CCIFSA’s Secretary General says Jews and Indians are conspiring against Africans….

Earlier today, Ayanda Roda, Secretary General of CCIFSA, posted the following on his Facebook wall: “We’re quite aware that the performing cultural institutions have been recycling same face at the top, and we address that issue as a matter of urgency.  Jew cabal and Indian cabal, no black cabal in this critical space.  Black administrators must rise and occupy this space”.

While there is much within this post that is factually incorrect and so is plainly populist in its race-baiting, it does point to a long-overdue discussion about black (as in ‘African’, rather than Biko-black which would include ‘African’, ‘Coloured’ and ‘Indian’) leadership in the arts and culture space.

But to the facts.

First, there are five nationally-subsidised ‘performing cultural institutions’ in our country.  Linda Bukhosini has been the CEO of the Playhouse Company since 2005 and is also the Artistic Director. Marlene le Roux has been the CEO of Artscape since 2015, the same period that Sibongiseni Mkhize has been the CEO of the State Theatre.  Aubrey Sekhabi has been the Artistic Director of the State Theatre since 2002.  Ismail Mahomed is the outgoing CEO of the Market Theatre having been appointed in 2016, after Annabell Lebethe served in that position.  The artistic director of the Market Theatre, James Ngcobo, took over from Malcolm Purkey in 2013.  Peter Pedlar is the current CEO of PACOFS, having taken over the post in August 2019, after at least two African CEOs had been forced out.

So, in the last five years, there has been not a single Jewish person in a leadership position in any of the publicly-funded theatres, and Ismail Mahomed has been the only Indian in a leadership position (CEO or Artistic Director) in any of these in the last five years.  To say that Jewish and Indian cabals are recycling the leadership of these theatres is both patently false and racially divisive.

Secondly, to claim that there is no ‘black cabal in this critical space’, implying that ‘Africans’ are not being recycled in positions of leadership because ‘Jews’ and ‘Indian’ cabals are keeping them out, is also completely devoid of truth.  The highly respected Sibongiseni Mkhize, CEO of the State Theatre, was previously the CEO of Robben Island Museum, and before that, he was CEO of the Market Theatre.  During the disciplinary process of the CEO of the NAC, Mkhize also served as the acting CEO of the NAC while he was also the CEO of the State Theatre!  Another highly respected individual – Annabell Lebethe – was the CEO of the NAC, then went on to serve as the Market Theatre’s CEO, before being brought in by the then DAC to turn PACOFS around, and is now the CEO of Ditsong National Museums, all publicly-funded institutions.  There is thus more ‘recycling’ of black African leadership in publicly-funded cultural institutions – and performing cultural institutions in particular – than there is Jewish, white or Indian recycling.

What, then, is the possible reason for the spreading of such blatantly false information, and by the Secretary General of CCIFSA, the body established, funded and given political patronage by the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture (DSAC)?

The Market Theatre has advertised for a new CEO to replace Ismail Mahomed.  Historically, the Market Theatre is the jewel in our country’s performing arts crown, and there has – post-1994 – always been hot contestation around its senior posts.  This time it will be no different, and with two Indians on the board of the Market Theatre, perhaps this is some signalling to the board that “they are being watched” in terms of who will be appointed to the position of CEO.

It is ironic though that there were limited voices supporting Annabell Lebethe when she was manoeuvred out of her Market Theatre position by a black Chairperson of the board, just as there was little support for Mamela Nyamza when she was disciplined and then fired by the black leadership of the State Theatre, as there was limited support for Doreen Nteta when she was relieved of her post at the NAC by a black leadership.

The point is that just as it is necessary to monitor and call out racism when it comes to the appointment of senior leadership within the sector, it is equally necessary to highlight and call out patriarchy in both the appointment and removal of leaders within the sector.

But the belief that there are ‘cabals’ controlling or capturing the creative sector, goes beyond Roda. In the early hours of this morning, Mpho Molepo, a leading figure in the performing arts sector, wrote on his FB wall “The rotation of posts in various arts institutions by the same cabaal of friends must stop, it must stop.  It is the same people moving around.  NO….”

Two days ago, another influencer within the performing arts, Thami Mbongo wrote in Im4theArts about the lack of engagement around Ashraf Johaardien and the letter which Sylvaine Strike and Bailey Snyman had written to BASA to complain about Johaardien’s comment about the ‘whiney’ arts community on Eusebius McKaiser’s radio show.  In Mbongo’s view, there were so few comments about this matter so that he asked “is this showing us how our cultural and creative industries in South Africa is ‘captured’?  Is there a certain “Cabal” that is running our Cultural and Creative Industries in South Africa?”

Other conversations related to Johaardien’s comment raised issues about why so few black people were commenting on the matter and on whether ‘white’ people calling for Johaardien’s head would have done so if he were ‘African’ given that it was a relatively trivial matter.  These comments point to how racially polarised our arts sector is, and how divisive Roda’s false statements are.  But that is not the main point of this article.

Of more concern to some – like Molepo – is the perceived recycling of the same individuals into various jobs, and particularly Ashraf Johaardien and his partner, Pieter Jacobs.  Johaardien is currently the CEO of BASA, having previously been the Executive Producer of the National Arts Festival, and before that, he worked at the University of Johannesburg’s theatre, and before that, he was at the Arts and Culture Trust.  Jacobs now works as UJ’s head of arts and culture, having been the CEO of the Arts and Culture Trust and before that, the Marketing and Operations Manager at BASA.

Rucera Seethal replaced Johaardien at the National Arts Festival, and Monica Newton, a veteran government official, was appointed as the CEO of the Festival – which runs principally on public funding.  The expectations – and hopes – of many were that at least one of these senior positions would be taken by an African person.

There are a few questions that arise from these appointments.

First, these individuals – Johaardien, Jacobs, Seethal and Newton – do not appoint themselves; surely the boards or governing structures that appoint them must be sensitive to the demographics of the country, and to the need to appoint Africans to senior leadership positions (especially governing structures in institutions that rely primarily on publicly funding?).

Second, these individuals apply along with others for the jobs as advertised (most, if not all, of these jobs would require public advertisement), so are they the best people who have applied for those jobs?  How would we know unless we know who else applied and were able to benchmark them against each other and against the advertised specs of the jobs?

Thirdly, there is no doubt that some come from far more privileged backgrounds in terms of class, education, opportunities to acquire experience, etc, but 26 years into our democracy, surely we have to ask: what leadership identification, training and support structures have we put in place to ensure that our sector’s leadership not only reflects the demographics of our country, but that they have the requisite skills and experience to ensure that they and the  institutions to which they are appointed, are not set up for failure?

The fact that leaders are ‘recycled’ – not only Johaardien and Jacobs, but also Lebethe and Mkhize; the fact that our country’s National Arts Festival has still not been able to appoint an ‘African’ person to one of its two key leadership positions 26 years after our democratic elections; the fact that ‘African’ people have been fired from positions of leadership by governing structures that are themselves predominantly ‘African’, the fact that some ‘African’ leaders have been in their publicly-funded positions for ten years or more – these facts point to the failure (among other policy and governance failures) to identify and nurture ‘African’ leadership within the broader arts and culture space.

It is easy – and utterly opportunistic – to blame Jews and Indian and unknown ‘cabals’ (are Zimbabweans next?) for the real and perceived absence of ‘African’ leadership, but who is to blame for this absence?  What has CCIFSA done since its launch to identify and develop ‘African’ leadership for the cultural sector?

Ayanda Roda has made far more offensive statements than Johaardien that are blatantly false, racist and divisive  – and he should apologise and withdraw these statements for these reasons, but also because he is the Secretary General of CCIFSA, a body that the DSAC promotes as the unifier and representative voice of the sector.  Do the Minister and Director General of the DSAC condone these statements?

I look forward to the day when individuals will be supported or called out on the basis of what they say and do, on the basis of principle, rather than because of their colour, their gender, their position, their organisation or their proximity to political power.

In the meantime, rather than blame others or insinuate some conspiracy that marginalises some and privileges others, or simply call on ‘black administrators to rise and occupy this space’ like magic, I would love Mpho Molepo, Thami Mbongo and Ayanda Roda – and others – if not to apply for these senior jobs themselves, to identify and strongly encourage ‘Africans’ to apply for them when they become available.  And, at the same time, to lobby for and create processes and structures that identity, nurture and support such leadership.

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Now that the Market Theatre disciplinary processes are done, who will investigate the Minister and the DAC for their role?

In the last week of March, the day before the lockdown began, the Chairperson of the Market Theatre Foundation’s Council, Mr Gerald Dumas, issued a media release entitled “Market Theatre closes one chapter and turns a new page…”. The purpose of the media release was to announce closure on the disciplinary charges instituted against five staff members – CEO, Ismail Mahomed; CFO, Christine McDonald; HR Manager, Perpetua Mathsa; Brand and Communications Manager, Zama Buthelezi and Lusanda Zokufa, Senior Publicist – as the result of a forensic report commissioned by the then Department of Arts and Culture (DAC), and brought about by a range of allegations that appeared in the media from April to June 2018.

The allegations that first appeared in the City Press in April 2018 under the headline “SA theatre rocked by allegations of financial misconduct against chair” included the chair’s attempt to pay himself a Christmas bonus of R100 000, nearly R600 000 being spent in a year on his travel, accommodation and car hire, and his excessive billing of the Market Theatre for meetings and work related to the theatre.   Subsequently, the Sowetan carried staff allegations of racism against the CEO; the Star had front-page articles alleging corruption against the CFO and the Mail and Guardian carried a story about alleged nepotism on the part of the CEO.

The DAC announced on 1 August 2018 that they had instituted a forensic investigation into these and other allegations, and in January 2019, they let the public know that the forensic report had been completed and had been handed to the Council of the Market Theatre to act on its recommendations. (The report was conducted by Morar Inc, a company of accountants that conducts a number of investigations on behalf of the DAC, including recent investigations into the CEO of the National Arts Council and the Robben Island Museum).

On the basis of the report, the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, relieved the Council chairperson – Kwanele Gumbi – of both his position and membership of the Council, replacing him with Mr Gerald Dumas. On the other hand, none of the conclusions reached in the ‘forensic report’ and subsequently formulated as charges, was upheld. The media release on the outcome of the disciplinary hearings – conducted by independent prosecutors and presiding officers – specifically states that allegations of nepotism and of racism against the CEO and of corruption on the part of the CFO, were found to be baseless.

Dumas “regrets” the impact of the allegations and the disciplinary processes on the staff and their families, as well as the loss of a number of talented staff through the process. He criticises the media – the Sowetan, the Mail and Guardian and the Star in particular – for reporting the various allegations which have now been found to be without substance, implying that they did so irresponsibly and unethically.

While the Council would now like to “turn a new page…”, and no doubt, many would like to “move on”, we would be wise to reflect on this disgraceful episode as it raises a number of issues for our arts sector and for our society generally.

To begin with, the Market Theatre traded its political and institutional independence which led to its iconic international and national brand as a theatre truth-sayer for the certainty of public subsidy, and so it became the only theatre to join the ranks of nationally-subsidised theatres inherited from the apartheid era. This would not be a problem should government have adhered to the “arm’s length” principle of governance embedded in the first White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage, a principle intended to uphold democracy and freedom of expression in publicly-funded cultural institutions and a publicly-funded creative sector without politicians circumscribing freedom of expression through manipulating tax funding.

However, with the Cultural Institutions Act and its various amendments that now governs all publicly-funded national cultural institutions, the minister is not only empowered to appoint the governing councils of such institutions, but also to appoint their chairpersons (prior to this, most councils elected their own chairpersons, so that s/he was accountable to the Council and the institution they governed, rather than serve the wishes of the minister and the ruling party, or be seen to have, or actually to have more ‘political weight’ than other members of the governing council).

The first point to note then, is that the Minister re-appointed the Council of the Market Theatre in April 2018, and also re-appointed Kwanele Gumbi as chairperson of the Council (he had been a member since 2009!), despite knowing that Gumbi had abused the Market Theatre’s resources in the past, and that the Council had largely supported him (Gumbi had recommended they each receive a bonus of R75 000). The City Press article states “A letter from Mthethwa that City Press obtained…shows the minister refused to allow the payment (of the R100 000 bonus to the chair and the R75 000 bonuses to other council members) because it defied public finance laws”.

The Market’s senior management in the form of its CEO and CFO had blocked the payment of the bonuses, and the DAC subsequently confirmed that these were illegal in terms of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). Little wonder then that with Gumbi’s reappointment in April 2018 he started a vendetta against the CEO and the CFO which led to the later allegations of racism, nepotism and corruption fomented against them by some of the staff. (The forensic report showed that the human resources manager was in dialogue with Gumbi about how to get rid of the CEO and CFO, her seniors).

As stated in the City Press article, the allegations of financial misconduct against Gumbi preceded Mahomed (who carried the burden of being labelled a racist for standing up to Gumbi) when Annabell Lebethe, the former CEO of the Market Theatre, raised similar concerns. In an interview, Lebethe told of how Gumbi had informed management that the DAC had agreed to increase meeting attendance fees from R1 500 to R10 000, but when she and the CFO checked with the DAC, they denied that they had the power to do this, as fees for meetings were governed by Treasury regulations.

Lebethe believes that because she presented an obstacle, she was manipulated out of her position as CEO by Gumbi, with the Council generally supporting Gumbi. She did not have the financial resources to do battle with the Market Theatre in court but felt aggrieved by the way in which her tenure had been ended.

The key takeaway from all of this is that the Department of Arts and Culture and the Minister, Nathi Mthethwa, KNEW of the allegations of financial misconduct and impropriety against Gumbi, from at least three years PRIOR to his reappointment in April 2018. Both the former CEO – to point out the obvious, a black African woman – and the current CEO – a black Indian man, informed the DAC of Gumbi’s attempts to abuse the theatre’s resources (the accusations of racism against Mahomed need to be seen against this background). Yet, notwithstanding the DAC and the Minister being in full knowledge of Gumbi’s attempts to misappropriate public funding, the Minister proceeded to appoint Gumbi along with most of the Council that had generally and weakly supported him, probably not least because of his perceived proximity to the Minister.

This makes complete nonsense of the DAC’s August 2018 media statement in which they write “Minister Mthethwa’s decision to solicit the services of external and expert forensic investigators for this definitive and conclusive probe is informed by and is also in line with the DAC’s commitment to adherence to sound, transparent and accountable governance and transparency – not only within the DAC, but by extension, in all entities that fall under its curatorship, the Market Theatre being one of them.

What an ABSOLUTE JOKE! A useless department and minister sprouting and believing their own hollow propaganda!! If the Minister and the DAC had any inkling of a commitment to sound governance, they would have removed Gumbi from the Council of the Market Theatre when Lebethe first raised the concerns she did! In that he largely reappointed the previous Council and once again appointed Gumbi as the chairperson of the Council, the Minister is DIRECTLY RESPONSIBLE for the crisis at the Market Theatre over the last number of years and for the incredible damage done to the reputations of the theatre and its senior management, and to the compromising of funding relationships with donors as a result.

In their January 2019 media statement in which the DAC pats itself on the back for “cleaning house” by appointing forensic investigations into various institutions within its ambit, they write “…it is important to note that when whistle-blowers and individuals report worrisome matters to the DAC are taken seriously (sic). This is apparent in how swiftly Minister Nathi Mthethwa and the DAC have acted in the past months, by relentlessly and with great commitment tackling all issues of concern without hesitation, instituting processes to rectify these. The DAC deems it of utmost importance to be transparent in keeping its stakeholders informed of any activities related to not only the department, but all agencies and entities under its administration”.

Again, this is evidence of a self-delusional department and minister. The whistle-blowers at the Market Theatre had to go to the media to be heard!! The whistle-blowers – McDonald and Mahomed – went through the right channels, first by providing the Council of the Market Theatre with information about the alleged financial misconduct, and urged them to act, but they did not! Then, they (as Lebethe did before them) sent information to the DAC and urged them to act, but they simply looked the other way. What choice did the management have but to expose the rot in the media as a way of forcing public attention on the corruption at the theatre, particularly when the person responsible for the alleged corruption was re-appointed by the Minister and then made it clear at a staff meeting that he would be taking action against the CEO and CFO? Yet, who had disciplinary charges forged against them? The whistle-blowers! Those who exposed the abuse of public funding, rather than those responsible for such abuse!

Again, this is an utter indictment on the Department and the Minister whose propaganda would have us believe that they act swiftly “when whistle-blowers and individuals report worrisome matters…”. (Unless they mean that they act promptly AGAINST the whistle-blowers).

So, who will investigate the Minister? Who will investigate the Department? Who will investigate the previous Council members – Sibiletso Mokone-Matabane, Brooks Spector, Shado Twala, Kopano Xaba and Cedric Nunn? They are all complicit in and directly responsible for what transpired at the Market Theatre and the issues over a number of years that led to the recent disciplinary hearings. Yet, unlike the senior management of the Market Theatre who have kept it going all through their disciplinary processes with all the damage being wreaked on their personal lives, none of the minister, DAC officials or previous Council members has been held accountable (other than Gumbi whom the minister sacked after receiving the forensic report, and which confirmed much of what he had been told by the Market Theatre’s management anyway, BEFORE he reappointed Gumbi in April 2018!).

The Council of the Market Theatre meekly took the ‘forensic report’, drafted charges based on the report (without first interrogating it themselves or why would they have charged the CEO in relation to incidents that happened before he was even appointed at the Market Theatre?), and then outsourced the prosecution and disciplinary process to independent agencies. One of the charges against the CEO was that he had brought the Market Theatre into disrepute by leaking information which had formed the basis of the City Press article. The CEO and CFO invoked the Protection Disclosures Act in their defence, claiming that they were whistle-blowers; their claim was upheld by the independent commissioner, again exposing the Council, the DAC and the Minister for their failures to take action in the past.

(If this was a ‘forensic report’, conducted at great cost, one has to wonder about its ‘forensic’ nature and its recommendations if not a single charge stuck. Or were the prosecutors appointed by the Market just so incompetent? What did all this – the forensic report, the disciplinary process, the defence attorneys, etc – cost? And on an outcome in which all were cleared? Would this not constitute “fruitless and wasteful expenditure”?)

The Council of the Market Theatre appointed in April 2018 has changed quite substantially through this course of these events. Gumbi was fired. Spector and Mokone-Matabane resigned within three months of being reappointed when questions began to be raised, and on the eve of the appointment the forensic investigators. Unathi Malunga, also appointed in April 2018, resigned when she took up the reigns at another publicly-funded entity. The Council now comprises Gerald Dumas and Nalini Maharaj as chair and deputy chair respectively, Shado Twala and Kopano Xaba from the pre-April 2018 Council, and newer members in Sershan Naidoo, Phyllis Klotz and Andre le Roux. The letterhead bearing the Dumas’ release states that Kaizer Nyatsumba is a member of the Council, but the Market’s website excludes him.

When Mthethwa and the President Ramaphosa visited the Market Theatre to present an award to the Ndlovu Youth Choir after they had excelled internationally, he asked Council members who were present to prevent the CEO and CFO from attending the ceremony, lest the media pose embarrassing questions in front of the President. Shockingly, the Council members agreed. “Guilty until proven innocent”, appears to be a foundation of “good governance” espoused by the Minister and implemented by sheep-like Council members.

In – rightly – lambasting the ethics and irresponsibility of some of the media in this particular case , the Council would also do well to reflect on its own ethics, on the manner in which they managed the charges and subsequent disciplinary processes and on their acquiescence to political influence. How the Council expects a new page to be turned when they have generally left their management out to dry as some kind of (false) “equivalence” to balance Mthethwa’s firing of Gumbi, and how they expect management to work with staff members who trumped up charges of racism against them and worked with the Gumbi to have them removed, is beyond me.

Despite the progressive legislation we have, whistle-blowers have it extremely hard in our country. The impact on their physical, emotional and psychological health, the suffering that their families endure, the reputational damage they have to combat while those in power with far more resources and political backing seek to shift the narrative from their own corruption, and of course, the financial costs of defending themselves against charges that should never have been brought in the first place – these are some of the main reasons why so few – understandably – take this route.

In our context where politicians back the corrupt, where patronage is deemed more important than serving the mandate of publicly-funded institutions, where weak Councils genuflect to the minister rather than govern in the best interests of their institution, where the personal costs of integrity and principle are so severe, the brave individuals who do blow the whistle on corruption and maladministration, should be recognised and saluted. They are the heroes of our time.

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The State of the Nation’s Arts (SONA) Address (an imagined speech by the country’s President)

Introduction

Esteemed guests, especially the country’s creative community, both those present and those watching this live stream, I am extremely excited by this moment in our country’s history, and by what our arts, culture and heritage community can offer us in changing the course of our current trajectory.

I am aware that there are many who were disappointed that I had not mentioned the arts in my speech during the opening of parliament, but I wanted a more appropriate forum to make this speech rather than include a paragraph about the creative sector as a box-ticking exercise (which, to my regret, is what we did in the National Development Plan).

As you know, just last week at the 33rd Assembly of the African Union, I and eleven other Heads of State, accepted the invitation of His Excellency Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, President of the Republic of Mali and AU leader for Arts, Culture and Heritage, to act as co-champions of this important sector.

The Council of Peers – as it has been named – includes the heads of state of Cape Verde, Ghana, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Morocco, Egypt, Kenya, Ethiopia, Mali and Namibia.

We have adopted a draft resolution to declare 2021 as the year of culture.

This year, 2020, I pledge that South Africa will build on what we have in our creative and cultural sector, so that 2021 will serve as a platform for even greater achievements by our artists, our social cultural entrepreneurs and our creative enterprises in the years to come.

Celebration

I’d like to begin by celebrating our creative workers who are excelling on the world’s stages. In recent times we have lost icons such as Bra Hugh Masekela, Johnny Clegg and Joseph Shabalala, but music performers as diverse as Sho Madjozi, the Nldovu Youth Choir, Black Coffee, Wouter Kellerman, Die Antwoord, Pretty Yende and Pumeza Matshikiza continue to excel abroad.

Gavin Hood received rave reviews for his recent film, Official Secrets. Influence, a documentary by Richard Poplak and Diane Neille, was screened at the prestigious Sundance International Film Festival just a few weeks ago. Christian Olwagen’s Kanarie has been celebrated on the international film festival circuit, as have the movies made by Big World Cinema, a company that works across the African continent. Catching Feelings and Vaya are just two of many examples of South African movies on Netflix, and Knuckle City represented our country at the recent Oscars.

Literary icons like Zakes Mda and Deon Meyer continue to sell more books globally than at home while younger writers like Koleka Putuma, Niq Mhlongo and Sisonke Msimang have burgeoning reputations abroad. South African artists like William Kentridge, photographer Zanele Muholi, Tracey Rose, Mohau Modisakeng and Kemang Wa Lehulere are among many from our country who feature constantly in the international arts market.

South African dancers like Mthuthuzeli November, Alice Godfrey and Mlindi Kulashe are plying their trade in some of the world’s leading contemporary dance companies while Gregory Maqoma and his Vuyani Dance Company have blown away audiences across the globe. Works by choreographers like Dada Masilo, Luyanda Sidiya, Mamela Nyamza, PJ Sabbagha, Fana Tshabalala, Nelisiwe Xaba and Vincent Mantsoe are sought after in European theatres and festivals.

The creations of the Handspring Puppet Theatre Company and the works of Athol Fugard continue to be in evidence across the world’s stages. The Market Theatre, as it did during the apartheid era, continues to tour excellent South African productions abroad.  Last weekend, the Baxter Theatre hosted the Rolex Arts Weekend with major arts icons from around the globe – Wole Soyinka, Mira Nair and Robert Wilson, along with tennis great, Roger Federer – affirming the international stature of this theatre, and its director, Lara Foot. Amy Jephta, Lesedi Job, Napo Masheane and Neil Coppen are among those well on their way to making an international impact. A South African, Yvette Hardie, is in her third three-year term as the president of ASSITEJ, the international children’s and youth theatre network.

These are just some of the numerous South African creatives and creative organisations that are active on the world stage because of their excellence.

We acknowledge that many of these achievements have been made without us as government, rather than because of us. This is both an affirmation of the resilience, the talent and the hard work of our creatives, and a challenge to us as government to do more to create the conditions in which the arts, their creators, our cultures and heritage can flourish.

Africa’s share of the global creative economy is less than 1%; while South Africa makes a significant contribution to that figure, it is not only for economic reasons that we will invest further in our creative sector. Embedded within creative products are values, aesthetic traditions and ways of seeing the world so that Africans generally, and South Africa in particular, need to more actively participate in projecting our perspectives into the global market of ideas. Culture is the terrain of soft power; the more we support our creatives in producing and distributing their work on the global stage, the better for “Brand South Africa”, but more importantly, the better our chance of influence in the battle of ideas that shape history.

We no longer want our continent’s rich creative wealth – the raw and unique talents across all disciplines – to be exported in much the same way as our rich mineral wealth is, to be beneficiated elsewhere. We acknowledge that we have lost many of our creatives – opera singers, choreographers, theatre-makers, musicians, visual artists, filmmakers – to other countries for failing to create the conditions in which they could excel sustainably. We recognise the need to invest in human resources, in infrastructure, in access to capital at all levels of the value chain: in education, creation, production, distribution and consumption in order to grow our share of the global creative economy, but also to impact on global thinking.

However, we must also recognise the local conditions in which we are doing this: high levels of unemployment and poverty, and extreme levels of inequality. In promoting our creative sector, we cannot simply emphasise the market-oriented creative industries as the products of these will be available primarily to those with disposable income. In this scenario, those who were excluded under apartheid by ‘race’, by geography, by programming and by cost, will continue to be excluded on the basis of class; thus, our approach has to be cognisant of the range of realities that exist within our fractured society.

Foundations

Against this background, the following principles will underpin the policies, strategies and funding mechanisms that we implement in the next five years in particular:

  1. Human beings are not only physical entities whose physical needs such as housing, food, clothing and medical care need to be catered for; we also have psychological, emotional, intellectual and spiritual dimensions that need to nurtured and fulfilled in order for us to realise our full human potential. Participation in and access to music, theatre, literature, film, dance, visual arts and the like are important means of cultivating these human dimensions so that our education system and society more broadly need to provide exposure and opportunities for all our citizens, irrespective of their economic status or geographical location, to engage with the arts. This resonates with the Freedom Charter which declares that “the doors of learning and culture shall be open”.   Apartheid dehumanised us and black people in particular, by regarding them simply as units of labour. We cannot continue to do this by promoting an education system and social practice that regard our citizens mainly as cogs in an economic machine rather than as holistic human beings, active and rounded citizens, capable of informed action in a democratic dispensation.
  2. We are building a society premised on fundamental human rights. Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “everyone shall have the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community (and) to enjoy the arts…”. Access to the arts is not a luxury; it is a fundamental human right along with the rights to shelter, education, food, freedom of thought, and the like.
  3. Human rights are for everyone; given our history and the contemporary inequalities in our society, we must ensure that everyone has the means to enjoy and practice their constitutional rights and freedoms, not only those who have resources, networks and access to infrastructure based on historical privilege. Our nascent democratic project requires a myriad voices and practices; our citizens – particularly those in less-resourced parts of our country and those in our urban centres with less access to capital – need to have the means to exercise their constitutional right to freedom of creative expression.
  4. We have not paid sufficient attention to culture – value systems, traditions, languages, religious beliefs, ways of seeing the world – that inform how individuals and communities relate to and practice human rights and fundamental freedoms. We believe in gender equity and in equal rights for our LGBTI citizens, but we do little to interrogate, understand and mitigate the cultural factors that impact adversely on these rights. Historically, cultural policies have focused narrowly on the arts and heritage; in future, we will recognise the transversal nature of culture (values, traditions, beliefs, etc) and its potentially negative and destructive impacts on various aspect of our lives.
  5. The nature of our country’s key challenges – inequality, poverty and unemployment – has caused us in recent times to start with these and examine how all sectors of our society can address these. In doing so with the creative sector, we have pigeonholed and severely limited its potential by demanding that it serves these political imperatives. Our future approach will be: how can we best nurture, promote and unleash our creative sector, and in doing so, we will grow our global and continental influence, provide our citizens with a better quality of life and more organically address the country’s three major challenges.

Proposals

We welcome the coming into being of the I’m4theArts group and its more than 11500 members, and acknowledge the issues raised by the creative sector. As a government sensitive to its constituency, we have noted these and rather than repeat them, we hope that through the following proposals, many of these concerns will be addressed. Most of these proposals are not new, and they represent a synthesis of recommendations that have been in the public domain for a while.

EDUCATION

All primary school learners will have access to education in music, drama, visual arts and dance. They will also be exposed to the arts and heritage through – at least – quarterly visits to museums, plays, music performances, galleries, etc

All high school learners will have a foundational course in cultural studies. All high school learners will be required to learn, and matriculate in at least one indigenous African language.

All high school learners will have the option of taking at least one subject in drama, music, film, visual arts and design and dance as a matric subject.

Specialist teachers will provide the education and training in these subjects and will be supplemented by artists-in-residence who will provide practical training and support in their respective disciplines.

Each province will have at least one tertiary institution that offers certificate, diploma, degree and post-graduate courses in each of the art disciplines, in cultural studies, arts and heritage management (including cultural policy) and cultural entrepreneurship.

Life-long learning opportunities will be made available through multifunctional arts centres that will be distributed throughout the country.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Each province will have nationally-subsidised infrastructure that will form part of a national circuit of venues for the distribution of theatre, dance, music, film and other art forms. Those regions that do not currently have a nationally-subsidised theatre, will have state-of-the art, nationally-subsidised multi-functional arts centres (with theatre/dance as well as gallery, museum, studio and rehearsal spaces) established in their provincial capitals.

In co-operation with provincial and local municipalities, we will roll out ten multifunctional arts centres per year for the next five years to ensure that as many of our people as possible have access to the arts and to opportunities to engage in the arts. National government will take responsibility for building the infrastructure while provinces and local government will be responsible for operational and programmatic costs. We will identify at least three tertiary institutions to train the leadership and management necessary to run these arts centres effectively and sustainably. There will be no cadre deployment with the best and most qualified people being appointed to serve our people through these institutions.

While it is government’s responsibility to make available infrastructure close to where people live in order for them to enjoy the cultural rights outlined above, we will create a fund to support initiatives by citizens to develop cultural infrastructure, particularly in less-resourced communities, and to underpin sustainable township and rural cultural eco-systems.

We spend more than one-billion rand on cultural infrastructure, mainly in urban centres, each year; I am not convinced that we are getting optimal return on this investment. We will rigorously examine this expenditure and downgrade and even shut down some of this infrastructure where it is not delivering, to free up resources to support cultural infrastructure initiatives elsewhere.

FUNDING

Our funding for the arts, culture and heritage sector has – at best – been confused. We talk of creative industries that by definition are driven by markets and profit-making entrepreneurship, but we make available public funding primarily for non-profits, thereby creating and perpetuating a loss-making consciousness within our creative community. The creative sector is best served by a mixed economy, ranging from activities that require major public subsidy e.g. museums, theatre, dance and opera companies, orchestras, etc to activities that are able to survive in the local and international markets e.g. stand up comedy, fashion, visual arts and design, with other activities sustaining themselves through a combination of public sector funding, private sector sponsorship and box office income.

Accordingly, we will now make public funding available in recognition of three broad practices of the arts through different funding mechanisms:

a. Funding to support the arts in their own right, to support freedom of creative expression, to support creative practice for human development (through structures such as the NAC, NFVF, etc)

b. Funding to support cultural social entrepreneurs i.e. those who use the arts for socially good ends, to change behaviour, without there necessarily being paying markets for such work (art for social development) and

c. Funding – start up grants, low interest loans, etc – to support profit-making micro and small creative enterprises (art for economic development), including support services such as marketing, event management, etc

We will bring together the various funding agencies – NAC, NFVF, BASA, SAHC, NLC, MGE, etc – to unite behind a common vision for the sector, with each playing their particular, but complementary roles, rather than competing against each other.

We will institute one application form for all funding agencies.

Funding agencies will be required – at risk to their most senior staff – to make their first grant instalments to successful applicants no later than four months after the deadline for funding applications; follow up grants will be made within six weeks of reports being received.

Public funding agencies will be required to assist creatives in completing application forms and in submitting their reporting requirements.

Corporates may allocate – tax free – up to 0,5% of their taxable income and individuals may allocate up to 5% of their taxable income to arts projects, companies and artists of their choice.

EMPLOYMENT

By their labour-intensive nature, some genres within the performing arts are less able to survive purely in the marketplace than practitioners within other disciplines, who operate more as individuals. Accordingly, government – national and provincial – will subsidise one contemporary dance and one theatre company per province, each with 10-12 members (at least 50% to be women, and inclusive of technical staff), with the option of being based at the nationally-subsidised provincial theatres/arts infrastructure.

National government will subsidise one touring African dance ensemble, one touring opera company, one African music orchestra and one classical music orchestra (to be based in the same city as the opera company). Existing companies as well as new entities will be invited to apply to be granted these subsidies, with government’s intention to have these companies spread between the north and south of the country.

Nationally-subsidised infrastructure and companies will be provided with resources to contract resident choreographers, directors, playwrights, designers etc on short-to-medium-term (up to 3 years) contracts. No nationally subsidised infrastructure may employ an artistic director for longer than 5 years to allow for fresh blood to enter and older blood to be circulated through the industry.

We will work with artists’ unions and professional associations to set minimum remuneration scales, which shall apply across the board (public and private institutions).

Funding agencies will be provided with ringfenced funding aimed specifically at providing new entrants into the industry with capital to create and distribute their work.

SOCIAL BENEFITS

We have instructed SARS to interrogate the nature of the arts industry and the intermittent sources of income which characterise the sector, and to devise and implement appropriate tax scales and a tax system that recognises the unique circumstances of the industry.

As per UNESCO’s Recommendation Concerning the status of the Artist, government will pass legislation to provided unemployment insurance for the creative sector (including artists, technicians, etc), and underwrite a provident fund and medical insurance scheme specifically designed for this sector.

A retirement village for the creative sector will be established in the north and the south of the country.

A mechanism will be created to support creatives and technical personnel who have mental health concerns as well as those who wish to recover from substance abuse.

CULTURE

We will work with three tertiary institutions, each responsible for three different provinces, to undertake ongoing research into the cultural practices, traditions, belief systems and values of communities in those provinces to help us to understand the impact of culture on our development strategies and vice versa so that we may formulate appropriate strategies to mitigate adverse relationships where necessary.

These cultural research institutes will also inform the development of cultural studies courses at schools and tertiary institutions, as well as the aesthetic development of the country’s artistic and creative practices.

As culture is a transversal phenomenon impacting on all aspects of society, it cannot be managed in a ministry acting as a silo. Accordingly, we will establish a cultural unit in each national department to interrogate, monitor and manage the relationship between the goals and mandate of that department and the culture of the citizens who are to be its beneficiaries. These units will be coordinated by the department responsible for arts, culture and heritage.

OMBUDSMAN

The arts, culture and heritage sector is not immune to the challenges of gender-based violence, corruption, poor governance and victimisation that plague our society generally. In consultation with the sector, we will develop a Code of Conduct that will govern behaviour and interpersonal relationships within the sector, and which all will be required to abide by, particularly those who receive/benefit from public funds

An independent Ombudsman will be appointed to serve the creative sector in particular, and it will be sufficiently resourced to deal with allegations of corruption, contraventions of the Code of Conduct, labour relations issues, incompetence within government and publicly-funded agencies. All allegations will be registered on a website, and progress in resolving each item may be monitored on the website. The Ombudsman will be empowered to grant the fullest protection to whistle-blowers; whistle-blowers will be able to submit allegations and information to the Ombudsman anonymously if they choose.

Conclusion

We will do all the groundwork necessary in order to ensure that all the proposals outlined here will be implemented from 1 January 2021, if not before. Accordingly, we will need fresh energy and expertise to drive this programme.

I would like to take this opportunity then to thank Mr Nathi Mthethwa for his work in the department over the last few years, and I trust that he will enjoy his new appointment as the country’s ambassador to Honduras.

I would also like to welcome Ms Sibongile Mngoma as the new Minister responsible for arts, culture and heritage, as someone who is connected to, understands and enjoys the respect of the sector.

I look forward to working with her in realising our country’s tremendous potential for its arts, culture and heritage and the broader political, social, economic and human impacts they will make through the talented, passionate and committed individuals who are active in the sector.

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Beyond Useful Idiocy: Towards being Agents of Real Change

Introduction

Thirty years ago, we celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall. Both in concrete terms and metaphorically, it represented a new beginning for the world. The Cold War had ended, and liberal democracy, the handmaiden of the free market, was set to usher in a new era of prosperity, human well-being and political stability.

1989 was also the moment at which the winds of change began to sweep through my home country, South Africa. Proscribed political organisations were unbanned, political prisoners released, and the dream of ‘the rainbow nation’, people of different hues separated by apartheid, now living together in harmony, was unleashed.

Yet, just three decades on, we live in a heavily polarised world, divided by two key faultlines: inequality and culture. Inequality with regard to who wields economic, political, military and cultural power, and culture: different value and belief systems, different traditions, different forms of individual and communal identity-making that texture and make more complex conflicts that are rooted in inequality.

According to a report in USA Today, at the end of World War 2, there were 7 border walls around the world. By the time the Berlin Wall fell, there were more than 15. Today, there are at least 77 walls, including more than 1000km of fences in Europe, more than six times the length of the Berlin Wall, many of these built since the influx of refugees from wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa in 2015.

Like war, building walls is good business. A recent report by the Transnational Institute reveals that at least 900 million EUR have been spent on walls in Europe and a further 999 million on virtual walls (radar, IT equipment, drones and the like). “Perversely”, says the report, three of the main beneficiaries of this expenditure, are European arms dealers that export weapons to the Middle East and North Africa, thereby contributing to the conflicts that cause migration and refugees in the first place.

South Africa has become a metaphor for the world. Fundamental inequalities – rooted in the historical exploitation of the black majority by a white minority – have been exacerbated in a society in which the inherent dignity of everyone is now enshrined in the Constitution. And yet, we have become one of the most unequal societies in the world with just 10% of us earning more than 60% of the national income; poverty makes a mockery of the inherent dignity of most citizens. Little wonder then that social problems proliferate, with the ‘haves’ building higher walls, with electric fencing, linked to private security firms or live in gated communities.

And if the inequalities, their social consequences, and the threat to the privileged are not being sufficiently metaphorical, then South Africa also has a major problem with refugees and migrants, particularly from other parts of the African continent, whom they claim are responsible for crime and for stealing their jobs.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, we’ve had the attacks now known as 9/11, the Israeli wall along the West Bank, the coming and going of the so-called Arab Spring, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, the clash of civilisations as some would have it, or as Hungary’s Victor Orban bluntly put it “Muslim invaders who threaten Hungary’s and Europe’s Christian identity”.

This is the divided, polarised, us-them world in which we seek to do “international cultural relations”, to engage in “cultural diplomacy”, to promote “intercultural dialogue”…to what end? Indeed, to what end?

Two weeks ago, I was part of a study tour to Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, formerly part of East Germany. The aim was to hear what the fall of the Berlin Wall meant for people living in that region. Across the spectrum, people felt alienated, their education and contributions were deemed of lesser value than West German citizens; on average, they earned 25% less than their West German counterparts; few East Germans were represented in senior management of universities or of corporates. This accounted for some of the disillusionment with the traditional, major political parties and the growth of parties like the right wing AFD and the left Linke parties.

Now, if 30 years later, there is this kind of alienation and feelings of marginalisation in a unified Germany, that is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, relatively homogenous, with a common language, just imagine the alienation and marginalisation felt by those on the underside of contemporary history.

Two weeks ago, South Africa’s national rugby team won the Rugby World Cup in Japan, beating England in the final. This led to an outpouring of national pride and happiness across the country, much like the winning of the Rugby World Cup in 1995 in South Africa, with Nelson Mandela donning the number six jersey of the white Afrikaner captain of the team, becoming the inspiration for the movie, Invictus, which some of you might have seen. And yet, on social media, there has been deep divisions with some bemoaning the sight of black and white people celebrating together, as more ‘rainbow nation’ mythology that negates the deep disparities that exist within the country.

Which again raises the question of intercultural dialogue, cultural diplomacy and intercultural relations in the context of fundamental global and regional inequalities: to what end?

Is it to maintain the inequitable status quo? To defend privilege through co-option? To exert soft power, in order to retain the gains made through hard power? Or is it to seek real, fundamental change that may challenge our comfort in the short term, but which may ensure more sustainable peace in the longer term?

Some examples of inequality to frame our thoughts:

On Thursday, the United Nations General Assembly again voted overwhelmingly – for the 28th time – for the financial, economic and trade blockade by the USA of Cuba to end. 187 countries against the USA, Israel and Brazil, with Colombia and Ukraine abstaining. But with five countries – including the USA – enjoying veto rights in the Security Council, the resolution will not carry because it is not in the interests of a so-called leading democracy to abide by a democratic decision.

Because of their superior military power, the USA and Britain were able to invade Iraq on the basis of fake intelligence and even though, in terms of the UN Charter, the war was illegal. The political leaders responsible for the war, for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and for the continuing instability in that country and the region, continue to walk freely, and have not been – and will not be – held to account.

Whose values and ideas dominate, whose way of life is valorised, which perspectives on world events carry the most influence, which victims of terror are humanised, in other words, whose culture assumes hegemony, depends on who has global or regional reach through news and media outlets, audio visual products and distribution networks, and access to digital platforms. According to the UN Conference of Trade and Development Reports on the global creative economy, Africa’s share of world trade in the creative industries is less than 1%. This matters not only because of the gross imbalances in trade in creative goods and services, but also because embedded within creative goods such as movies, television programmes and gaming, are ideas, values, beliefs, perspectives on the world, so that Africans are largely consumers of these products emanating from elsewhere, imbibing their cultural content. Few African films, plays, books make it to European hearts and minds; those that do, would probably be due to European funding and selection.

With Euronews, Sky, BBC, French Television, Deutsche Welt, we are able to hear the stories of victims of terror in Europe, to empathise with them and their families but there are no international media platforms from Africa, for example, that project – through an African lens – African stories, the narratives of more than a billion people who live on that continent. Accordingly, they, we are seen through the eyes of Europe – as illegal migrants or refugees, as the unwanted, wretched of the earth.

A 2018 UNESCO Report showed that – on average – Africans are able to travel to 75 countries without visas, about 40% of the 180 countries that those with European passports may travel to without requiring a visa.

A colleague at the same university at which I am currently based, posted this on Twitter earlier this year:

“Getting through security and passport control at Frankfurt Airport is my worst experience at a European airport so far. It took nearly two hours and a million questions about my qualifications. The guy at Passport Control couldn’t believe I was invited to an academic conference. Even after I showed him my invitation letter. He was like ‘why do they call you doctor? You’re a doctor of what? So why are you going there?’ Same questions over and over again.”

Another friend cancelled a lecture she was due to give in London in September this year after her experience of going through the visa application process which she described as “humiliating, overpriced and unfair.”.   Notwithstanding numerous previous visits to the UK, she wrote on Facebook that “we are made to feel like criminals each time rather than collaborators and guests”.

These are examples of the deep, structural and fundamental inequalities that exist within the world in which we seek to pursue cultural relations. To what end?

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, declares Article One of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But in our lived experience, we know this not to be true. We are born into inequality, free to be treated with indignity and having our fundamental rights disrespected, precisely as a consequence of a world founded on, perpetuating and increasing inequality.

Not that long ago, Africans were kidnapped violently to work as cheap, slave labour to drive the economies of America and of European powers. Then, as they became more ‘civilised’, these white countries abolished slavery and replaced it with colonialism, with the Berlin Conference of 1884/5 arbitrarily dividing up Africa between 13 European countries. Africans were forced to learn European languages and were Christianised – so-called ‘civilised’ – while providing the cheap labour to extract the raw materials to drive the manufacturing economies of Europe in particular. Then came the end of the second world war, and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, but it was only a decade later that the decolonisation process began in Africa; universal human rights were initially the preserve of white nations. Now in a globalised, technology-linked world, it is possible to relocate factories to the Global South, to pay labour at rates and in working conditions far below what would be the standard or acceptable in the Global North, increasing profits and repatriating wealth to the countries where those companies are based, to support the much higher quality of life of their citizens.

Having been forced to serve as slaves, now that Africans would like to sell their labour voluntarily on the international market, they are not welcome, unless they are doctors, nurses or gifted footballers. Although, even gifted footballers are racially abused in civilised Europe, where the same racist impulses that drove slavery and colonialism continue to inform attitudes towards people of colour.

Thus has it always been: many lives are expendable, so that the privileged may live; many have their human rights denied, so that some may enjoy their fundamental freedoms; many have their dignity eroded, so that a few may feel secure.

If cultural democracy is about the equitable and free flow of ideas, values and perspectives that may compete for hegemony and for the hearts and minds of ordinary people, then a world characterised by huge structural inequalities, presents insurmountable obstacles to cultural democracy.

‘Culture in democratic action’ – but it is those with resources who are better able to exercise their democratic rights to freedom of expression freedom of association, freedom of movement, or determine how democracy unfolds and whose interests it serves.

Is a competitive ‘market of ideas and values’ what the advocates of cultural diplomacy, of international cultural relations really want, anyway?

In July 2017, the European Parliament passed a resolution on culture in European international relations, highlighting “…the important role of culture in EU external policy as a soft power tool, a catalyst for peacekeeping, stability and reconciliation…” but regretting that in “…the EU Global Strategy…the intrinsic value of culture and art as restraints against radicalism and terrorism is not mentioned…”

While policies appear to emphasise “values” in international relations, in reality, it is interests that shape international policy. Values like human rights, gender equality and freedom of expression are affirmed until economic, geo-political and security interests dictate otherwise. The EU Resolution ‘regrets…that culture as restraints against radicalism and terrorism is not mentioned”…but, rather than look to culture as a restraint against radicalisation, how about addressing inequality, or not supporting repressive regimes, or terrorising innocent civilians with bombs, all of which lead to radicalisation?

The British government earns billions of pounds through sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia that leads the war on Yemen, and then it may send in the British Council to conduct international cultural relations in Yemen to restrain radicalism and terrorism that may arise as a result of this war. To engage in international cultural relations as a strategy to counter the symptoms of inequality and injustice, is to perpetuate the lie that what matters is values, rather than interests – whether we recognise these or not.

Which brings me to my deliberately provocative title “Beyond Useful Idiocy: Towards being agents of real change”. When we engage in cultural diplomacy or international cultural relations, we do so against the backdrop of historical injustices, of contemporary inequalities and in the service of particular interests.

The European Union is probably the most significant political, economic and cultural bloc globally and its influence is experienced in multiple ways through trade, its media platforms, development aid, cultural partnerships, etc. The EU formulates a resolution on culture in international relations, as is its right without having to consult other countries, but countries in the Global South and elsewhere will feel the effect of these policies as they are projected through European media platforms and institutions like EUNIC, the French Institute, British Council and Goethe Institute. Because it has the resources, the EU Commission is able to host a colloquium on ‘culture and the future’ as it did in June this year, and invite practitioners from Africa, the Arab region, Asia and Latin America and foist a Manifesto on them for adoption, and it would be accepted because of the fear of alienating the EU and potential resources, particularly when practitioners come from countries where there is little or no public support for creative practice. This is an obvious point but those who have resources, wield superior power in international cultural relations.

And yet, if we are to find sustainable answers to our globe’s challenges, we need to engage in robust, honest debate, to challenge our respective assumptions and ways of doing things, and the idea that those who are resourced know better, or should be privileged in finding and implementing solutions on their terms.

This is the background against which I’ve been involved in various networks – Arterial Network, the African Cultural Policy Network and the Global South Arts and Culture Initiative (GLOSACI) – representing attempts by Global South practitioners to have their voices hears where policy is made, to interrogate policies that are introduced to us by Europe to determine their relevance, if any, to our conditions, and to advocate around issues that directly affect us, as GLOSACI is doing in respect of the restricted mobility and undignified treatment of Global South creatives.

Ultimately though, we need to work together, north and south, to provide the vision, the leadership and the strategies that the world needs in order to change our current trajectory which is unsustainable.

My personal vision in this regard is for a Global Institute for Cultural Leadership and Change-making, with a cohort of 30-60 participants from all regions, meeting in 5 or 6 ten-day campuses, over a period of two years, with each campus being on a different continent – Beirut, Delhi, Bogota, Kigali, Vancouver, Berlin. Participants would learn about global issues, like climate change, about the region in which each campus takes place, about the cultural dimension of the challenges they face and how to mitigate these, and they would establish solidarity and mutual respect through relationships that would be built through working, learning and having experiences together over a sustained period. It would not be resourced Europe or America inviting young leaders to learn its values or on its terms, it would be a global network of young leaders learning about the world, having not just intellectual engagement, but visceral, emotional experiences.

I have seen the value of these kinds of learning experiences through the Atelier for Young Festival Managers over the last two years, hosted in Africa, and in Europe, but with participants from every continent, and with mentors and facilitators from around the globe.

It is a counter-intuitive model: rather than Europe setting an agenda which has others coming to learn on Europe’s terms, perhaps to be co-opted to perpetuate European privilege, it’s about Europe helping to create and resource a learning environment in which diversity is encouraged, and the experiences of “the other” help to shape the programme, to find mutual solutions. And then it’s about putting those relationships to work.

Thank you for the opportunity to share this provocation; I look forward to ongoing conversations. And to action. Not out of guilt, but understanding, empathy, and human solidarity. To change the world, in our common and collective interests.

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The EU Strategy on Culture in International Relations: A Critique

 Presentation to EUNIC meeting, 28 June 2019

Introduction

Thank you for the opportunity to be part of your meeting today, and for accommodating my participation by way of technology.   I’m talking to you in my capacity as part of the leadership of the African Cultural Policy Network, and the nascent Global South Arts and Culture Initiative.  It is against this background that my provocation today will focus on the European Parliament’s resolution on culture as part of the EU’s strategy for international cultural relations, adopted in July 2017.

Every country, region or political bloc has the right to formulate cultural policies and strategies that serve their strategic interests in the economic, political, cultural or geo-security spheres.

The European Union is one of the most significant political, economic and cultural blocs globally, and its influence is experienced in multiple ways, through trade, military assistance, development aid, cultural partnerships e.g. through EUNIC agencies, as well as through projecting its interests, perspectives and values via a range of global media platforms.

Thus, when the European Union formulates and implements a resolution that focuses on culture in international relations, it is not simply a resolution that has to do with promoting harmonious people-to-people relations across various divides; it is fundamentally about culture serving the soft power interests of the European bloc, as the Resolution itself declares.

Countries and regions outside of Europe do not co-formulate cultural policies with Europe, but they do experience the ramifications of such policies, with many countries in the Global South embracing these policies as they come with resources, or because such countries rarely have the capacity to interrogate such policies at government level.

The European Union versus the African Union

European cultural policies and strategies are far more likely to influence cultural and artistic practice on the African continent than African regional cultural policies and initiatives.

For example, although not a specifically European policy, 44 African countries have ratified the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, 80% of the total number of countries on the continent.  Twenty-four of these had ratified the Convention by the end of 2008, three years after the approval of the text at UNESCO’s General Assembly in 2005.

By contrast, the African Union adopted its own Charter for African Cultural Renaissance in January 2006; the Charter would come into force once it was ratified by two-thirds of the 55 African countries.  As of this year – 2019 – only 13 countries have ratified the Charter, so that it has now been decided that it will come into effect once it has reached a threshold of a mere 15 ratifications.

This critique of the Resolution will pick up on some of its key themes.

Culture and Development

Objective 4 of the Resolution calls for cultural rights to be promoted as integral to fundamental rights, and for culture to be considered for its intrinsic value as a fourth standalone, transversal pillar of sustainable development together with social, economic and environmental dimensions

Development is not a neutral activity.  It is, in fact, an act of culture.  Whatever interests it serves and however it is defined, development is premsied on values, worldviews, ideas and ideological assumptions, with the development process acting on the values, beliefs and meaning-making of the intended beneficiaries of development.

In 2009, the European Commission co-hosted with the ACP Secretariat a colloquium in Brussels on the theme “Culture as a Vector of Development”; at that time too, culture was regarded as one of the four pillars of Europe’s development policies.  Soon after that Colloquium however, culture was abandoned by the EU, yet here we are ten years later, encountering a similar moment with the EU having just hosted a colloquium for creative professionals on the theme “Culture for the Future”.  There is a new EU parliament in place with new commissioners about to be appointed, so that there is no guarantee that culture will continue to be part of the EU’s development or international agenda.

Such real and possible changes point to the vulnerability of culture in development and international relations given the shifts in political, economic, domestic, geo-strategic interests of donor or partner blocs such as the EU.

As we all know, the classic definition of sustainable development is “meeting the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” which underscores the relevance of the environmental, social and economic pillars of development.  However, the importance of culture as the fourth pillar of sustainable development has less to do with this definition than with the understanding that for development to be sustainable, it has to take cognisance of, and be rooted in the value and belief systems, the traditions, the identity and meaning making – in short, the culture – of the intended beneficiaries.

For example, one of the SDGs goal is gender equity and the empowerment of women and girls through education.  However, in many societies, patriarchy – underpinned by religious and other social values – assign women and girls to a lesser status than men, so that development in this instance, needs to take this into account when formulating strategies that address fundamental cultural questions that militate against the realisation of the proposed development goals.

The Resolution is rather weak on defining and asserting – practically – the cultural dimension of the EU’s development agenda.

Creative and Cultural Industries

Objective 15 of the Resolution welcomes…the cultural and creative industries as an important element of the EU’s strategy for international cultural relations; (with) these industries contribut(ing) to Europe’s ‘soft power’ in their role as ambassadors of European values…

In recent times, the creative and cultural industries have largely been regarded as the “cultural dimension of development”, that by contributing to job creation and economic growth, they would generate resources needed for human and social development.

However, there are at least four primary reasons why the contribution of the CCIs to human, social and economic development is a fallacious argument, at least in the African context.

First, most African countries have not had a problem with economic growth over the last 15-20 years.  This, however, has not translated into human and social development; rather, inequality has deepened and the numbers of people who live below the poverty line in Sub-Saharan Africa have increased in the last two decades.  There is no real correlation between economic growth and human and social development in the African experience.

Second, most Africans make their livings in the agricultural sector and/or the informal economy.  The potential for the CCIs to have some kind of economic impact is related to the formal economy with features such as effectively policed copyright regimes, successful tax systems and the capacity to monitor income streams and jobs per sector; few of which exist in most African countries.

Third, as with its rich mineral resources, Africa is not short on the raw material of the CCIs – talent!  And yet, as with mineral resources, there are huge deficiencies (infrastructure, human resources, access to capital, etc) at all levels of the value chain in every discipline – education, creation, production, distribution, consumption and documentation.

Finally, South Africa, with probably the most diversified economy on the African continent, has concentrated on the creative and cultural industries since it adopted the Cultural Industries Growth Strategy in 1998.  However, notwithstanding relatively strong CCIs (compared to other African countries), inequality (the top 10% earn 60% of national income), poverty (55% of the population) and unemployment (26%) have all worsened in the last two decades.  It is inappropriate to burden the arts and culture sector with expectations to address major development challenges that more productive sectors of the economy have been unable to meet.

Moreover, a cultural and creative industries approach to development with such industries requiring significant markets to sustain themselves and grow, would exclude most Africans from exercising their cultural rights to participate in the cultural life of the community and to enjoy the arts, as they simply do not possess the disposable income to be such markets. 

Intercultural dialogue and EU values

Objective 41 emphasises the need to redefine the important role of national cultural institutes in intercultural exchanges, bearing in mind that some of these have long traditions with many contacts in third countries, allowing them to serve as a solid foundation for cooperation and communication among the various European players; points, furthermore, to their potential to promote and facilitate bilateral relationships between countries and to help develop and implement a European strategy for cultural diplomacy

The Resolution highlights the importance of culture as a means of soft power and as an instrument of projecting European values globally, not least through EUNIC agencies.  Two of the key faultlines in the world today are inequality and culture; inequality in political, economic, military and cultural power and culture with regard to the differences in values, belief systems and identity-making.

Cultural diplomacy and intercultural dialogue are soft power strategies that serve particular economic, political, security and related interests that cannot be divorced from the overall structural inequalities that prevail.  The Resolution barely addresses social, political and economic injustices so that the deployment of culture to address symptoms of such inequalities, is weak and unsustainable.   

Destruction of cultural heritage

The Resolution applauds the decision of the International Criminal Court of 27 September 2016 in which Ahmad Al Faqi Mahdi was found guilty of the destruction of several mausoleums in Timbuktu and in which it ruled for the first time, in accordance with the Rome Statute, that the destruction of cultural heritage may be regarded as a war crime

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was adopted in 1998.  As such, it could only be applied to crimes that fell under its jurisdiction from that point forward or European countries, their leaders and army personnel would have been found guilty for similar destruction and looting of cultural heritage during the colonial period. Furthermore, there is a perception of hypocrisy in the application of such protection e.g. where the cultural heritage reflects the personages of those that may have been in conflict with Europe e.g. Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein, then it would appear to be acceptable that such heritage is destroyed, lest it provoke or invoke renewed support for the ideas of such personages.

Europe’s lack of condemnation of Israel’s destruction of cultural institutions in Palestine e.g. the bombing of the al-Meshal Foundation’s cultural centre in Gaza in August 2018, renders the Resolution suspect in its biases, and affirms culture as an extension of Europe’s policies with regard to international relations.

Addressing conflict

The Resolution frequently mentions the role of culture as an instrument of soft power, as a means of dialogue, as a platform for projecting European values, as a front in the “war on terror”, and a tool against radicalisation and terrorism.

The Resolution does not attempt to address the causes of radicalisation – the social, economic, political and cultural inequities and the alienation that these lead to, neither does the Resolution appear to address nationalistic radicalisation and terrorism which has led to an increase in hate crimes committed by white people on people of colour within Europe over the last while. 

Human Rights

Objective 6 calls for artistic freedom of expression to be promoted as a value and an endeavour of the European Union, fostering free dialogue and the exchange of good practices at international level, with Objective 71 underlining the EU’s foundations based on  the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights…

While the Universal Declaration for Human Rights states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, most people in the Global South know that they do not enjoy the same rights and that they will not be treated with the same dignity as their European counterparts.  Europeans may travel globally to more than 150 countries without visas and sell their labour relatively freely, whereas workers from the Global South and Africa in particular, find it nearly impossible to travel and work abroad, even though remittances to Africa account for a significant part of Africa’s GDP, and even though many wealthy countries grew their economies by forcibly kidnapping and removing Africans from their continent to work as cheap, slave labour.

While this applies to the minority who are able to travel, it is nevertheless instructive that people of colour are treated as less than human, certainly less than equal to their white counterparts at points of entry into Europe, almost always suspected to be potential economic refugees at best, simply because of the colour of their skin and their continent of origin. I know this from direct and persistent personal experience.

Europe promotes individual human rights, but all Africans are treated as a group, as if they are the same, with no distinction made on the basis of education, gender, skills, social status, etc.  It would be unacceptable to distinguish between people on the basis of these characteristics in determining mobility, but the point being made is that none of these factors matter more than the “race” and continent of origin of Africans when it comes to treating them with dignity and respect as human beings who enjoy the same rights as white folk.

The emphasis on particular rights e.g. freedom of expression in repressive societies in particular is welcome, but it is hypocritical given the difficulties that writers, artists, musicians and other intellectuals face in obtaining visas to enter Europe, and to exercise their rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression in fortress Europe.

There is little value in promoting culture as a means of anti-radicalisation or as a means of intercultural dialogue when European repression of human rights and undermining of dignity contribute to radicalism.

Conclusion

There are many good recommendations in the Resolution on Culture in International Relations, – the emphasis on youth, support for civil society, the call for greater mobility, etc – but the overarching framework is about Europe’s political, economic, security and geo-strategic interests, its values and its cultural hegemony, EUNIC institutions being instruments of its soft power globally.

Global South actors generally and African actors in particular will engage with Europe and its agencies broadly in one of four ways:

a.     by buying into and supporting the European agenda completely, actively supporting it because of the benefits derived from such support

b.     complete rejection of the European agenda and anything to do with it as agencies of neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism

c.     pragmatic engagement with muted criticism so as not to compromise much-needed support and

d.     robust engagement with the EU and its agencies in search of real partnerships based on a degree of integrity

Cultural cooperation and collaboration take place in structurally unequal contexts, in a world where the cultural hegemony of the economically and politically powerful is already assured. 

The structural inequalities are, however, unsustainable and as long as these are not addressed, there will be increased conflicts and tensions, greater waves of migration and refugees, more radicalisation and attacks on Global North interests, so that culture as a mitigating strategy will be relatively meaningless, particularly when the so-called progressive values of Europe are contradicted by the actual experience of Global South citizens.

Rather than creating and projecting policies that narrowly assert its own interests, Europe and its agencies such as EUNIC would do better to engage with its partners and even its detractors outside of the European bubble, to co-create a more equitable, more just world that better serves the interests of the majority who live in it.

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On the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture and the re-appointment of Mthethwa

On the amalgamation of departments

In principle, I have no problem with the Department of Arts and Culture being merged with another ministry generally, and with Sport and Recreation in particular because:

  1. The high number of departments/ministries was bloated for patronage purposes, and it was morally and politically necessary that the number be cut drastically (in my view, it is still too many, with the number of deputies simply continuing a pattern of patronage and political accommodation)
  2. It is not as if the Department of Arts and Culture has had a stellar record as a stand-alone department for the last fifteen years at least, so that to suggest that its amalgamation with Sport and Recreation will somehow reduce its effectiveness, is ahistorical.
  3. The budget for the Department of Arts and Culture (R4,6 billion) is more than four times that of the Department of Sport and Recreation (R1,1 billion), so that through the lens of finance and funding, it is not true that arts and culture have been “downgraded” with sport assuming political superiority or funding priority over arts and culture
  4. If it had to be merged with another department, Sport and Recreation is probably one of the better options for at least the following reasons:
  • Sport, recreation, arts and culture are about human well-being, about physical, emotional, intellectual and psychological health – visionary leadership can produce and implement complementary strategies that would improve the quality of life of the citizens of our country
  • Sport is able to achieve social goals at scale that arts and culture are mandated to do but are inherently unable to do e.g. the much-maligned notion of “social cohesion”. There is probably greater national pride across generations, genders, culture and other divides when the Blitzbokke win, or when Rabada takes five wickets or when Caster Semenya runs, than when our theatres produce outstanding musicals, plays or dance. This is not to suggest contradictions between sport and the arts, but rather, their complementary visioning to achieve desirable social and human development goals
  • Sport is an integral part of South African culture (understood as a way of life); rather than reject sport or regard it as a threat to the arts, we should seek better to understand and embrace it and learn from it, perhaps popularising the arts in the process
  • An effective department does not have to do with whether it is a stand-alone department or not; it has to do with leadership, with vision, with political will and a desire to serve the best interests of the sector for which it is responsible and society more broadly; which is why I am convinced that the re-appointment of Nathi Mthethwa is absolutely the wrong move for, and sends the wrong signals to, the arts and culture sector.

The two key faultlines globally – and in South African society – are inequality (who has economic, political, social and cultural power) and culture (different value and belief systems, different traditions and forms of social engagement).

For this reason, rather than a silo ministry responsible for arts and culture – or one that now includes sports – there should be a cultural unit in every department  to assess the impact of that department’s mandate on culture and vice versa, and for these to be overseen and coordinated by a minister who has the knowledge, sensitivity and vision for culture and its influence within our society (the domain of soft power, identity-making and the development of individual and communal meaning).  While culture in its broader sense (including the arts and heritage as constituent parts and meaning-makers) is being increasingly recognised as integral to human and social development in other parts of the world, our political leaders – through the National Development Plan that is silent on culture, and the re-appointment of the minister – reflect their incredibly limited understanding of, and respect for culture as a transversal phenomenon that impacts on how we view and practice human rights, gender equity, democracy and the like.

Ten reasons why Nathi Mthethwa should not be minister of sport, arts and culture

  1. As the minister responsible for the police who shot and killed 34 miners, he should never have been appointed to another political portfolio in the first place. That he remained in politics after that reflects the complete absence of any sense of democratic accountability both on his part and on the part of the ruling party.  Appointing a politician responsible for the massacre of workers who were exercising their right to freedom of association and their right to strike and protest to a ministry responsible for a sector premised on the right to freedom of creative expression, is downright cynical.
  2. It took two years to start from scratch a broadly consultative process to the final adoption of the original White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage. It has taken the whole of Mthethwa’s previous tenure (five years) to revise this White Paper, and it is still not done, and due to the limited participation by the sector, it lacks the legitimacy that the original White Paper earned through its inclusive, participatory process.  This points to a gross lack of competence.
  3. There has been no fresh vision emanating from Mthethwa regarding how those regions – generally the less-resourced ones in our country – will have historical imbalances addressed. The DAC continues to pour millions into five theatres in the four provinces, while – notwithstanding the pleas of other regions and even an initial budgetary commitment to Limpopo, none of Mpumalanga, North West, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and Limpopo have a nationally-subsidised theatre space, reflecting a complete disregard for these regions while defending the finance minister’s suggestions for a “new national theatre”.
  4. Unlike representative arts structures formed by artists themselves – Film and Allied Workers Organisation, Association of Community Arts Centres, Dance Alliance, Congress of South African Writers, Performing Arts Workers Equity and the Musicians Union of South Africa in the eighties that led to the National Arts Coalition which successfully lobbied for post-apartheid cultural policies, Mthethwa imposed a structure – the Cultural and Creative Industries Federation of South Africa (CCIFSA) – on the sector as its representative body. Despite not doing anything to earn the respect of the sector since its launch in 2015, Mthethwa set up a task team to prepare the next elective conference, scheduled for late March this year.  That conference did not happen, just as CCIFSA had been an empty shell for the previous four years.  By imposing a sweetheart structure funded by DAC as the “unifying, representative structure” Mthethwa reflects his lack of democratic credentials, and a disrespect for the sector and its right to organise itself, rather than be “led” by government-funded lackeys.
  5. On his watch, numerous publicly-funded cultural institutions have encountered crises of governance, corruption and mismanagement including the National Arts Council, National Film and Video Foundation, PACOFS, the Market Theatre and Robben Island Museum. This points to a lack of oversight on his part and rather than claim credit for “cleaning up” these institutions as he did earlier this year, that they were in crisis reflects his poor appointment of governing structures and the poor governance training at these institutions.
  6. Notwithstanding being informed of the corrupt activities of individuals he appointed to governance structures, he nevertheless re-appointed them leading to the crises at institutions such as the Market Theatre. As the result of a forensic investigation, he removed the Chairperson of the Market Theatre Council but not without irreparably damaging the institution, about which he has shown a complete lack of care, concerned only that his own reputation and that of the DAC are not compromised. He cares more about his own reputational damage than he does about the institutions for which he bears political responsibility.
  7. Mthethwa does not know the laws for which he is responsible. He was obliged to terminate the tenure of one of the NAC’s Councils when a civil society organisation pointed out to him that the Council had been appointed illegally by not allowing the public to sit in on the interviews and to object to any nominated member (which again reflects an inclination to deny the sector its democratic rights).
  8. Nathi Mthethwa is a liar. He wrote in an article that the reason why I was critical of him and the department is because I had requested that he appoint an advisory board – including me – that would advise him and from which he would need to take instructions.  As he has declined to appoint such a body, I am now “making noise”.  I have never asked him to do such a thing and challenged him to produce the correspondence in which I made this proposal.  He has never done so.  Politicians lie.  But this was a bald-faced lie to deflect legitimate criticism by attempting to discredit the critic.
  9. The late appointment of curators for the Venice Biennial this year again underscores the negligence and incompetence of the Department of Arts and Culture under Mthethwa. The DAC knows that the Biennial happens every two years; surely it is not that difficult to allocate a budget and invite potential curators to pitch their ideas at least 12-18 months in advance?
  10. The minister does not understand that he is a politician, elected to serve the people of South Africa generally and the arts and culture sector in particular, and that he needs to be accountable to them. He declines to answer legitimate questions – such as requests for the terms of reference for the company he appointed to investigate the Market Theatre, the amount they were being paid (the company is often used by the DAC for “forensic investigations” so that we should have cause for concern that such a company might provide the recommendations that the DAC wants rather than that which is in the best interests of the institution) – and suggests that he really does not have to answer critics (see Daily Maverick 4 March 2019). Fundamentally, Mthethwa is not a democrat, and has little respect for democracy within our sector.

The elections offered the hope of a “new dawn” for the arts, culture and heritage sector.  Civil society activists called upon the President to appoint a member of the arts and culture community as the minister responsible for the sector precisely because of their disappointment in the last ministers’ inability to realise the huge potential of the sector.

There was the expectation that the ministry would be merged with another, but there was also the hope that a new minister would bring with her or him a new openness, a willingness to listen and engage with the sector, and a simple commitment to work with, and not against the sector, which would benefit the South African public, the arts and culture sector and the Department of Arts and Culture.

However, with the re-appointment of Mthethwa as minister and now with a wider portfolio, there is clearly no new dawn for the arts, at least not from the political class.

Creative practitioners have found ways to work, to produce and distribute their work despite, rather than because of the Department.  There is a strong parallel, independent stream of excellent work in all disciplines.  And yet, there is so much more than can be achieved were the Department of Arts and Culture to be in sync with the vision and needs of the sector.

Having attempted – and failed – to influence the President in his choice of minister, and with the President having shown complete disregard for the sector (if he was not going to appoint a civil society member to his cabinet, at the very least he could have appointed a different minister if he had actually read the various representations that had been made to him), it is now up to the arts, culture and heritage sector to organise itself independently, to advocate for its interests and to monitor and bring pressure to bear on the Department and the minister as necessary.

There is a new generation of bright, active and insightful creatives and activists.  It is their time to act.

 

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The Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards: On Politics, PR and Prejudice

Introduction

About 17 years ago, the Performing Arts Network of South Africa (PANSA) hosted a Festival of Reading of New Writing to encourage new writing for the theatre.  A panel of at least three judges would read the submissions without knowing who the writers were; they would make a shortlist of 5 plays which would then each be allocated to a director to produce as a staged reading over the demarcated festival weekend.  After each reading, the audience and judges would give their feedback for the writer to consider, and at the end of the weekend, the judges would make a Jury Award to the play they considered the best of the five as well as to a Runner-Up.  The audience was invited to vote, and the play that solicited the most votes, would be given the “Audience Award”.

I submitted a play – Green Man Flashing – to the 2003 Festival, where it was shortlisted as an anonymous script, and subsequently, it was awarded the Jury Prize (the shortlisted scripts and writers were announced once the initial selection had taken place).  One of the other writers who had been shortlisted suggested that it was a “hometown decision” since I served as the Secretary General of PANSA at the time.  (The PANSA Steering Committee had decided that individuals involved in leadership positions could submit work, or members would decline to stand for leadership of the organisation if they were unable to participate in PANSA’s projects).

While there had been broad affirmation of the play at the time (and Green Man Flashing has since become my most produced play and is studied in schools and universities), I nevertheless wondered whether it had indeed been a “hometown decision”, and whether I had been favoured because of my position within the organisation.

So, the next year, I submitted a play to the Festival of New Writing under the pseudonym, Peter September (a name that had to approximate my Cape Flats background so that judges would not be tempted to be swayed by a “white name” or a “black African name”).  No-one in the organisation knew that Hostile Takeover – a satire on the free market economy and black economic empowerment which was quite different to Green Man Flashing – was my play.

The play was selected as one of the five finalists and the brilliant Matthew Wild was assigned as the director of the staged reading. I had a second phone through which communication about the play occurred (always by sms), and when it was close to the rehearsal process and Matthew wanted to meet the writer, I briefed my brother and had him play “Peter September” in the discussion with Matthew.

Hostile Takeover, a three-hander, was awarded the Jury Runner-Up prize which made me less insecure about my writing.  It was produced by the Market Theatre and premiered as my first Main Festival production at the National Arts Festival the following year.  A few years later, as Artscape’s Associate Playwright, I reworked the script as Just Business.  Mbulelo Grootboom was cast in the original staged reading, and about seven years later, he was cast in Just Business, a role for which he won the Fleur du Cap Best Supporting Actor Award in 2012.

That was the last time anyone associated with my plays in Cape Town won a Fleur du Cap Award.

Critique of the 2012 Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards

The year before (2011), the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards and judges were heavily criticised because white winners were selected in all seventeen categories.  I subsequently did an analysis of the productions eligible for the awards that showed that it was less the fault of the judges and more the responsibility of theatre managements and independent theatre-makers that had provided the pool of overwhelming white talent from which judges were obliged to make their selections.  I argued that the awards were symptomatic of the industry and could not be expected to reflect nominations and winners that were inconsistent with the reality of who was on our stages, who was directing them, who was providing technical support and so on.  The challenge of transforming the demographics (the most superficial form of transformation) of our sector lay with the theatre industry rather than with the judges or the awards system. (Substantive transformation i.e. providing access to infrastructure, access to capital, developing skilled human resources, was primarily – though not only – the responsibility of the state).

However, stung by the criticism and with the sponsor – Distell – suffering huge reputational damage as a result of the criticism, in the following year, the judges of the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards selected persons of colour in all four major acting categories – Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor (Mbulelo Grootboom for his role in Just Business) and Best Supporting Actress.

After the 2012 awards event and with criticism far more muted, I undertook another analysis and wrote an article in which I showed that while there had been a larger pool of black talent from which the judges were able to make their selections than in the previous year, mathematically, it was just about impossible for them to have arrived at persons of colour winning all four of those categories.  This did not exactly endear me to the judges, one of whom phoned to express deep anger at having the integrity of the judges challenged.

That was also the last time that I attended the Fleur du Cap Theatre awards as – in my view – it had become less of a “celebration of excellence” within the Western Cape theatre sector, than an event in which political correctness, personal prejudice (on the part of some of the judges) and the brand of the sponsor played no small parts in the nomination and selection of winners, as well as in the actual awards event, where over the years, ad hoc awards were made to maintain an acceptable “demographic spread”.

Notwithstanding this trend, two years ago, four women – Chuma Sopotela, Buhlebezwe Siwani, Zikhona Jacobs and Mamela Nyamza -staged a protest at the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards event to highlight the under-representation of black people in the list of nominees.  Last year’s awards were, in my publicly-expressed view – largely – another predictable, politically correct response to the criticism of the previous year.

Why does it matter?

Some would argue that in contemporary South Africa, most – if not all awards – have an element of political correctness, of conscious or less overt correcting of historical legacies in the affirmation of talent, particularly as it relates to “race”, and to a lesser extent, gender.

I do believe that it is appropriate and morally imperative to address the inherited inequities of the past but not in ways that mask and so perpetuate the structural and systemic inequities of the present.  This is, and has been, my key criticism of the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards for the last number of years: that the corporate interests of the sponsor and the political interests of at least some of the judges who are active in the industry beyond the awards, overall selections are made that do not rock the Awards boat, but which in the process, give a false impression of demographic transformation of the theatre sector in the Western Cape.

For example, over the last ten years, there have been 45 nominations in the Fleur du Cap Best Director category; of these, only four have been persons of colour (less than 10%), and of these, only one (2% of the total) has been a woman (an English woman, born of South African parents in exile in Swaziland, and who has lived in English since the age of 7).  During the same period (2009-2018), 21 of the 69 Best Director nominees in the Naledi Awards, have been persons of colour (30%), with 7 of these being women (10% of the total).

Has there ever been a “Black African” – man or woman – who has won the Fleur du Cap “Best Director” Award?

There is still much work to do in both of the country’s primary theatre regions, but the answer to the question about who gets opportunities to direct in the Western Cape is starker than in Gauteng.

Persons of colour have increasingly been represented in the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards’ Best New Director category over the last 4-5 years, but how many of them have been invited to direct a play in one of our mainstream theatres or festivals subsequently?  Beyond giving the awards a good demographic spread, how have these awards actually helped the careers of the young nominees, if at all?

The Market Theatre and the State Theatre have contributed to the emergence of new black directors in Gauteng; in the Western Cape, it has to be asked – what has Artscape which receives the largest state-subsidy of the nationally-subsidised theatres, contributed to changing the theatre status quo in the last while?

Lesedi Job, director of my play When Swallows Cry, was the first black woman to win the Naledi Theatre Award for Best Director of a Play.  She directed the same play with a Cape Town-based cast, and was nominated, not in the Best Director category, but in Fleur du Cap’s Best New Director category.  Interestingly, Tinarie van Wyk Loots was nominated in both the Best New Director and the Best Director categories for the 2018 production of Swerfgoed.  In Johannesburg, Lesedi won against seasoned directors such as Sylvaine Strike, Lara Foot, Lara Bye and Andre Odendaal; in Cape Town, she was “lucky” to be nominated as a Best New Director.

Is it because Lesedi hails from Johannesburg and the Fleur du Cap Theatre judges are notoriously parochial?  Is it because she was good enough to make up the demographic numbers in the nominations list, but not good enough to make the Best Directors category, unlike her fellow new director nominee?  (Note: this is by no means a reflection on Tinarie who is not responsible for her nominations; this is to raise necessary questions that are too often lost in the euphoria of celebrating “black excellence” when awards are made to some black winners, while other potentially worthy black nominees are treated differently to their white counterparts).  Is it that the production of When Swallows Cry was so much poorer in Cape Town than the one in Johannesburg, or relative to other productions which were under consideration?  (After all, When Swallows Cry did not receive any other nominations, unlike in Johannesburg where it won the Best Production, Best Director and Best Script categories, and its three actors and lighting designer, Mandla Mtshali – who also did the lighting in Cape Town – were all nominated in their respective Naledi Theatre Awards categories.  And yet, when one reads the Cape Town “four star” reviews of When Swallows Cry – some of them written by FDC judges – and compares them to the reviews of some of the other nominees, one has to wonder….).  Was it that Lesedi had the misfortune of being associated with one of my productions?

Before and After 2012

Before my articles in 2012 and 2013 about the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards, I had won two FDC Best Script Awards (Dinner Talk, 1997 and Die Generaal, 2008).  In the seven years from 2005 till 2011, I also had three scripts nominated in the Best Script category (Green Man Flashing, 2005; Mixed Metaphors, 2006 and Iago’s Last Dance, 2009).

In the subsequent seven years, 2012-2018, none of my scripts was nominated, including Brothers in Blood that had won the Naledi Theatre Award for Best New South African Script in 2009 and When Swallows Cry, the most recent Naledi winner in this category.

With the announcement of the nominees for the 2018 Naledi Theatre Awards the night after the FDCs in Cape Town, there are now four post-2012 scripts (Pay Back the Curry, When Swallows Cry, Another One’s Bread and Land Acts) that have been nominated in the Naledis, and which were staged in Cape Town, but none of which was nominated in its equivalent FDC category.  I note this to highlight the lack of FDC nominations coinciding with the period after my criticism of these awards.

What irks me is not the lack of nominations (I’ve asked before: how many nominations – or awards – does one need to be an “award-winning” or an “multiple-award winning” playwright), but the apparent reasons for it.  These reasons – I am convinced – have little to do with “theatre excellence” or the lack of it, and far more to do with the judges who are happy to pronounce on our work both as judges and as sometime theatre reviewers, but who take great personal and collective offence when their work, decision-making and personal prejudices are held up to scrutiny.  An industry that is premised on freedom of expression surely cannot allow itself to be compromised by those who exercise power and influence over the sector (by determining what is “excellent”) and who victimise those who exercise freedom of expression by analysing and critiquing their actions and decisions?

What also irks me is how those associated with my work appear to be prejudiced by this association, particularly since I would like to believe that at this stage in my career, I should be providing platforms and opportunities for younger creatives to profile their talents.

Rainbow Scars, my post-Marikana massacre play that employs the extended family as a metaphor to explore for whom the “rainbow nation” actually works (i.e. a ‘multi-racial’ elite) earned six Naledi nominations including a “Best Newcomer” for Kertrice Maitisa, won a Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award at the National Arts Festival and was selected for the Afrovibes Festival in the Netherlands and the UK, but did not get a single Fleur du Cap nomination.  Daniel Mpilo Richards, an extraordinary talent, won the Naledi Theatre Award for Best Newcomer/Breakthrough Artist for his performance in Pay Back the Curry as well as the Standard Bank Ovation Award for the Most Outstanding Performance at the National Arts Festival for State Fracture (both dealing with contemporary South African issues in satirical fashion); while he was nominated for Pay Back the Curry and Land Acts, he did not make it to the Fleur du Cap podium.  Brothers in Blood earned Greg Homann a Standard Bank Ovation Award as the director of this play that explores prejudice against the backdrop of the three Abrahamic religions; it won the Naledi award for Best New Script and had a return season at Artscape because of its box office popularity, but it, too, did not get a single FDC nod.

Much of my adult life I’ve spent fighting, not to be a “winner”, but for social justice, for people to be treated fairly.  I do not need to do another “Peter September” to know that for the last 6 or 7 years, this has not been the case with the FDCs.  The facts speak for themselves.

Today, it is me.  Tomorrow, it could be the 2018 Standard Bank Young Artist for Performance Art, Chuma Sopotela, victimised for her participation in the 2017 protest.  But it will not be noticed, or commented upon, because others within a similar demographic would have been affirmed.  For this is how the status quo remains: through divide-and-rule and co-option.

Conclusion

In our industry-of-small-returns, it is churlish to undermine the winners and those who received recognition and cash prizes at the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards; that is not at all the intention of this article, nor of previous critiques of the FDCs.  On the contrary, those who have received public recognition, should enjoy it and where possible, use it to advance their careers in this most competitive of industries.

In the absence of interrogative journalists and academics who should be doing this kind of work, the article aims to reflect on how the FDCs, conducted – as are most of these kinds of awards events – un-transparently and without the sector being aware of what criteria are used to determine “excellence” in the decision-making processes may

  1. mask the lack of demographic and substantive transformation within the Western Cape theatre industry
  2. primarily serve the corporate image interests of the sponsor rather than the theatre sector and
  3. victimise critical voices which is a fundamental contravention of the principle of freedom of expression

It won’t make any difference, but at least it’s been said.

Mike van Graan

March 2019

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The Market Theatre Executive Summary Report: A Comment

Having read the Executive Summary Report on the Investigation into Allegations of Mismanagement at the Market Theatre Foundation after it was posted on Facebook by Carl Johnson on Sunday 10 Feb 2019 (thanks Carl, and to whoever leaked it to you 😊), I’d like to offer a perspective.

It is the summary, rather than the full report, so it reads like a shopping list of allegations with cursory evidence in support of some of the allegations, followed by findings and recommendations by the company who conducted the investigation, and whom we now know to be Morar Incorporated (Chartered Accountants, and Registered Auditors).

Being a report by accountants, the summary (and it needs to be emphasised that it is the summary) is largely technical, with findings that point to breaches of policies, regulations and laws – or not – rather than provide a holistic context in which to understand and interpret the allegations and findings.  However, a closer reading of the whole summary (as opposed to bits of it as was clearly the case in the compilation of a recent front page story in the Star), tells a broader story that paints a picture of the core conflict at the Market Theatre and which forms the background and context for the allegations, counter-allegations and the findings.

The core conflict revolved around the Council of the Market Theatre on the one hand and its (former) chairperson in particular, and on the other hand, the CEO and the CFO.  There are multiple findings against all three individuals, as well as against the Council (at least those who comprised the Council in 2017/18), with recommendations for disciplinary action against all three individuals as well as against former and current Council members implicated in the findings.

Three of the Council members re-appointed in April 2018 have resigned, and the Chairperson of the Council has been removed by the DAC/Minister.  (In terms of the Cultural Institutions Act, the Minister appoints the Councils of publicly-funded bodies, and thus has the legal mandate to remove the Council and/or individual members).  The expectation among some would now be that the – mostly reconstituted – Council, charged with the governance of the Market Theatre Foundation, will take disciplinary action against the CEO and CFO as recommended in the forensic report. 

But first, beyond the accountant list of technical breaches, what story does the Report tell?

Allegation One in the Report lists the negative media publicity resulting from City Press articles which cited allegations of fraud, corruption and maladministration at the Market.  The finding in the report is that the CEO leaked confidential information to the City Press, which led to an article on 22 April 2018 which “constituted extremely negative media publicity for the MTF (Market Theatre Foundation)”.  Subsequently, the Chairperson of the Council leaked confidential information to the City Press.  The Report states that in doing so “the Chairman and CEO have breached the Conflict of Interest Policy of the MTF” and accordingly, recommends that disciplinary action be taken against the CEO and the Chairman.

Some thirty allegations later in the Report is Allegation Thirty-One: “the alleged threats of constructive dismissal by the Chairman of the Council at a meeting held by him on 17 April with the staff of the public entity; and which threats formed the basis of the CEO and CFO to seek legal intervention.”

From further clauses, it would appear that the Chairperson addressed the staff (a finding is that this was in contravention of the Market Theatre Foundation’s Code of Conduct and Ethics for Members of Council), that his demeanour in this meeting “was distressingly aggressive and confrontational” and that “various statements made by the Chairman in this forum were construed to not only be directed at the CEO and CFO but were felt to be threatening the security of the CEO and CFO.” 

The Report states further that “though threats of constructive dismissal may not be substantiated, it has been determined through email communication between the Chairman of the Council and the HR Manager…that the objective to dismiss the CEO and the CFO was being pursued.”  Ending that section, the Report declares that “the matters raised by the Chairman and the manner in which they were addressed to the MTF staff was not in the best interests of the organisation and contributed significantly to the negative media coverage received by the MTF in the subsequent City Press article detailed above.”

Allegation Thirty-Six states that “the HR Manager…acted in defiance of the CEO, her direct manager, in the pursuit of a meeting of the irregularly constituted (Human Resources) committee” and that “in addition to this, evidence indicates a collaboration between (the HR Manager) and the Chairman which points to an attempt to achieve the termination or dismissal of both the CEO and CFO of the MTF.”

While the Report finds that the CEO breached MTF policy in leaking information to the City Press that created negative publicity for the institution and recommends that he be disciplined for it, the Report makes it clear (if one reads it as a whole) that the context for leaking this information is that a few days earlier, the Chairperson of the Council – in contravention of Market Theatre policy – addressed the staff and made statements sufficient to have the CEO and CFO believe that their jobs were at risk.  Forensic evidence also pointed to the Chairperson collaborating with the head of HR, a subordinate of the CEO, to rid the Market Theatre of the CEO and CFO.

This, then, is clearly the context for the CEO’s leaking of confidential information to the media.  If you feel your job is under threat, and that the correct channels – such as the Council of your institution is compromised and subject to the whims of the Chairperson, and if you have reported matters of concern to the DAC who have taken no action – what options do you have?  Everyone knows that Ismail is my friend, but – unless one has a really personal gripe against him for one reason or another (whether valid or not) – can one objectively declare that one would not have done the same in his position?  So, technically, he breached the MTF regulations in leaking confidential information to City Press, but the context was the real and imminent threat to his job.  And the reason that his job was under threat – together with that of the CFO’s – is that they were exposing or blocking the Chairperson’s abuse of the Market Theatre’s public resources for his personal and political ends.

In real terms then, the CEO was a whistleblower.  That’s what whistleblowers do.  They go against the strictures of their organisations, companies and institutions to expose corruption or some other threat to the well-being of the entity; they contravene a minor measure for the greater good of the institution. 

We have short memories and we shift the goalposts to suit us and the outcomes we would like.  So it is necessary to remind readers that one of the most serious allegations made against the CEO at the time – by some staff members – was that he was a racist, with newspaper headlines screaming this all over Johannesburg, and resulting in enormous reputational damage.  On this matter however – Allegation Twenty-Eight – the Report states “We found no evidence of ongoing racism, sexism and/or victimisation” (on the part of the CEO).

So what now?  What about those who made the allegations?  The Report is silent on them.  But it does make clear the collusion between the Chairperson of the Council and a senior staff member, with the aim of terminating the services of the CFO and the CEO.  And it further – when discussing Allegation Thirty-Five – indicates that the Chairperson bypassed the CEO and directly engaged a senior publicist at the Market, to assist him “in launching his personal political campaign” (for the presidency of the ANC).  It would thus not be unreasonable to assume that the Chairperson fomented opposition – and charges of racism against the CEO – among some of the staff, thereby undermining management and causing conflicts which could hardly be in the best interests of the Market Theatre, whose best interests he was appointed to ensure!

But what were the reasons for the tensions between the Chairperson on the one hand, and the CEO and CFO on the other?

The clues to this may be found in some of the findings against the Chairperson, such as that he irregularly requested a loan of R56 000 from the MTF and that he fraudulently hired cars while not on Council duty (at least 17 times).  The final allegation (Allegation Forty) is that CFO undermined Council decisions because of her refusal to pay the honoraria for Council members approved by the Council (at the time when this was exposed in the media, the amounts were R100 000 for the Chairperson and R75 000 for Council members).  The finding states that the CFO acted on the advice on the DAC and that there was thus no wrongdoing on her part but recommends that disciplinary action be taken against the Council members for the irregular decision to pay themselves honoraria. 

Essentially then, the conflict between the Chairperson on the one hand, and the CEO and the CFO on the other, had nothing to do with the best interests of the Market Theatre, nothing to do with different ideologies and visions for theatre generally, nothing to do with how best the Market Theatre could serve its stakeholders and the public which was its core mandate; it had everything to do with the Chairperson abusing the resources of the publicly-funded institution and the management seeking to limit or prevent this.

This is the story of numerous publicly-funded institutions over the last couple of decades; the amounts are a lot smaller, but the themes are similar – those charged with the proper governance of the institution instead seek to use it as their personal ATM, and when management stands in their way, they are forced out, or attempts are made to force them out by – if appropriate – alleging racism.  This is the context in which the Report needs to be read, rather than simply as a list of allegations and technical findings of breaches of regulations and policies, of which there are many.   

This is not to say that the allegations and findings should not be tested, and charges laid where necessary, but it is important for us as readers, as stakeholders and as the public to be clear about the context for these, rather than view any or all of the allegations, findings and recommendations in isolation.

There are numerous allegations against the CFO; some of them sound pretty spurious.  For example, according to the Report, the CFO asked the IT service provider to the Market Theatre for a second-hand laptop that she could buy in her personal capacity, to pass on to a university student who was part of her church.  The service provider then informed the CFO that she need not pay for the laptop; they would recognise the donation as part of their CSI initiative.  The Report states “the CFO did not decline this offer and therefore benefited in the form of savings in her personal capacity, as she did not have to outlay any of her personal money to acquire the laptop for the student.”  The Report goes on to imply that it is this kind of conflict of interest that led to the CFO further extending or motivating for the extension of the contract of the service provider.

Again, let me be clear that where there is evidence in support of allegations and adverse findings against anyone, including the CEO, CFO, current and previous Council members and staff, due process must ensue, and those that are found guilty must be appropriately sanctioned.  In a society as racially charged and a sector as polarised as ours, one can only hope that – unlike the Department of Arts and Culture – the present Council of the Market Theatre will act transparently and in the best interests of the institution which they govern, rather than out of political expediency.

One cannot help but come away with an impression that Morar Incorporated was instructed or pressurised by the DAC to make some of their adverse findings against the CFO and CEO in order for the Report to appear to be even-handed.

A final word on the DAC and the Minister of Arts and Culture, who really are the real culprits in this mess that would never have happened, had the DAC and the Minister actually have done their jobs properly!

A couple of weeks ago, at the end of January, the DAC issued a media release in which they praised themselves and the Minister for “successfully cleaning house” in their reporting entities.  The release states “the DAC does not believe in the masking of difficulties, where administration and institutional governance – or the lack and absence thereof in either, occur.  In this regard, Minister Nathi Mthethwa, Director General Vusumuzi Mkhize and the department’s senior officials have spent the past months addressing areas of grave concern including maladministration, corrupt activities and the disintegration of governance in entities.”

There then follows a litany of institutions under the DAC’s watch in which the DAC has “successfully cleaned house”, including the country’s two major public funding agencies – the National Film and Video Foundation and the National Arts Council, the South African Heritage Agency, the Robben Island Museum and the Market Theatre, all of these pretty major cultural institutions.

The DAC’s media release ends thus “Lastly, it is important to note that when whistleblowers and individuals report worrisome matters to the DAC – these are taken seriously.  This is apparent in how swiftly Minister Nathi Mthethwa and the DAC have acted in the past months, by relentlessly and with great commitment tackling all issues of concern and without hesitation, instituting processes to rectify these. The DAC deems it of utmost importance to be transparent in keeping its stakeholders and members of the public informed on any activities related to not only the department but all agencies and entities under its administration”.

Clearly, the DAC believes its own propaganda and would like to pull the wool over the eyes of its stakeholders with its self-congratulatory, smoke-and-mirrors public statements.

During July last year, I was part of setting up an Ad Hoc Committee of Concerned Market Theatre Stakeholders to try to advocate for transparency in the Market Theatre investigation.  We wrote to the Director General on 30 July 2017:

“We are aware that there is an investigation into the various allegations made by staff, management and Council members, and we would like to believe that this is an independent and rigorous investigation.  Unfortunately, recent history in our country – and in our sector – leaves us with a sense of unease.  We have witnessed huge levels of corruption and gross disregard for regulations and laws that govern publicly-funded institutions and state-owned enterprises, sometimes with the assistance of politicians and senior government officials.  Subsequent investigations into these have been mixed, with a few being rigorous and others aiding and abetting the corrupt.

The Department of Arts and Culture has been informed over a period of time by current and previous managements of the Market Theatre about the alleged financial impropriety and poor governance of the Council and of its Chairperson, Mr Kwanele Gumbi, in particular.  And yet, the Minister of Arts and Culture saw it fit to re-appoint most members of the Council, and to return Mr Gumbi as the Council’s Chairperson in April this year.

You would then understand our unease at the appointment of an “independent investigation” by the Department of Arts and Culture which could be seen to be directly responsible for the current state of affairs having not acted on prior allegations and having re-appointed the Council.

We would like to be convinced that the investigation is indeed rigorous and independent, as well as being transparent.

Accordingly, this is to request the following (in order for it to be made public as a first step):

1.       the name of the company undertaking the investigation

2.       how/why this company was selected

3.       how much this company will be paid for its work

4.       the terms of reference of the investigating company

5.       the time framework for the investigation”

To this day, we have not received a reply to these questions.  When the Department has answered our queries, it has been in the form of media releases subsequent to our letters, so that one wonders whether they would in fact deem “it of utmost importance to be transparent in keeping its stakeholders and members of the public informed” unless there were stakeholders actually demanding transparency.

With the posting of the Executive Summary of the report on Facebook this last Sunday, we now know that the forensic investigation was done by Morar Incorporated.  From the DAC’s January media release, we learn that Morar Incorporated is also undertaking the forensic investigation at the National Arts Council and at Robben Island Museum (interestingly, they are not listed in the part of the release dealing with the Market Theatre). 

Morar Incorporated obviously gets much work – and thus remuneration – from the DAC.  This raises the question about how they might feel pressurised to deliver reports that suit the interests of the DAC, or how much the reports are changed after their submission to the DAC.  The date of the report is 16 November 2018, and the DAC’s media release states that it was handed to the Council of the Market Theatre in December 2018: were there consultations between the DAC and Morar Incorporated that resulted in any changes to the final findings and recommendations for disciplinary action?  In the interests of transparency, perhaps the DAC can tell us?

But there is another factor that points to the venality of the DAC and the Minister: as stated in the letter of the Ad Hoc Committee, the DAC was informed of allegations of poor governance and financial impropriety by the former chairperson of the Council over a period of time by the previous management as well as the current management.  They would also have been aware that the Chairperson had been forced out of his similar position at another DAC entity, Business and Arts South Africa, because of his inappropriate behaviour there.  The DAC had also been informed of the Council’s irregular decision to pay themselves bonuses in 2017.

Yet, when the Minister had an opportunity to appoint a new Council in April 2018, he essentially re-appointed the previous Council and re-appointed the Chairperson of the Council: so much for taking whistleblowing and reporting of “worrisome matters” seriously.  Simply put, if the DAC and Minister had cleaned house at the Market Theatre by appointing a new Council in April 2018, the conflict between the Chairperson and the management would not have happened and the Market Theatre – and individuals within it – would not have suffered the reputational damage that they have.  By reappointing the Council and the Chairperson, the DAC empowered him to continue his vendetta against management whom he believed stood in his way, turning staff against management by playing the race card.

The question then is: who investigates the DAC?  Who investigates the Minister?  Who will take disciplinary action against them?

Less than a year later, the Council re-appointed in April last year, does not exist.  At least four of those seven members have either resigned or have been removed.

In August last year, the Ad Hoc Committee responded to a letter from the Minister (the only communication we received in response to our letters to the DAC and the Minister):

“In your letter, you – correctly – state that “there is…no legislation that requires you to publish the final list of nominees” (for the Council of the Market Theatre).  However, given your and the DAC’s public commitment to transparency and accountable governance as stated in the media release, we again respectfully request that you release the list of nominees so that we as stakeholders may gain insight into why the current Council was appointed (with most of the former Council being re-appointed, despite the allegations against them which had been submitted to the DAC by current and previous managements of the Market Theatre).

We would love to accept your good faith with regard to the appointment of the Council in April this year, but with mounting evidence of collusion between ministers and the Councils/Boards of state-owned enterprises and publicly-funded institutions in other sectors of our society, we need to be convinced that the same is not being practiced in our sector.  We trust that you will understand where we are coming from.”

The Minister declined to respond, but with members of the Council resigning, he has had to fill the vacancies.  Apparently, he is doing so by making such appointments from the list of people who had been nominated to serve on the Market’s Council, who had been interviewed and subsequently shortlisted by the DAC (no doubt bearing in mind that he had to remove all the members of a previous National Arts Council when he was shown that he had appointed them improperly).

But, in the midst of allegations of racism against the – Indian – CEO, the Minister appointed two Indians to the Council, including one who is a close friend of the CEO.  Fortunately, the allegations of racism against the CEO have been found to be without basis, but the credibility of any charges or sanctions against the CEO by the Council based on the Report will be compromised (at least in the eyes of some of the aggrieved staff) by the DAC’s mismanagement and lack of transparency in the appointment of the Council.  It also places individual board members in invidious positions, particularly at a time when a highly polarised staff and management team have to be brought back together, by the governing Council.

Rather than be congratulated for “successfully cleaning house”, the Department of Arts and Culture and Minister carry huge and direct responsibility for the house – at least in the case of the Market Theatre – been turned upside down in the first place.

But then, what can one expect from a department that has taken five years to review its most important policy document and has still not completed the process?

Hopefully, given its difficult position, the Council of the Market Theatre will act with transparency in bringing this episode to an honourable and fair conclusion.  Whatever the outcomes, it is unlikely that all stakeholders will be happy.  But given the state of many of our key public institutions, it is imperative that sound governance and ethical management be restored at the iconic Market Theatre.

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Reflection on the 2018 National Arts Festival

Introduction

Festivals, like any enterprise, constantly need to innovate in order to meet the changing challenges that impact on their markets.  To its credit, as per its post-Festival overview media release, the National Arts Festival launched “two key initiatives” this year that provided “fresh energy to the iconic 44-year-old event: the launch of the Creativate Digital Arts Festival and the move of the Standard Bank Village Green craft market to a new venue”.

These also helped to contribute to a “modest but important” increase in the attendance figures.

Notwithstanding this “fresh vibe and energy” though, I couldn’t help but come away with a feeling that the 2018 Festival, could very well be my last as a producer.

Shows staged by MVG Productions

The company through which I produce and tour works that I author staged three productions on the Fringe (Green Man Flashing, When Swallows Cry and Land Acts), and co-produced a fourth (Best of Pay Back the Curry and State Fracture).  These were all “in production” so that there were no pre-production costs (other than having to rehearse in a replacement actor for Green Man Flashing).

Green Man Flashing is a prescribed text at IEB schools (these schools were a significant part of the Johannesburg market where the play was produced in May), and this generation of learners would not have seen a live production, hence the staging of this work on the country’s premier arts platform.  When Swallows Cry was just beginning its life as a touring production and has important things to say about a key contemporary theme – migration and refugees.  The Festival attracts international students, academics and producers interested in contemporary South African theatre, so this would be another good reason to stage such a piece at the Festival.

Having been to the Festival with work for about twenty years, I know that it is unlikely that dramas (as opposed to comedy or satire) would “make money” on the Fringe.  The two dramas were good showcases of the kind of work I would like to do in this genre, while the satirical revues were popular forms of contemporary social commentary.  In terms of economies of scale, the two dramas were labour-intensive (8 actors, 2 directors and 2 stage managers between them), while the revues relied on the same actor and stage manager.  This – the capacity of the income from the revues to subsidise the costs of the dramas – together with the sharing of some costs with other productions featuring the same personnel, reduced the potential financial risks.

As for any production at the Festival, costs (in addition to the Festival’s administration charges) included accommodation, per diems, flights, local transport and fees – the latter weekly rates guaranteed irrespective of income from the Festival.

The Breakdown

Each of the dramas had six shows in the Gym (237-seater), Land Acts had 9 shows in the Followspot Productions venue, Kingswood College and the “Best Of” show featured 8 times in the Drill Hall, along with a number of stand-up comedians curated by Siv Ngesi.  In total, there were 6460 seats to sell, more than the total number of seats for the Afrovibes Festival in the Netherlands, according to one of its organisers.

In the end, we sold a total of 2604 tickets (40% of the total), with an additional 239 free tickets allocated (8% of the overall total), and of which 116 were artist tickets (a really good innovation to allow artists to see shows for free).

Best of Pay Back the Curry and State Fracture attracted the most (947 tickets), followed by Land Acts (876), When Swallows Cry (602) with Green Man Flashing – the most expensive show to stage – having a total audience of 418. Green Man Flashing played to an average of 69 people per show (29% capacity overall); When Swallows Cry played to 40% overall capacity with an average of 100 per show, while the average show figures for Land Acts and “Best of” were 97 (42% overall capacity) and 118 (59% capacity) respectively.  

In the previous two years, we staged the Pay Back the Curry and State Fracture in the 100-seater Masonic, generally playing to capacity, so that Land Acts performed at least as well as its predecessors while the “combo show” exceeded previous average capacities by more than 15%.

The Festival admin costs for each show include venue hire (rates vary according to the size of the venue and its capacity to earn income), the fringe application (R1000.00), 10% of box office for the National Arts Festival, 8% commission for the ticketing company and advertising in the programme (one of the most important ways to draw attention to one’s work prior to the Festival).

Box office income for each of the shows was R25 744.00 for Green Man Flashing and R38 926.00 for When Swallows Cry, while Land Acts and “Best Of” earned R56 184.00 and R68 792.00 respectively, for a total of R189 646.00

“Festival admin” expenses (venue hire, application, ticketing, Festival commission and advertising) for each show were R10 686.64 for Green Man Flashing, R15 989.20 for When Swallows Cry, R17 897.92 for Land Acts and “Best Of” cost R24 049.60, for a total of R68 623.36.

These costs accounted for 36% of the total box office income, with the remaining amount of R121 022.64 not sufficient to cover the costs of accommodation, fees, per diems and transport for the creatives.

To cover the total costs (let alone make a profit), the four productions would have had to sell closer to 60% of the total number of available tickets, rather than the actual 40%.

Having been to the Fringe for at least twenty years, I am more than aware that the average attendance of even our most poorly attended show and the income generated by all the shows is above the average for their particular genres.  However, over the last few years and notwithstanding the interventions undertaken by the Festival, there are risks and challenges that have made it increasingly difficult and unattractive to produce on the Festival Fringe.

Risks and challenges

1. The Festival’s media release notes the country’s “tough economic climate” and the “shrinking levels of disposable income” impact on the Festival’s numbers, with people spending less time at the Festival and seeking out “…free or low-cost entertainment”.

The country’s challenging economic environment does not only affect the National Arts Festival but other festivals too, and unfortunately, given the structural declines in various sectors of the economy, the huge losses to the fiscus through massive corruption, policies such as “expropriation without compensation” that may result in less investment, increasing costs in petrol and electricity, etc it is unlikely that the economic environment is going to improve significantly over the next 3-5 years.  If anything, it is likely that we will face even tougher economic scenarios (weekend newspaper headlines point to a potential recession) that will impact more adversely on the Festival and its markets, making it less and less viable for independent producers to stage more-than-two-person works on the Fringe.

While the Festival’s official attendance figures for 2018 were 209 677, a “modest but important” increase in attendance on the previous year, they remain an unreliable indicator of actual attendance and – from the perspective of Fringe producers in particular – of ticket purchases.  The Festival’s official “attendance figures” have fluctuated enormously over the last five years: 225 538 in 2014 in the year the Festival celebrated its fortieth anniversary; then a massive increase to 241 116 the following year (2015), falling back to 227 524 the year after that (2016) and then a huge drop to 202 642 last year, with an increase of 7000 this year.

These figures are unhelpful as they include – as the festival media release concedes for the first time – tickets purchased and attendance at free events. In 2014, the Festival estimated – free – attendance at Main exhibitions at 120 people per day and 50 per day for Fringe exhibitions.  Then, 24 Fringe and 12 Main exhibitions accounted for at least 29 000 in the attendance figure.  This year, there are 11 Main exhibitions and 45 Fringe exhibitions, which, using the same attendance estimates as for 2014, would account for 39 000 of this year’s attendance.  This year, there was the addition of international buskers at the Village Green who were – according to the Festival release – a “huge hit”, accounting for more – free – attendance.

It would be more helpful for producers to see trends in attendance from ticket sales for the Main programme on the one hand, and then ticket sales for the Fringe, with these further broken down into sales for comedy, drama, dance, illusion, etc.  Over the last five years the “attendance” has increased by 16 000 in one year, dropped by 14 000 the following year, and then a further drop by 25 000 the year after that.  It would appear that real or actual attendance has declined over a period of time, but by increasing the number of free events (exhibitions, buskers, etc), the Festival is able to arrive at an increase in attendance this year, which is understandably more attractive to sponsors than declining numbers.

For the Fringe producer though, declining – actual – attendance is bad news, particularly when one is competing in this decreasing market with 250 plus shows on the Fringe and more than 100 shows on the Main programme. Unfortunately, economic conditions in the country are not going to change significantly in the next few years to improve the actual – ticket-buying – attendance at the Festival.

2. The overall economic environment is not the only challenge and risk facing independent producers on the Fringe; the political climate impacts on what people want to see. In 2016, 19 of the top 30 shows in terms of ticket sales were in the Comedy category, while only 7 were drama shows.  The Festival’s media release affirms Followspot Productions which again had the Festival’s “biggest-grossing Fringe show”, with Tony Lankester commending the company for getting “the formula right, consistently delivering productions that hit the right notes with audiences”.

Followspot Productions curated the Kingswood College with Land Acts one of the shows and another curated venue – the Drill Hall, where the Best of Pay Back the Curry and State Fracture featured – also featured strongly among the top contenders.

As per the Festival’s media release, The Edge was a third curated venue with strong – theatre – shows and which has developed a reputation for presenting excellent work.  However, it is the “lighter” shows that audiences are most attracted to.  This is also our experience with the two satirical revues achieving greater numbers than the dramas; if audiences want political commentary, they at least would like to laugh!

If the market’s desire for comedy and light entertainment (given the challenging political climate) is not a sufficient challenge for producers interested in presenting “serious” work on the Fringe, there is the further challenge of “oversupply” of theatre/drama on the Fringe.  There were more than 250 shows on the Fringe covering genres such as dance, physical theatre, illusion, comedy, theatre, children, music theatre and music; of these, 108 (more than 40%) were theatre shows.  But of the more than 1200 shows presented on the Fringe across these genres, in excess of 600 i.e. at least 50% were theatre/drama shows!

Serious theatre also – generally – has larger casts than comedy, so that it is more expensive to produce on the Fringe.  So, for a theatre producer, unless one is staging comedy or satire too to subsidise one’s serious theatre presentations, the competition with comedy or light entertainment already places one at a significant disadvantage, and then on top of that, one is having to compete against an oversupply of serious theatre for a limited audience.

3. One of the “benefits” of producing at the Festival is possible media coverage that could be used for future marketing purposes. A major loss to the Festival last year, was Cue, the daily festival newspaper put together and distributed by the Department of Journalism at Rhodes University.  This year, the Herald picked up the mantle with Spotlight, but while all our shows and profiles of creatives associated with the shows received generous coverage, it is too early to tell whether this newspaper highlighting festival news and providing reviews in much the same way that Cue did, is sustainable – given the precarious nature of Independent Newspapers itself – or whether commercial imperatives and considerations will impact adversely both on what it does or is able to do, and its longevity.  The Festival tried to obviate the absence of Cue with more online and social media, but these did not make up for the hole left by Cue.

4. A final – and increasingly serious – risk is Grahamstown’s/Makhanda’s failing infrastructure. This year, there was only one day in which there were electricity blackouts, but fortunately, the one MVG Productions show affected by this, could be performed with natural light.  If we had been unable to perform, we would have had to return the ticket income to the purchasers.  Given the slim margins, and declining audiences, the risk of having to cancel shows – and losing income – because of the failure of the city to provide secure electricity makes the Festival unattractive to producers.

Conclusion

The National Arts Festival faces its major challenges from the overall political and economic climate in the country, and from its location in Makhanda, making it increasingly unattractive for theatre producers on the Fringe.  I have deep appreciation for the pressures that the Festival faces in order to survive and keep being the interface between the arts and the sponsors/government, but I fear it has largely lost its attraction (for me anyway) as a platform for doing “serious theatre” on the Fringe.

Notwithstanding this, the Festival remains the most important national platform for the arts, and for younger producers and new entrants, this is an ideal space to learn.

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What the Naledi Theatre Awards say about the theatre sector

Introduction

Recently, Faniswa Yisa asked on Facebook “How many theatre institutions in Cape Town have had a black female director without the umbrella of ‘emerging’ or ‘development’?”  Gauteng-based friends with their tongues in their cheeks said they would bring out the popcorn and watch with interest as the question provoked their drought-stricken colleagues.

A few weeks earlier, Lesedi Job won the Naledi Best Director Award for her work on When Swallows Cry.  She was the first black African woman to win this award.

Awards reflect our industry.  We know from the Fleur du Cap Awards that the Cape Town theatre sector has issues.  But, with Yisa’s question in mind, this article looks at the Naledi Theatre Awards – in particular, its Best Play Director and Best Script categories – to see what they say about the theatre industry generally, and about the theatre industry in Gauteng in particular.  In doing so, it seeks to answer Yisa’s question in relation to Gauteng’s theatre industry too.

This article is less about the awards, than what they reflect about the industry.

Summary of Best Script, Best Director and Best Production categories

Below are the scripts, the directors and the productions which won their respective categories since the start of the Naledi awards in 2003.

 

Year Best Script Writer Best Director Play Best Production
2003 Nothing but the Truth John Kani Janice Honeyman Nothing but the Truth Nothing but the Truth
2004 King of Laughter Craig Freimond Craig Freimond King of Laughter Honour
2005 Exits and Entrances Athol Fugard Mpumelelo Grootboom Relativity Exits and Entrances
2006 The Suitcase Eskia Mphahlele James Ngcobo The Suitcase The Suitcase
2007 Shirley, Goodness and Mercy Chris van Wyk Yael Farber Molora Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?
2008 Karoo Moose Lara Foot Lara Foot Karoo Moose Karoo Moose
2009 Brothers in Blood Mike van Graan Mpumelelo Grootboom Foreplay Nothing but the Truth
2010 The Girl in the Yellow Dress Craig Higginson Craig Freimond Death of a Colonialist Death of a Colonialist
2011 Rivonia Trial Aubrey Sekhabi, Mpumelelo Grootboom, Mandla Dube Aubrey Sekhabi Rivonia Trial The History Boys
2012 Abnormal Load Neil Coppen Sylvaine Strike The Miser The Miser
2013 Hayani Atandwa Kani and Nat Ramabulana Yael Farber Miss Julie Miss Julie
2014 The Shadow of the Hummingbird Athol Fugard and Paula Fourie Aubrey Sekhabi Marikana: the Musical Pale Natives
2015 A Voice I cannot silence Greg Homann and Ralph Lawson Khayelihle Dom Gumede Crepuscule Fishers of Hope
2016 Suddenly the Storm Paul Slabolepszy Jade Bowers Scorched I see you
2017 When Swallows Cry Mike van Graan Lesedi Job When Swallows Cry When Swallows Cry

Some facts

Best Director

From 2003-2017, a period of 15 years, there have been a total of 90 nominees in the Best Director of a Play or Musical category.  Of these, 27 (30%) have been black (in the Biko sense), while there have been 63 white nominees.  There were two male/woman director combinations, with 33 woman (37%) and 55 male nominees respectively.

Of the total of 90 nominations, there have five black woman nominees, all of them since 2013 (Warona Seane 2013, Princess Zinzi Mhlongo and Khutjo Green 2014, Jade Bowers 2016 and Lesedi Job 2017).  28 of the 33 women nominees were white.

Individuals with the most nominations in this category over the 15-year period are Alan Swerdlow (10), Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom (5), Janice Honeyman (4), James Ngcobo (4), Aubrey Sekhabi (4), Lara Bye (4), Lara Foot (3), Greg Homann (3) and Sylvaine Strike (3).  These 9 directors account for 40 – nearly half – of the 90 nominations.

There have been 15 winners since 2003, 8 of whom were black.

Four directors have each won twice: Craig Freimond, Mpumelelo Grootboom, Yael Farber and Aubrey Sekhabi, so that these four directors have won more than half the 15 awards between them.

In the last three years, the winners in the Best Director category have all been first-time, young (under the age of 35) black winners, and two of them are women, a good sign both for youth and black women in Gauteng.  But these things don’t just happen.  Khayelihle Dom Gumede  won the Best Director category (2015) a few years after winning the Emerging Director’s Bursary where he staged an earlier version of Crepuscule.  Jade Bowers was the Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre in 2016; her festival play also won her the Naledi award for 2016.  Lesedi Job was granted her debut directorial by the Market Theatre’s artistic director, James Ngcobo, with When Swallows Cry in 2017.

Best Script

While there has been an upward trend in the nomination of black women in the Best Director category over the last five years reflecting greater opportunities for this demographic to practice their craft, the Best Script category reflects appalling numbers.

The only black woman to have been nominated in this category over 15 years, and out of a total of 80 nominees, is Motshabi Tyelele, and that was in 2004.

Of the 80 nominees, 37 are black (36 were men), 42 white and there was one collaboration between a white and a black writer.

There are only 13 woman nominees (16% of the total), 12 of whom are white.

The individuals with the most nominations are Lara Foot (6), Mike van Graan (5), Craig Higginson (5: 4 plus one collaboration with Mncedisi Shabangu), Mpumelelo Grootboom (5: 3 plus 1 collaboration with Presley Chweneyagae and 1 collaboration with Aubrey Sekhabi and Mandla Dube), Aubrey Sekhabi (4: 3 plus the latter collaboration), Paul Slabolepszy (3), Athol Fugard (3: 2 plus a collaboration with Paula Fourie), Nick Warren (2), Renos Spanoudes (2), John Kani (2), Mpho Molepo (2) and James Ngcobo (2).

These 12 writers are responsible for 50% of the total number of nominations over a period of 15 years, with Lara Foot being the only woman among them (along with Paula Fourie, Fugard’s collaborator on one piece).

Of the 15 winners in this category, 7 are black.  Foot is the only woman to have won this category in her own right (Karoo Moose, 2008).

The individuals who have won the most in this category are Athol Fugard (2: 1 plus 1 with Paula Fourie) and Mike van Graan (2).

 12 of the 15 winning writers or writer combinations (80%) are now over the age of 50.

 Best Production

 The same play won the Best Script, Best Director and Best Production of a Play only four times: Nothing but the Truth (2003), The Suitcase (2006), Karoo Moose (2008) and When Swallows Cry (2017).

On 5 occasions (one-in-three), the winning play in each of these three categories was completely different.  In 2007, Shirley, Goodness and Mercy won Best Script, Molora won for the Best Director and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf won Best Production.  In 2009, it was Brothers in Blood, Foreplay and Nothing but the Truth; in 2014, The Shadow of the Hummingbird, Marikana: the musical and Pale Natives made up the winners; in 2015, it was A Voice I cannot silence, Crepuscule and Fishers of Hope, while in 2016, the three different plays were Suddenly the Storm, Scorched and I See You respectively.

Only Lara Foot has won the Best Script, Best Director and Best Production categories in one year (Karoo Moose), although James Ngcobo’s adaptation of Eskia Mpahlele’s The Suitcase achieved the same feat two years earlier.  Craig Freimond won both the Best Script and Best Director categories in the same year for King of Laughter in 2004, while Aubrey Sekhabi won the Best Director for Rivonia Trial in 2011, a play he co-wrote with Mpumelelo Grootboom and Mandla Dube, winning the Best Script category in the same year.

On more than half the occasions (8 of 15), the winning director was not responsible for the Best Production.

Observations

Based on the above, the following observations may be made:

1. Clearly, using Yisa’s question as a starting point, more opportunities need to be provided for black African women directors and playwrights. It is not necessarily that the talent does not exist and needs to be “developed”; it is about having time and support to hone one’s craft and opportunities to present one’s work with the highest possible production standards.  The writers who have received the most nominations (Lara Foot, Craig Higginson, Aubrey Sekhabi, Mpumulelo Grootboom and I) have all benefitted from an extended period of time working in, or with a theatre. Foot and Sekhabi are the artistic directors of their respective theatres; Higginson was the resident dramaturge at the Market Theatre for a number of years, Grootboom is a resident director at the State Theatre and I enjoyed 3,5 years as Artscape’s Associate Playwright.

Grootboom, Sekhabi and Foot have also received numerous nominations in the Best Director category for the same reasons (access to resources over extended periods of time within theatres), and Alan Swerdlow earned his multiple nominations during a period when he was the equivalent of a “resident director” for Pieter Toerien’s productions.  Janice Honeyman, Yael Farber, Clare Stopford and other women directors all feature among the nominations in the Best Director category because of opportunities provided by theatres with resources.

There are fewer opportunities for writers, and it is quite instructive that in 15 editions, only one black African woman has had a play nominated for a Naledi award.  It is not so much for the Naledi judges to go out in search of such writers in future, but rather for the theatre industry to increase this pool of writers; this can be done with relative ease as each subsidised theatre could commission a writer, or contract a woman resident writer for an extended period of time as has been, and is the case with male writers and male writer/directors.

2. The National Arts Festival fringe is an indicator of how much new work is produced each year, but it also reflects the wide range with regard to quality. That most of the Naledi scripting awards have been won by more seasoned writers shows the lack of investment in, and opportunities to learn about writing for the stage.  There are many making theatre, but there is dearth of mentors, dramaturges and showcases for new work as part of their development.  This is less the case in the Afrikaans theatre community with its “Teksmark” (Text Market) supported by the National Afrikaans Theatre Initiative (and which now includes scripts in other languages), than among theatre makers working in other indigenous languages, or among black theatre-makers working in English.  Again, this is a challenge for the theatre industry to address.

3. With the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees and Woordfees in the Western Cape producing much new work in Afrikaans, the Fleur du Cap awards often affirm Afrikaans theatre that eventually finds its way into the traditional theatre spaces in the region. This is less the case with Afrikaans theatre – much of it of excellent quality – in Gauteng.  But, at the same time, theatre produced by black theatre makers in Gauteng seldom makes its way to the Western Cape (for example, few, if any, of the award-winning plays by Sekhabi or Grootboom have been staged in the Western Cape).  This may have to do with the scale of their productions that often feature large casts, but it raises the question of touring and access: surely, with state-subsidised theatres in at least four provinces, theatre should be able to tour to at least these four regions?  It would appear though – from the list of Naledi nominations over the 15 years – that it is more likely for work from Cape Town to feature in Gauteng’s theatres than the other way round.  If it is difficult for work to tour between these two major theatre-producing regions, how much more of a challenge is it to tour works to other, less-resourced regions, thus denying most of the country’s inhabitants access to the country’s best theatre.

4. It is an obvious point to make, but it needs to be made to show the disparities within the theatre sector. There are many independent theatre companies and theatre makers producing excellent theatre, but often the lack of resources limits who they can employ as actors, as designers, and their capacity to produce sets or elaborate costumes, etc. Accordingly, the overwhelming number of winners in each of the categories listed above are related to plays produced by the more established institutions – the Market Theatre, State Theatre, Baxter Theatre, Pieter Toerien Productions – or by Festival producers.  If this is the case, then it is also appropriate to ask about the absence of some of the subsidised theatres – PACOFS, the Playhouse and to a lesser extent, Artscape: why are they NOT represented at least among the nominees?  Are public funds being used wisely in these institutions, in the nurturing, production and distribution of theatre?  If not, why are they being funded?

Conclusion

Awards processes and events such as the Naledi Theatre Awards are symptoms of our industry.  They help us to interrogate and understand the challenges and the possibilities.  Twenty-four years into our democracy, there is still much that needs to be done to give concrete expression to the right of everyone “to participate in the cultural life of the community and to enjoy the arts”.  The Revised White Paper on Arts and Culture” has been more than four years in the making, and while changes in policy could contribute substantially towards the realisation of this right (provided policy changes are complemented by political will and resources), there is much that the theatre sector itself can do, with the available resources.  But here, too, there is a need for vision for the sector as a whole and for the will to contribute beyond narrow institutional, individual or “group” interests and concerns.

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