/volunteer a group of industry thinkers by them) towards a “Theatre Action Group” (TAG) considering:
1. issues around non-duplication
2. leveraging current existing networks and links.
3. appropriate structure
4. appropriate personnel to be involved

That TAG then to consider the following broad outlines below stemming from the SWOTs and Recommendations above:
1. Vision and broader picture (Strategy)
2. Information dissemination and access
3. Capacity building
4. Advocacy tools
5. Opportunities for people to connect

Further Key Issues highlighted
1. Overcoming fragmentation
2. Marketing the industry
3. Time frame – 1 year ahead
4. Receptive to further input
5. CT/JHB centres of coordination but national representation
6. Broadening Festival network
7. To include national and international footprint organisations
8. Community networks
9. Methods of staying in contact (TAG facebook page)

Further specific recommendations in both regions are given below

• Build trusted flexible solution (structured) to coordination – ‘head that leads’
• Vision (Think Big)
• Systems to encourage (awards, positive mentorship, recognition)
• Facilitate dialogue within industry to provide transparency and ease of access/breaking down the stigma of ‘community=development’
• Establish structure on consistent communication and collaboration
• Sharing not only production but methodologies, skills, best practice, etc
• Economic Impact Research
• Audience research
• Provide spaces to develop creative output (incubators) as well as nurture meeting spaces at the platforms that exist.
• Focus skill development on Arts Administration
• Streamline funding and proposal applications to ease administrative burden
• Super National Arts Festival – rotating ‘best of’ model
• Find methodologies and technologies to help translate work for audiences
• Facilitate a lifecycle of work development crossing regional space – (UK model of regional to West End) by creating a touring circuit platform to ensure that commissioned work has a viable life span, travelling between festivals and the national theatres
• Work as a collective to gather evidence re value of arts (collect best practice models, reports from funders, and synthesise into audit with local examples; gather local knowledge, original or vernacular practices and share through engagement with ESAT and theatre archive at Stellenbosch)
• Use new CAPS curriculum as motivation for exposing learners to high quality arts and accessing funding from range of sources
• Tweak current unit standards to fill gaps, adapt and use network organisations to collate information on what is available, who is offering it, and who can assess it – make this information generally accessible.
• Use festival network to create training, mentorship circuit; interning positions – create stepping stones for people
• Work with civil society movements that are focusing on schooling (schools at centre of community, equal education etc) to emphasise importance of the role of the arts
• Use current advances around “teaching artists” internationally to inform Artists in residence programmes as they are designed for use in SA
• Demand that NGOs with track records of in-service training are used in training of teachers in new CAPS
• Encourage artists to engage with audiences (particularly youth audiences) more actively in the making, development and honing of their work
• Upload all reviews onto a website e.g. Fleur du Cap to get broad impression of critical responses
• Have Theatre Scene do tweet seats at plays
• Recruit academics (theatre) to write reviews for blogs/websites
• Provide on-going in-service training/workshops/mentorships for arts writers
• Re-visit current structure of awards and find missing gaps and fill
• Host an annual award to encourage/reward best academic writing about theatre and analysis of the sector
• Theatre Journal (existing or new) to be more user-friendly, regular, accessible
• Companies at training institutions to provide semi-professional experience under controlled conditions
• Festivals to attract writing in all languages (and then all to be translated into English for consideration for English version?)
• Best Practice Toolkits to be created in/for the theatre sector: management, fundraising, touring, running a theatre company, etc.
• Database of new entrants who finished their studies for internships, assistant positions etc
• National website for all theatre happenings in the country.
• A thorough theatre studies / books on South African theatre industry and techniques.
• Bursaries for post-graduates to focus on relevant theatre studies
• Drive small community involvement – work on local level
• We need a national South African archive
• Develop a system of national standards, criteria to be debated, which we can use to achieve national goals and objectives in national industry
• Best productions of the different awards ceremony could tour nationally and even overseas
• Recording our history through archiving projects, seen as documentaries rather than buildings
• Education in the arts conference
• A fabulous national theatre conference, where action plans is devised for the strategy compiled by the Action Group
• Recruit champions for the strategy from inside and outside of the Arts Industry

Both from a human rights perspective and a creative industries perspective, the a new vision would include the following or elements of it:
1. a national circuit of theatre venues, at least one subsidised theatre in each province with the infrastructure, expertise and resources to stage professional work, and with the budget to commission new work, buy existing work and provide platforms for touring theatre companies
2. full-time theatre companies of 7-12 actors representative, as far as possible of gender, languages, etc with each province having one such resident company attached to the theatre that is part of the national theatre circuit; the mandate of these companies would be to produce a certain number of theatre productions per year, including children’s and youth theatre productions, to participate in festivals, to tour and also to engage in theatre-for-development work within their respective province
3. different tiers of funding for theatres and companies so that those on the top rung – and there would be criteria and independent mechanisms to select these – receiving 3-4 year funding, the next tier getting two year funding, the third one-year fund and others, project by project with all being encouraged to compete and produce excellent work in order to merit elevation to the next tier
4. student companies attached to educational institutions comprising post-graduate students to enable them to acquire experience and to provide a training ground under controlled conditions for young arts managers and marketers.
5. that there be a system of “national assets”, individuals who have achieved distinction as directors, writers, designers, etc and that they too be tiered, receiving stipends for particular periods of 1-3 years, during which they produce new work, lecture/run workshops at training institutions and work with companies that are part of a national circuit
6. that festivals be encouraged to form a national festival association to ensure an effective touring circuit, to co-produce work, share expertise and liaise with the national theatre circuit to ensure greater longevity for theatre work, and that they share technology to ensure that the best works are brought to their respective festivals using means to translate work into the language of the audience
7. that there be an annual Children’s Theatre Festival, a Youth Theatre Festival and schools theatre festivals in all regions to encourage new practitioners and audiences for theatre
8. that a curated national theatre festival rotates every year to a different province where the best works from all the festivals during the preceding year are presented, in whatever language, and that this festival is complemented by master classes and other forms of theoretical and social engagement by theatre practitioners
9. that there be partnerships with key international festivals and theatre venues (Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe, Australia, North America, etc) so that the best works – again, irrespective of language – are incentivised to travel to these festivals/theatre venues
10. that there be one form to complete for all funding agencies, that deadlines be aligned and that all decisions are made within 3 months and funds granted within another 3 months
11. that development budgets/funding be made available to all festivals and theatres that are part of a national circuit/tier 1 to provide residencies, practical training and mentorships for technical staff, designers, etc
12. that specialist administrative and marketing companies be catalysed to administer and market a range of theatre entities effectively
13. that a dedicated theatre museum be established with changing exhibitions but that documents and archives the theatre sector
14. that a monthly magazine devoted to theatre reviews, theatre news, theatre opportunities be created at least online
15. that there be annual trips by the leading young directors and writers to international festivals to be exposed to a variety of work


There is no doubt that we have incredible expertise, resources, infrastructure, networks, experience within the country’s theatre sector, that if combined, would make a major contribution to meeting some of the country’s challenges, but also to the sustainability and growth of the theatre sector itself. Some things can be done with the help of government, but there is much that can be done as civil society if we have the vision, the courage and the desire to cross old boundaries and to work collectively, giving and taking, at times, being comfortable with grey rather than black and white. The way I see it, we can – in the light of what is happening in our country – choose to sit in our respective corners, fight for, enjoy and protect what little space we have, or we can seek to make a broader contribution, that, ultimately, will be better for that which we hold most dear. Right now, our country needs visionaries, it needs leadership, it needs new ways of doing things, it needs its artists, it needs its theatre makers. Here’s hoping we’ll rise to that call.

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