Towards a more impactful National Arts Festival

This article addresses some of the “how” in relation to criticisms and points raised in a previous article reflecting on the 2017 Festival.  It combines recommendations made after previous festivals on the size of the Festival (2014), reviews and reviewers (2014) and the Standard Bank Ovation Awards (2017).

Introduction

After this year’s edition (2014), there was much debate about the National Arts Festival as a market for the performing arts, and theatre in particular, given that there is clearly an oversupply of theatre on the Fringe for the size of the market that the Festival attracts for this genre.

This debate extended to the economic impact of the Festival in Grahamstown itself and in the Eastern Cape as a whole, particularly interrogating the actual beneficiaries of the Festival as opposed to broad statements of economic impact.

With the National Arts Festival also organizing the inaugural Cape Town Fringe, the questions about the size of the festival, its location and its actual beneficiaries played themselves out in that context too.

In the light of these debates and the critical questions raised, this short paper offers some ideas for how the National Arts Festival can make a real impact on the livelihoods of artists and people who really need it in Grahamstown, while maintaining its status as the premier arts festival in the country.

On reducing the size of the Fringe

Other than for a minority of practitioners who do really well on the Fringe, the general experience for Fringe theatre-makers is that they lose money. This is a direct consequence of there simply being too many theatre offerings for the size of the market.

The resistance to reducing the size of the Fringe has come in the form of numerous arguments.  Key among these are:

  1. audiences want variety and options; reducing the Fringe will take away a key attraction of the Festival
  2. the Festival is a free market; everyone has the same chance to “make it”, so this is an excellent place to learn what the real world is like
  3. theatre-makers come to the Fringe not only for financial reasons, but also to be noticed, to launch their plays – reducing the Fringe would take away such opportunities
  4. who will select and what criteria will be used to make such a selection if the Fringe has to be reduced?

Responses to these arguments

  1. Festival-goers (festinos) want variety

One festino can see a maximum of 77 shows i.e. 11 days X 7 shows per day; which only a handful, if any really achieve.  Most festinos probably see 4-5 shows per day X 5 or 6 days i.e. 24-30 shows (including Main and Fringe theatre, music, dance, etc) for the whole festival.

The first point then, is that there is no need to present 180 plus shows (quantity) on the Fringe, in addition to the Main programme, for festinos to enjoy “choice”.

The Main Programme’s theatre and other shows tend to sell out because they are curated i.e. the festino is aware that some sort of selection has taken place and/or that it (co-)produced by a reputable theatre entity.  The shows that attract “market attention” on the Fringe are those that are produced by theatre-makers with a “quality” brand i.e. whom festinos know from previous festivals and/or theatre productions in major theatres around the country.

The second point is that, should festinos be assured of a degree of excellence (quality), they would be more inclined to book for these shows.

  1. The Festival is a “free market”; as difficult as it is for some theatre producers to make it, this is good practice for the “real world”.

Any analysis of those on the Fringe who generate the most income will show that it is those with brands, with networks and historical privilege that overwhelmingly are the usual top-sellers (the exceptions do not dispel the structural advantages that many top-sellers have).

While the Festival may be a “free market”, it is also a limited market in quantity (it is simply not large enough to support all the productions staged at the Festival) and while the demographics are changing, it is still overwhelmingly white so that black, relatively unknown theatre-makers (of which there is an increasing number), do, and will struggle to attract this market.

It is not that this market has an aversion to “black” work; it is that they are generally ignorant of such work and its producers, and will be unlikely to purchase tickets for these works unless there is a recognizable “brand” association (black or white), and/or they are affirmed through a Cue review or perhaps an Ovation award.

  1. Theatre-makers come to the Festival to launch their work, to be noticed, not only to make money; reducing the size of the Festival will take away these opportunities.

While this may be true, it is more likely that theatre-makers will get noticed if

a. there are fewer productions for producers (international and national) to see

b. fewer productions mean that longer, more in-depth reviews can be written that could attract the attention of producers and

c. there were greater investment in the quality of the work, with better production values being an additional attraction

d. fewer productions mean longer runs thereby giving the production more of a chance of “being noticed” as one challenge is for producers (and audiences) to get to the productions they want to while they are still running

  1. Who will select and what criteria will they use?

There will be no selection process so that no criteria will be used.  It is recommended that self-selection occurs by the Festival placing limits on the number of productions that independent producers may bring to the Festival, and/or to link the number of productions to (experienced) festival producers investing in, and helping new entrants to find a market at the Festival.

An experienced producer or a subsidized production house/theatre may bring any number of productions to the Fringe.  For audiences and producers, they will be more inclined to purchase tickets for these shows, rather than unknown or little known brands unless there is good “word-of-mouth” at the festival about such productions.

Thus, the large(r) number of productions by “good brand” producers may prejudice younger/less well known theatre brands.

It is proposed then that there be a three-tier system (if “tiers” upset you, call it something else, but herewith, the principles):

INDIVIDUAL THEATRE-MAKERS/PRODUCERS

Tier One: Producers/theatre-makers who have staged a show on the Fringe at the Festival for five years or less

Such producers:

  1. are given a minimum of 5 performance and a maximum of 7 slots at the Festival
  2. are required to attend a briefing about producing at the Festival – the pros and cons – in their respective region (the Festival is to establish partnerships with institutions in every province where practitioners could collect toolkits/information packs about Festival production and/or to host information sessions)
  3. are invited to apply for
  4. an artistic mentor to advise/assist with the aesthetics of the play and
  5. a production mentor to advise on the branding, marketing and funding of the play

Members of the theatre community are/will be invited to offer such mentoring services, with producers able to choose (in order of priority) the mentor/s which they would like, and which would be most practical (in terms of geography, but recognizing that such mentorships can be conducted through technology i.e. skype, whatsapp, email, etc)

Tier Two: Producers who have staged work on the Fringe for 6 to 10 years

Such producers will be entitled to one play per year, and a second play if

  1. they have won a Standard Bank Ovation award in the preceding two years
  2. they have been selected for an international festival/theatre as a result of their work being seen at Festival (whether on the Main or the Fringe)
  3. one of their shows has sold the following percentage of the total number of tickets available for their show on the Fringe in the preceding two years:

30% of a 200+ seater (if 6 shows, then 30%+ of 1200+ seats i.e. 360+ seats)

35% in a 150-200 seater

40% in a 101-149 seater

50%in anything up to 100 seats (if 6 shows, then 50%+ of 600+ seats or 300+ seats/tickets) or they serve as substantial (rather than token) mentors (artistic and/or production) for a theatre-maker/producer in Tier One in the year of application for a third production

These criteria point to quality on the one hand and/or market demand on the other.

Such producers may have their two shows considered

  1. for a minimum of six and up to eleven shows
  2. if it is a returning show, for it to have won an award, or having been selected for an international platform and/or sold above the minimum ticket percentages as outlined above

Tier Three: Producers who have staged at least one play on the Fringe for at least 10 (not necessarily consecutive) years

Such producers may have two shows on the Fringe Festival and a third show in any one year, depending on the following criteria:

  1. they have won a Standard Bank Ovation award in the preceding two years
  2. they have been selected for an international festival/theatre as a result of their work being seen at Festival (whether on the Main or the Fringe)
  3. one of their shows has sold the following percentage of the total number of tickets available for their show on the Fringe in the preceding two years:

30% of a 200+ seater (if 6 shows, then 30%+ of 1200+ seats i.e. 360+ seats)

35% in a 150-200 seater

40% in a 101-149 seater

50% in anything up to 100 seats (if 6 shows, then 50%+ of 600+ seats or 300+ seats/tickets)

or they serve as substantial mentors (artistic and/or production) for a theatre-maker/producer in Tier One in the year of their application for a third production

If in two years, they fail to win an award or sell tickets as above, they revert to two shows per year maximum.

INSTITUTIONS AND COLLECTIVES

Theatre institutions and collectives (e.g. The Edge, ExploSIV Productions, Followspot productions) may bring up to seven shows in any one year, provided that

  1. at least two shows are Tier One shows
  2. artistic and/or production mentoring/support is provided to the Tier One shows that are part of its offering

No formal theatre institution (as opposed to individual theatre-makers/producers) – whether state-subsidised or private – will have a show on the Main Programme unless they also support at least one Tier One show on the Fringe.

The rights that individual and institutional/collective producers are entitled to are NOT TRANSFERABLE and can only be taken up by the producer/s themselves.

Conclusion

By applying this strategy

  1. Those who have attended and produced works on the Festival over a long period

1.1  are rewarded/recognized with greater opportunities

1.2  are challenged to produce better quality and/or more ticket-buying work

1.3  are invited to nurture/mentor new entrants/to give something back to the industry

  1. New entrants

2.1  have time to acquire experience of producing on the Fringe

2.2  are able to be mentored and to learn from others

2.3  are incentivized to produce good work/sellable work, and are rewarded with more plays

It is strongly recommended that if such a strategy is implemented – or a version thereof

  1. 10-15 high profile Fringe/theatre practitioners be approached to support the idea and to lend their weight as mentors to the project
  2. the broader theatre community be educated about this, and that it be “sold” as the theatre sector taking responsibility for itself
  3. theatre-makers who have attended the Festival for a while but who still struggle on the Fringe be invited to apply for artistic/production mentoring too

A smaller number of works, but still with brand names, and with greater incentivization towards greater quality and/or marketability, and the lending of “brand” names to new entrants as mentors, the overall quality and marketability of Fringe productions will be encouraged.

REVIEWS AND REVIEWERS

This was written about three years ago, and some of it might still have relevance to the discussion about reviews and reviewing, particularly at the National Arts Festival.

It seems like there are numerous things in place already to improve the general standard of reviewing – training possibilities (e.g. Kobus Burger), funding (e.g. Distell, BASA), mentoring (e.g. SA Writers Circle).  Perhaps we need to take responsibility as a sector, devise a little plan and come up with a mechanism to drive its implementation.

As I see it, the following: two immediate focus areas would be the  National Arts Festival (other major festivals use professional arts journalists attached to media partners like those in the Media 24 stable) AND Gauteng and Western Cape – the main regions of arts activity

Training could be provided by five institutions in particular: Johannesburg/Pretoria: School of Arts at Wits University and Tshwane University, Pretoria; UCT in Cape Town and University of Stellenbosch and Rhodes University

Also, an on-line course available throughout the year for freelancers around the country e.g. through Kobus Burger, former arts editor of Beeld, training.

There could be a generic course with specific models aimed at various genres (music, theatre, dance, film, literature, visual arts, etc).

Cue and the National Arts Festival

a. Identify/invite 30-40 senior students (minimum of BA Honours) and academics intent on attending the next festival, and who would be available to write reviews

b. All to complete an online training course in reviewing run by Rhodes University/Kobus Burger

c. All Cue writers are selected only if they have a certificate of competence from one of these course

d. Identify possible mentors to work with writers at NAFEST, to advise and comment on reviews prior to submission

e. All to sign a Code of Conduct to ensure no conflicts of interest in reviewing particular works

f. Festival/Cue to have a website for longer reviews, while Cue, given space limitations, carries shorter ones; the website to be well-advertised (people can access via smartphones easily enough)

Repository of reviews

a. Artslink to be invited to play this role

b. Anyone may submit reviews, categorized according to the production and dates of review so that comparisons may be made

c. A section – possibly – to be made available for only the best reviews, selected by a panel of five, to ensure compliance with “best practice”, to set standards for reviewing, and to celebrate excellence in the field

Annual awards for best reviewing as per existing awards (or additional awards at Fleur du Cap, Naledi, Ovations)

Annual gatherings

Reviewers, practitioners and trainers to meet in annual seminars in Gauteng and Western Cape at least to reflect on improvements/state of sector, exchange ideas, engage constructively, and plan on strategic interventions as necessary.

  1. Coordination

To be driven by a committee comprising representatives of the key producing festivals (National Arts Festival, ABSA KKNK, Clover Aardklop), training institutions and online platforms where review/arts journalism training takes place, SA Critics, funding partners.

STANDARD BANK OVATION AWARDS

 Consideration should be given to

  1. Having separate awards for productions that supported by institutions (productions – and I have had some of these – supported by a subsidized institution will invariably have better production values than most independent theatre pieces on the Fringe – is it really fair to compare them as equals?)
  2. Having separate awards or somehow acknowledging differences between works that have run before the Festival and works that premiere at the Festival (the Festival talks of “premieres” but means works that come to the festival for the first time, even if they have premiered elsewhere. Works that have had a season or two before the Festival are in better shape and thus stand better chances of being rewarded than works which have an audience and all the technical elements in play for the first time at the Festival. Works that have had prior seasons can be evaluated at their first performance, while works that premiere at the Festival should only be evaluated on their second, or preferably, third performance)

 

Use it, lose it.  Am done, and outa here.

 

Mike van Graan

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NATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL 2017: A REFLECTION

Introduction

When I first attended the National Arts Festival in the early nineties, the Spur – located towards the lower end of High Street – often had a queue to get in, particularly in the evening.  A few years later, it moved higher up towards the Rhodes University side of High Street, where it had more space, seemed to have more light, and had fewer, if any, queues, but always appeared to be well-patronised.  This year, the Spur has an entirely different location, is much larger and looks smarter than its previous incarnations, but at the times I went there between shows, it generally appeared to be empty.

In some ways, my experience of the Spur over the number of years serves as a metaphor for my experience of the Festival.  From a bustling environment, to a more, shall we say, spacious one. Except that the Spur’s infrastructure is relatively new, while the Makana municipality creaks.

There is no doubt in my mind that the National Arts Festival is an important event that must continue to exist.  However, if it was not clear before that challenges need to be addressed not only for the Festival’s own sake, but in order to contribute to the development of the industry as a whole so that the Festival is a better reflection of our industry and country, then the 2017 Festival has made this abundantly clear.

This reflection highlights some of the issues (both analytical and personal), and a second piece “Towards a more impactful National Arts Festival” – written after the 2014 Festival and updated this year – outlines how a key issue (that of the size of the Festival) may be addressed.

Signs of decline

This year’s Festival had a number of signs appearing to signal that it is a Festival in decline.  The Main Programme – at least as regards theatre – was relatively shallow, comprising mainly pre-existing productions.  For the first time as far as I can remember, there was no Cue, no daily Festival newspaper with reviews, news and pictorial impressions of the Festival. The Village Green – on the few occasions that I visited – resembled a ghost town (compared with experiences of previous years), and not only because of the apparent absence of a beer tent this year.  It was relatively easy to find space at The Long Table and there was little need for the oversupply of car-guards to point out empty parking bays.

And then, when Vincent Mantsoe attracts fewer than 40 people to a performance…Nkandla, we have a problem!

Interrogating the numbers

Writing in Grocott’s Mail on 14 July, Tony Lankester, CEO of the Festival suggested that “the 2017 Festival took a slight knock in numbers…early indications are that our theatre audiences dropped by about 10% from last year.”   In another report, Lankester said “We experienced a 10,2% drop in attendance to our various events and performances, with overall Festival attendance settling on 202 643”.

According to last year’s official release, overall attendance and ticket sales were listed as 227 524, a difference of 24 881 (suggesting a 10,9% drop rather than the Festival’s “10,2% drop” in “attendance and ticket sales”).

The first thing that needs to be said is that 24 881 is not a “slight knock”; if there had been an increase of nearly 25 000, we would have been told that the Festival had experienced “tremendous” growth, in Trumpian-speak.  25 000 is the equivalent of more than 200 sold-out shows in the Barney Simon theatre at the Market (or 144 sold-out shows in the Baxter’s Studio Theatre).

Secondly, readers need to be reminded that “attendance and ticket sales” numbers do not mean that 202 643 unique individuals came to Grahamstown (after all, Grahamstown can hardly cope with its regular population of less-than-100 000).  If one person stays for four days and buys tickets for 6 shows per day, that would constitute “attendance” of 24, and if this represented the “average” festival-goer, then fewer than 9 000 people would actually buy tickets or attend events at the Festival (the Festival – to my mind – has never corrected the impression given by the Minister of Arts and Culture and by newspapers that it is NOT 200 000 unique people who attend the Festival).  For artists, this is important as the market in which they are vying for sales is significantly smaller than the impression given by the overall attendance figures.

Thirdly, readers also need to know that “attendance and ticket sales” includes attendance at free events, so that, for example, a visual arts exhibition on the Main Programme is counted as having 120 attendees per day while its Fringe counterparts are estimated to have 50 attendees each day (or that was the case in 2014). 9 Main and 30 Fringe exhibitions at this year’s Festival would thus account for (free) “attendance” of at least 28 380 (14% of the total).

So, if one subtracts the “free attendance” figures from the overall attendance figure of 202 643 (and there could be more free events that I have not factored in here e.g. is attendance at the annual street parade counted?), that would leave ticket sales of 174 263.

Let’s – conservatively – allocate 100 000 of the 174 263 to Main Programme events, the popular jazz festival, the large venue symphony and comedy concerts, the theatre, dance and family components, Thinkfest and the Film Festival, etc, that would mean fewer than 75 000 tickets for the more than 280 Fringe shows (family fare, theatre, dance, music, etc), or an average of 260 tickets per show.

But the Fringe does not work on “averages”; it operates as a “free market” with some shows attracting larger markets than others, some generating far more income than others because they are able to charge higher prices by virtue of being in more demand, and some having long runs which builds word-of-mouth advertising and brings in more income.  In the venue in which my three shows were presented – along with four others – the best of the seven sold in excess of 90% of its tickets while another sold less than a third of its tickets.

Although all were one-person shows in our venue, some had higher costs than others with directors, designers and other pre-production costs, costs that would not be recovered at the Festival even if the production sold out all its shows.  The risks and the investment by many Fringe artists and producers in the Festival are thus not insignificant.

Which brings me to the same conclusion as in previous years: the Festival – in terms of “supply” – is too large for the size of its market i.e. “demand”.  The attendance figures emphasise this even more this year.

It is simply not true – as some commentators would have us believe – that this is normal for all Festivals and that artists simply have to deal with it.  Most other festivals – the Afrikaans ones in particular – limit the number of productions, and the ticket prices are higher so that generally, artists do not lose money by participating in the Festival (which is, however, the general experience of many Fringe artists).

Reviews, Awards and Opportunities

Despite the financial challenges and risks, many artists will continue to make the annual trek to the Festival as this is the only national platform on which they can present, test and market their – particularly theatre – work.  There is always the hope that some local or international producer, some theatre, some festival will see and like the work enough to select it for a tour elsewhere, with the potential then for amortising the production costs over a period of time.  Others sell toothpaste, cars and T-shirts to earn a living; we sell our theatre productions; the longer the life of a play, the more chance we have to earn rent, school and gym fees.  The days of the Festival serving as some kind of arts hypermarket are largely over though, but there are international producers like Afrovibes and local festivals like the Hilton Arts Festival that offer additional prospects.

Then there is the possibility of a review, which – in our world of small returns – might be an affirmation of our work or our egos or both, and might even be useful for future marketing purposes.  But, with no Cue, even a positive on-line review meant little at the Festival as its primary market is not – yet – tuned into social media to make this meaningful.  Furthermore, there are few real theatre reviewers left nationally, and those that remain, do not attend the Festival; without Cue, there will be no platform (beyond the limited on-line sites) at the Festival for their work.

There are journalists at the Festival, but the most active among them are of the “embedded” or “captured” variety.

“The Critter” comprising Mike Loewe, Steve Kretzmann and Sarah Roberson are the arts journalists embedded within the Festival, coming out every July to do their “crits” and then hibernating before doing the same at the Cape Town Fringe in September.  They deny that they are “reviewers”, preferring the label of arts journalists, but this does not stop them from offering their superficial opinions about the work of new and older professionals in a demanding industry. When I last read them a few years ago, I had the impression that their “reviews” are more about themselves, their having fun and trying to outdo each other with their versions of wit and poison pens, than with writing with insight and understanding about theatre.  As embedded journalists, they would often be at the forefront of defending the Festival and its management or offering gloating “reviews” of the work of artists close to management, while not being averse to pointing their pens of bile at those who challenge or critique the Festival.

Then there are the captured journalists, like everyone’s favourite reviewer, Tracy Saunders.  As a reviewer, Saunders has enormous power to influence public thinking about the shows she reviews and about the issues, institutions and individuals she profiles.  In this, she is not, of course, unique.  However, she serves on the Artistic Committee of the National Arts Festival and convenes the Standard Bank Ovations Award panel.  In these positions, she gets to determine what is selected for the Arena (and what not) and is highly influential in the allocation of Standard Bank Ovations (a role she also plays on the Fleur du Cap committee).  Saunders also gets to influence the selection of judges for the Standard Bank Ovations panel so that the power relations and the dynamics on the panel would favour Saunders as the Convenor.

One would hope and expect that those who select work for some form of public acknowledgement do it on the basis of the work, rather than allow personal grudges, or their personal relationships and preferences within the industry or their need for institutional affirmation to inform their selections.  In our industry of small returns though, the capturing on the one hand, and on the other, allowing oneself to be captured in a mutually beneficial relationship, play themselves out in ways other than Gupta-like financial benefits.  Saunders has perks, power and prestige at the Festival, and from the Festival’s perspective, there is one less journalist to interrogate or critique it and its Cape Town Fringe sibling.

The 2016/17 Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards (admittedly, I haven’t attended for the last four years), under pressure because of the absence of black African nominees, created categories of winners to ensure greater demographic representativeness.  This year, the Standard Bank Ovations dished out awards to 35 different productions (or about 12% of the total number of shows on the Fringe).  That is a lot of awards which makes one wonder about the politics of representation rather than quality, innovation and excellence being real benchmarks as per the supposed intention of the awards.

An award was created this year to acknowledge Daniel Mpilo Richards for his “Stand Out Performance” in State Fracture; do forgive my cynicism and bemusement for thinking that this was a belated and embarrassed form of “apology” for the Ovations panel’s snubbing of Pay Back the Curry last year, a show that achieved the rare feat of selling out all its shows at the Festival, and went on to earn Daniel the Best Breakthrough Newcomer Award at the Naledi Theatre Awards (as well as a nomination for the script).

By the way, with Daniel having won this Stand-Out Performance Award, how are Standard Bank Silver Ovation Awards decided upon?  Were the writing and directing of State Fracture so average as to warrant “only” an Ovation Award (in its own right and/or relative to other Silver Ovation Award winners), or was it the same impulse and personal prejudices that informed the snubbing of Pay Back the Curry last year?

Make no mistake; being critical within our industry does have consequences.  We can so easily see the embedded and the captured within our political world; in our industry of small returns, we have much greater difficulty recognising and dealing with it.

At the risk of protesting too much, I have no problem with not winning awards (how many awards does one need to be an “award-winning playwright”?).  I believe that those of us who have managed to gain some profile within our industry should use that profile to create opportunities for other, younger practitioners, for that is one way in which we will grow our industry.  So what pisses me off is when these young practitioners are prejudiced, as was the case with Daniel in Pay Back the Curry, or when young performers are unfairly critiqued by “reviewers” like Kretzmann “the acting of Siya Sikawuti and Mandisi Sindo was unremarkable…the play needs…possibly a different cast…” (Return of the Ancestors, 2014)

Fortunately, whatever embedded reviewers and judges may think, their opinions and awards have relatively little effect at the box office.  A week before the Festival, Pay Back the Curry that had been ignored by the Ovations panel last year, had sold a hundred more tickets than two shows – combined – in the same venue, that had both won Ovation Awards in 2016. Once the Festival started, one of these shows went on to generate good houses on the basis of word-of-mouth, while the other did less well, despite both being Ovation winners.  By the same token, while State Fracture won a Standard Bank Ovation Award after its first performance at the Festival, this did not dramatically drive up its sales for the next few days (perhaps if Cue had been around to announce it, this might have made a difference). A new show, Helen of Troyeville, a “searing drama” as one reviewer described it rather than a comedy or political satire, sold about as many tickets as State Fracture overall, but, tellingly, it sold more than 50% of its tickets before the Festival even started, before any audience had seen the play.

(As an aside, none of my three shows had a poster – they did have a full-page ad in the Festival programme – and they played to 76%-93% capacity overall.  Posters may be self-affirming, but artists need to consider whether, within an expensive festival, they are a necessary expense).

Those of us who have attended the Festival for a while and have developed followings both at the Festival and elsewhere, are more likely to attract audiences for our work than newcomers or veterans who for some or other reason have yet to “capture” the attention of the Festival markets.  By virtue of having a number of shows at the Festival, in this “free market” of the arts, we do not compete on “equal terms”; those of us with more privileged education, networks, resources, etc generally do better than those without these.  So, the more shows we have, the more we take opportunities, income and profile from others; that is the nature of the so-called “free market” in which we supposedly compete on equal terms, but clearly, do not.

Conclusion

With the broader economic and political challenges of our country, the situation for the National Arts Festival is not going to improve dramatically in the next while.  Accordingly, in my view, the Festival needs to offer fewer, more quality shows and encourage the theatre community to invest in and grow the number of quality shows.  And then, the Festival needs to ensure greater independence and rigour of arts journalism and quality of reviews and award-making so that these actually contribute to the quality of the work, of our industry and thus of the Festival, rather than being content with what passes for these at the moment.

Mike van Graan

July 2017

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CORRUPTION MASTERCLASS

Who needs Model-C schools to teach us

The ruling party has no moral compass

When they regularly declare wrong right

When everyday they make black the white

They said they would rid us of

 

In Biology

Model ANC educated us

Corruption flows through the arms

The submarines

The jets

The helicopters

Into the body politic

 

Head to foot now infected with

Cancerous greed

Red light whores

With blue light brigades

Selling their souls

And a country’s dreams

To vultures

 

Was it not in Maths we learned from Model ANC that

Seven-hundred-and-eighty-three charges of

Fraud

Racketeering

Corruption

Plus one man

Equals a President

Minus a conscience

Multiplying treason

Dividing a nation

 

It was in English

We were taught

That “fire” is a synonym for “swim”

The public purse plundered

For presidential pleasure

Pillage pardoned by a Model ANC parliament

A Public Protector pilloried

For calling the corrupt to account

 

Model ANC principals enlightened us in Accounting

That principles of accountability

Count for nought

Defraud parliament

Be appointed a cabinet minister

Defeat justice

Become an ambassador

Deceive a tender board

Receive a platinum handshake

Defend the Constitution

Get fired

 

Then in Woodwork we were instructed

By Model ANC

How to make a cabinet with

Nuts

Loose screws

Disjoints

Not to display but

Dispense the

Family silver

Somewhere else

 

Model ANC tutored us in Physical Science that

The theory of relativity

Is the practice of enriching your relatives

The gravity of nepotism

Pulling us further down the

Black Hole of

Looted hopes

 

We learn in Geography from Model ANC teachers that

Illegal

Illicit

Just plane ill

Flows of riches are now

More acceptable

To Asia than Europe

To Dubai than Zurich

To Saxonwold than

Soweto

Stanger

Strandfontein

 

Even in extra-mural activities

The football World Cup

Model ANC schooled us

To abuse public resources

Or public office for personal gain

Is practice worthy of

Admiration

Normalisation

Celebration

 

Who needs Model C or

Any other qualification anyway

When Model ANC has shown us

False qualifications

Fallacious CVs

Fake experience

Are sufficient

To run

The public broadcaster

State-owned companies

Government departments

Into the ground

 

And so we wake to another day

To be schooled by Model ANC

In yet another Masterclass of Corruption

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Transformation and the Western Cape Theatre Industry: Proposal to Distell/Fleur du Cap (2013)

The vision

Distell/Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards are committed

  1. to promoting, recognising and rewarding excellence in the theatre industry in the Western Cape
  2. to encouraging, supporting and rewarding efforts to promote transformation within the province’s theatre industry, better to reflect – at least – the province’s demographics in all aspects of professional theatre practice and
  3. to growing audiences for theatre produced in and for the Western Cape province and nationally

Proposal

To this end, and, in addition to the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards that recognise excellence in various categories, Fleur du Cap invites Western Cape theatres, theatre companies and festivals that produce professional, mainstream theatre eligible for the Fleur du Cap theatre awards to undertake programmes to transform the demographics of all aspects of theatre practice in the Western Cape region.

Awards

Each year, at the Awards, Distell/Fleur du Cap will make awards – first, second and third prizes – to companies, theatres, festivals, etc that best promote the goals of transformation, aware that transformation and development strategies often require resources that are not generally available.

This award, to be known as the (Name) Award will take the following into consideration, with companies invited to submit monthly – or annual reports to FDC detailing the following:

  1. the number of roles in theatre productions in that month/year produced by the theatre, and the number of people of colour: male leads, female leads, male supporting actors, female supporting actors
  2. the number of roles in theatre productions by outside hirers and the number of people of colour
  3. people of colour in such positions as

3.1   directors

3.2   lighting designers

3.3   music/sound composers

3.4   set designers

3.5   costume designers

3.6   puppet designers

  1. programmes/mentorships/residencies to develop/provide opportunities for people of colour to enter and/or participate in the industry at the highest levels
  2. programmes/strategies to develop new, sustainable audiences

Evaluation

Proposals to be judged by the FDC panel and/or an independent panel, coordinated by an FDC judge

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Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards: A Reflection (2011)

There has been much exasperation, disappointment and even anger expressed after the recent Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards affirmed white winners in all 17 categories in which the panel of 13 judges made selections.  Considering that only four of the 68 nominees were persons of colour, this should hardly have come as a surprise.

Fingers were immediately pointed at the judges for 2011, the majority of whom were white, and most of these were Afrikaans-speakers.  Some opined that it was little wonder then that awards were given to Afrikaans-speakers in the coveted categories of leading actor, leading actress and leading support actress, best performance in a cabaret/revue/solo performance, most promising student and best director.

The actual awards event with two presenters – one English and one Afrikaans (in a province with isiXhosa also as an official language); entertainment provided by white musicians, and dancers who were persons of colour, covered in mud and who had the unfortunate appearance of subserviently holding up the awards for the all-white winners, as well as the acknowledgement of DA politicians in attendance, added to the perception  – by some – of the 47-year-old awards as, at worst, a relic of the apartheid past, and at best, a confirmation of the Western Cape and Cape Town being “untransformed” and out of touch with the rest of the country.

However, to criticise the judges for the overwhelmingly white nominations and winners, is a superficial response unless it is supported by an analysis of what the judges were obliged – by the local theatre industry – to work with.  Are the nominations and awards only a reflection of the cultural biases of the judges or do they reflect the reality of the demographics within Cape Town’s theatre industry?

According to the award organisers, there were 63 productions which were eligible for the awards, of which 53 (84%) were presented in 6 theatre spaces: the Baxter Theatre (15), UCT’s Intimate/Little theatre complex (9), Theatre on the Bay, Artscape and the Kalk Bay Theatre (8 each) and the Fugard Theatre (5) with single productions spread between the New Africa Theatre, Magnet Theatre, the City Hall, Maynardville, Kirstenbosch Amphitheatre and the HB Thom in Stellenbosch while On Broadway housed two shows.

Four of the six main theatre spaces – Theatre on the Bay, Kalk Bay Theatre, the Fugard Theatre and the Little Theatre/Intimate Theatre complex – provided more than 100 roles for actors during 2011, but fewer than 5% of these were filled by actors of colour.  While the Baxter Theatre and Artscape produce some of their own work (both reflecting greater racial equity in the employment of actors in their own productions), many of the productions presented at these spaces (and the Fugard and Kalk Bay Theatre) are “rentals” i.e. independent theatre companies that hire the space.

The key point is that of the actors employed in plays presented during 2011 at these 6 theatres and who were eligible for the leading actor, leading actress, leading supporting actor and leading supporting actress categories, just more than 10% were persons of colour which was proportionately less than the 12% representation of persons of colour in the Fleur du Cap nominations in these categories.   In other words, rather than the judges being responsible for the lack of nominations of people of colour – and ultimately for the absence of people of colour as winners in various categories – the more fundamental problem is that of theatre managements and independent theatre-makers choosing to do plays and/or casting the plays in a manner that provides the judges with an overwhelmingly white pool – nearly 90% of the total number of actors – to choose from.

The Mechanicals, for example, is a superb company that attracts numerous nominations each year for the excellent theatre work that it does with relatively meagre resources.  It is based at the UCT Little Theatre/Intimate Theatre complex, with most of the company members being graduates from this institution.  And yet, despite UCT graduating a number of actors of colour each year, The Mechanicals seldom has actors of colour in its productions.  Why?  Do actors of colour not get invited to be part of the company?  Are plays selected for performance that generally do not cater for actors of colour?  Are actors of colour not prepared to work at risk like white members of the company?  Whatever the reason/s, it does not help with the diversification of the local theatre industry if young actors of colour are not honing and celebrating their skills in a company such as The Mechanicals.

But if the lack of demographic equity is a major problem in the Fleur du Cap’s acting categories where one could expect greater equity, the situation is even more dire in other categories.  Of the 38 plays whose directors were considered for the Best Director award, only one director – Fatima Dike – was a person of colour, with 7 directors being responsible for just under 50% of the total productions under consideration.

Nineteen productions included music or soundscapes of which of only three were done by persons of colour.  28 of the 32 lighting designs were done by white designers with one person of colour being responsible for 3 of the 32 designs, while no person of colour designed costumes (for 18 productions) or sets (for 29 productions, 21 of which were shared by 10 designers) or puppets.

These facts confirm a much greater problem within Cape Town’s theatre industry, and the “whiteness” of the award nominees and winners cannot be laid simplistically at the door of Distell, the sponsors of the event, nor at the door of the judges who can only select from what they are given by theatre managements, festivals and independent producers.

Given our history and the peculiarities of the industry in the Western Cape, we are – understandably – highly sensitive to the racial/cultural dynamics at such award events.  And yet, there are many white industry players who are not nominated or who do not win awards despite being nominated.  For every white actor nominated in the Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor categories, there are at least 13 white actors who are not nominated.   Two directors – Alan Swerdlow and Fred Abrahamse – were each responsible for 4 plays in 2011, but, despite their great experience and expertise, neither was nominated in the Best Director category.  If these two directors were persons of colour, many would believe that they were slighted on the basis of racial or cultural bias, but that – in the context of the demographic composition of the theatre industry in Cape Town – would be highly superficial and simplistic.   This implies that there needs to be much more participation by, more opportunities created for and upskilling of people of colour across the theatre industry in Cape Town regularly to produce a critical mass of nominees who stand a real chance of winning on the basis of merit rather than because of political correctness.

With theatres having limited resources for producing their own work (thus their heavy reliance on rentals), festivals have become the key producers of new theatre productions.  The Suidoosterfees, the Woordfees in Stellenbosch and the ABSA KKNK in Oudsthoorn – all of which serve a primarily Afrikaans-speaking market – produce numerous plays between them annually so that inevitably, many of these plays will be staged in the city’s main theatres and will thus be eligible for the awards.  Given this scenario, it would appear to be less a case of simplistic cultural bias of some of the judges in favour of Afrikaans theatre personalities and more a post-1994 systemic problem of cultural policy and funding that provides a surfeit of excellent Afrikaans theatre productions (few, if any, of which provide work opportunities for “black African” actors, directors or technical personnel).

Notwithstanding all of the above, do cultural biases play a role in the judging process?  Certainly!  All awards of this nature have an element of subjectivity on the part of the judges.  So would the judging panel benefit from being more representative of the region’s demographics?  Absolutely!  Notions of excellence and merit are not absolute, but are culturally-influenced and time-bound so that determining award winners would benefit from robust debate and a diversity of perspectives.  Judges should, however, have the requisite theatrical expertise and knowledge as it would be a great disservice to the sector if awards are made on the basis of political considerations rather than artistic ones.

On the other hand, this year’s awards event reflected poor political, business and artistic judgement.  No company wants its brand – or the events and projects that promote its brand – to be compromised or sullied in any way.  After the 2011 embarrassment of awards being made to the wrong nominees, and precisely because the organisers would have been aware of the nominations and the potential controversies around the winners given similar controversies in the past, the event could have been organised to be more inclusive and more celebratory of the diversity of theatrical (as opposed to music and dance) talent in the city.

The semiotics of an awards event can be easily corrected in future.  The greater challenge of this year’s Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards is to Cape Town’s theatre sector: does it have the vision for and commitment to a theatre practice that serves, reflects and includes the diverse communities of people of the province?

Mike van Graan is the Executive Director of the African Arts Institute and is Artscape’s Associate Playwright.

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A response to the critique that “all the black characters die” in When Swallows Cry and the pessimistic messages that this conveys

Introduction

As the creative team of WHEN SWALLOWS CRY which premiered at the Market Theatre in January this year, we were overwhelmed by the generous and moving responses to the play.  However, there were some who – even though they were thoroughly absorbed by this piece of theatre – had problems with elements of the writing, particularly the perceived pessimistic ending.  This is to acknowledge those concerns, and to engage with them.

Generally, as a writer, once the work is in the public domain, one leaves it to audiences to interpret it as they wish.  However, given this perception of the ending, I would like to offer some insights into what the play is attempting to do. (We were able to address some of these concerns in Q&A’s after a few of the performances, and this is to provide a broader opportunity for such engagement).

There are many who will read this who may not have seen the play, but I do not think that talking about it, or “giving away the ending” will detract from how future audiences will engage with, and be engaged by the piece.

Finally, although this article has been brewing for a while, I am writing this on the same day as a march took place in Pretoria against migrants and refugees from other African countries.  The play deals with this exact theme – African refugees and how they are treated in other countries – although South Africa features only in passing in the play.

Stories of Swallows

When Swallows Cry interweaves three stories set in Africa, or about African migrants and refugees.

The main story features a “migrant” Canadian teacher – initially assumed to be an American – who is captured by a group of bandits in a West African country.  He is held for ransom to generate the funds required to develop the region in which he is held.  As more information about who he is emerges, the leader of the bandit group – Commandant – decides to kill him, while the ordinary soldier does not see the sense in it.  Eventually, the soldier turns on Commandant and releases the hostage.  At the end, when he is presented with an opportunity to do so, the Commandant decides not to shoot the Soldier.

A second story features two Zimbabwean teachers who flee the economic hardships and the political oppression of their country in a boat heading to Fiji where they will not require visas for at least three months. However, the boat ventures into Australian waters and they are held at a detention centre for illegal immigrants, and are marked for immediate deportation to Zimbabwe.  They manage to capture their racist detention officer but realise that they are unable to escape.  The detention officer regains control, and the two refugees are shot dead.

The third story tells of a Somalian who leaves his war-torn country for South Africa, only to experience brutal xenophobic violence that obliges him to seek refuge in America.  He obtains a legitimate US visa but is hounded at the port of entry (the play was written before Trump’s ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Somalia, but the story resonates with this executive order).  One of his tormentors is an African-American official, a descendant of African slaves, but whose job it is to prevent “undesirables” entering America, and threatening their security.  The officials refuse him entry and, rather than return to the countries from which he has fled, the Somalian kills himself.

These stories, featuring three actors playing contrasting characters in the three different playlets, are multi-layered and raise numerous themes about contemporary mobility e.g. the freedom with which the Canadian is able to travel, unlike the Africans.  The stories comment on each other, not necessarily in sequence, but as a whole.

Responses to the play

The primary critical response to the play was that it is pessimistic in that the black characters all die in the end, and that, in addition to them dying, in one story, the black characters allow a white man to come between them.

A few of the critics stated that – presumably because of my Afrikaans surname – black people should tell their own stories (implying that black characters will have happier endings).

Alternative readings and insights

It is to the above criticism that I wish to respond, to provide alternate interpretations and to contribute to the debates that I hope the play will continue to generate.

First, it is not true that all the black characters die.  In the core story, although the Commandant has “the right” (the Soldier betrayed him), the means and the opportunity to do so, he does not kill the Soldier.  Through the Soldier’s reasoning with him, the Commandant comes to accept – though reluctantly – that there is the possibility of some good coming out of the release of the hostage.

This contrasts to the story of the Zimbabwean refugees, where, although the refugees seek to appeal to the humanity of their captor, he refuses to see them as anything but sub-human.  His deep racism simply does not allow him to change, and he acts accordingly.

In the Somalian story, the black American interrogator is less compromising than his white counterpart and treats the Somalian – who hails from Africa, the African-American’s ancestral home – with harshness and disdain.  The Somalian attempts to appeal to his blackness, in the hope of sympathy, but the African-American will have none of it.  He does not act out of racial or continental solidarity, but in terms of his job description, and his job is to keep America safe. He is American, and not African, even though he may owe his ancestry to Africa, and even though he shares the Somalian’s skin colour.  Still haunted by 9/11, for the African-America, the Somalian represents a threat to his country.

In the play, there are six black characters.  Three of them die.  Two are shot by a white supremacist.  One kills himself.  Of the latter, rather than the superficial reading of “a black man dies”, it is more important that audience interrogates the reasons for his death.  The Somalian prefers to die by his own hand rather than return to South Africa where people like him are killed by black South Africans, or to return to Somalia where his countrymen – all black – kill each other in the ongoing violent conflicts there.  Why does a black man prefer to kill himself when refused entry into overwhelmingly white America, rather than return to South Africa or Somalia?  An average of 100 Somalians are murdered in South African annually.  Just two weeks ago, eleven Somalians were killed in Khayelitsha.  That is the more challenging, uncomfortable question that needs to be grappled with; it is not simply a question of black characters dying in the play, it is also about why this particular black character chooses to die.

What makes someone so desperate that they think they would be better dead?  Just this week there was the report of a Ghanaian migrant, Frederick Ofosu aged 33, who hung himself in Malta.  He left a message explaining his despair, that he was made to feel like a criminal when he had done nothing wrong.  Those are the sentiments too of the Somalian character in the play.

The uncomfortable truth in post-apartheid South Africa is that black people kill other black people.  African nationals are killed by black South Africans.  Miners at Marikana were killed by black policemen serving a black government.  More than 100 black, mentally ill patients died because black politicians and supposed care-givers, simply did not care.  More than 40 black people are murdered each day in South Africa, overwhelmingly by other black people.

Living in denial about this, or attempting to explain it away – or even justifying it with ideological and intellectual somersaults does not address the carnage. Facing up to it would be a better first step to stopping it.

It is easy and comfortable self-righteously to shout at Americans that “black lives matter” and engage in Facebook activism when an African-American is shot by a white policeman, or to scream racism when black South Africans are violently assaulted or verbally abused by white people; it is far more challenging and uncomfortable when we have to call out violence committed against black people by other black people.  But, it has to be done.

One of my aims in setting these stories in non-South African contexts is to invite South African audiences to look at these stories with greater dispassion, and so reflect on the meaning and relevance of these stories and themes for us locally.

Second, it is also precisely because of the tendency – particularly among middle-class people and Facebook “activists” – to view almost everything through the lens of race that I chose to write three stories with the three actors playing completely different characters in each story.  With one story featuring two black characters and one white character, the likelihood of the white character being seen to be representative of all white people and the black characters representative of all black people, is great in the South African context, so that by having three stories, with each actor being completely different in character in each story, the invitation to the audience is to understand the character and his motivations beyond the colour of his skin, to see the characters as human beings with agency, rather than as automatons acting according to pre-determined racial mappings, and to identity and sympathise with the characters in their various situations as individual human beings, rather than as representatives of particular groups.

Our failure or inability to look beyond the superficial element of skin colour and to have human empathy is a reflection of the extent to which our own humanity has been damaged, how we have allowed a system of racism and its legacies to demean and rob us of empathy, and how, accordingly, we could end up exactly like the racist Australian detention officer who refuses to see others as human beings – like some South Africans refuse to see African nationals as human beings just like ourselves – so that we can beat, stab, necklace, shoot and kill them.

When we see the Somalian simply as a “black who dies” rather than as a human being, an individual character with a life story who chooses to take his own life rather than be repatriated to a country where he may be killed by others who have exactly the same skin colour as him, or who has his dignity trampled upon by the American port authorities, we reflect our damaged humanity, our inability to look beyond the superficial, and to hear, to listen, to feel as the character does.

Thirdly, the play has the same basis for all three stories i.e. the power relations are wholly unequal between “the captured” and “the captors”.  What the play interrogates and seeks to show is that – while the situations are all essentially the same – the endings to the different stories depend directly on human agency, on the decisions taken by the human characters in each story.  Indeed, some characters are white and some are black, but except for the story featuring the Zimbabwean characters, the endings are wrought less because of the colour/race of the characters than by decisions made as human beings, with agency.  The invitation to South African audiences is again to view the play beyond the limiting lens of “race”, and to evaluate the human and structural impulses that drive the resolutions.   As in real life, the characters are not simply pawns of fate, nor are they mindless tools of macro structures that oblige them to act in particular ways; they can choose how to act.  We often hear the defence “I was just doing/I had to do my job” (security policemen, Nazi soldiers, etc); when confronted with real human beings, those in power have a choice: will they act as fellow human beings, or will they hide behind the “doing my job” screen when wrecking the lives of others?  Admittedly, these are not always easy choices, but they are, nevertheless, choices.  The African soldier chooses to release their hostage, despite the possible consequences for himself.

Which brings me to my fourth, and the most important point regarding this theme as the writer: the play explores the notion of “being civilised” and acting in a “civilised way”.  Western countries project themselves as “civilised”, evolved, with the values and behavioural standards to which the rest of the world needs to aspire.  Those who act contrary to their (western) values and standards are deemed to be barbarians, uncivilised, backward.

In these terms – and this play was commissioned by a Norwegian theatre company so that it will have an international audience – those in Africa would generally be considered to be barbarians and uncivilised while Australia and the USA would be assumed to be centres of civilisation (along with Europe).  However, how civilised a country is or their people are – for me, at any rate – is how they treat the vulnerable, human beings in need of shelter, safety, refuge, etc.  The expectation of “civilised audiences” would be that the western hostage is killed in Africa and that Australia and the USA would be hospitable to those fleeing places of conflict or with low life expectancy and a poor quality of life.

However, this does not happen in the play.  The “civilised world” acts in ways that are barbaric (as is the case in real life – note Trump’s ban on refugees from Syria, Australia’s despicable treatment of “illegal immigrants”, European countries that close their borders to refugees fleeing a war and even Germany – praised for taking in more than a million refugees – repatriating migrants/refugees to countries Germany considers “safe”, even if the migrants/refugees have left those countries precisely because they are NOT safe).  It is in Africa where the characters act with humanity, with reason and with empathy, and that is one of the main points of the play – to juxtapose the brutal endings of refugees in the so-called civilised world, with the happier ending of a hostage in the so-considered barbaric, backward world of Africa.  Unlike the American port officials, the African soldier does not just “do his job” or “obey orders”; he reasons, he empathises and acts accordingly, even at great risk to himself.  Neither is it a simplistic matter of “a white man coming between black people” as some superficially interpreted the piece; the character, Soldier, was not convinced that killing the hostage (the original intention was to sell/ransom him in order to generate funding for the development of their village) would be in the best interests of the village as it would attract the army and perhaps international military intervention.  Despite his deep desire for revenge for what the hostage symbolised, and then for Soldier’s betrayal, Commandant accepts Soldier’s reasoning, drawing a distinction between Soldier being a good man, but a bad soldier.

Finally, in the original text as I had written it, it is the story of the Commandant and Soldier that ends the play, on a more “hopeful” and ambivalent note.  However, during rehearsals, the director – Lesedi Job – determined that the play should end differently with the Somalian story as the climax, arguing against a less “Hollywood” ending to bring home the less-than-happy realities of many African migrants in the world today.  When I saw the production for the first time the day before its first preview, I agreed that this ending was valid and worked theatrically.  Would those who felt that the ending was too pessimistic because “black characters died” have felt differently had the original ending prevailed?  I do not know; theatre is a collaborative affair, with theatrical and dramatic choices made by others in the creative team, as it should be.  I am happy with the ending also because it inspires debate.

This brings me to the trope of “We (blacks) must write our own stories.”

First: absolutely, everyone must tell, write, stage their own stories.

Second, by black, do these populists mean Biko-black (inclusive of Africans, coloureds and Indians) or Jimmy Manyi-black (Africans)?

But, thirdly, which of the “Swallows” stories are “our” stories – as in black South African – stories?  Not a single one. And yet, they are all about human beings in, and from Africa.  It is completely false that there is one “black narrative” on a continent of nearly one billion people and a country of 54 million.  The narratives of human beings from other African countries are not the narratives of the South Africans, for example, who marched against them in Pretoria, or who burn and loot their shops, and shoot them dead.  The stories are certainly related but to assume that simply because people share the same skin colour they have the same story or the same perspectives, is, quite simply, false.  Marc Gbaffour, Chairperson of the African Diaspora Forum said after watching the play “When Swallows Cry is amazing…I could hear the voices of real migrants talking about the challenges they are facing.”

To be a writer does not require race essentialism and/or racial solidarity; it requires human empathy.  This allows woman writers to construct believable, sympathetic males characters; disabled writers to present well-rounded able-bodied characters, and straight writers to write gay characters into life. Details and further texture are provided by other tools of the writer: research and imagination.

Conclusion

All over the world, we are witnessing the rise of populism and the lack of nuance, the inability or lack of will to deal with complexity; polarisation based on half-truths, the conjuring of emotional responses and fear unrooted in rationality and facts.  As much as we can see this and decry it when it is performed by the Donald Trumps, Geert Wilders and Marie le Pens of the world, we are unable to recognise it in ourselves.  However, in my view, it is the flip side of the same distorted coin – a belief in falsities and half-truths that make us feel good about ourselves, that may earn us applause when we shout these half-truths aloud and punish the “other” for their real and perceived sins.  In South Africa, given our history, these falsities and half-truths generally have to do with “race”.

If I do anything as a writer, it is to challenge such intellectual and political superficiality, and to invite audiences to think more, to analyse deeper and to reflect longer on what they have experienced.  And then, to act as empathetic humans in a world and in a society where such action is increasingly necessary, but increasingly difficult to find.

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

INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

PROCESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Critique of Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why the process matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERROGATING THE IMPLEMENTATION AND MANAGEMENT OF POLICY

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

1. Illegal appointment of the National Arts Council in 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Management of international policy instruments

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

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

This episode again underscores-

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

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

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

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

  1. Lack of capacity within DAC institutions

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

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

What this points to are

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

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

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

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

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

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

This reflects:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

False Analysis of the Failures of Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Slow transformations in the sector;

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

  • Inefficient and cumbersome administrative procedures;

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POSITIVE ELEMENTS IN THE REVISED WHITE PAPER

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

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

KEY DEFICIENCIES IN THE REVISED WHITE PAPER

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

Conceptual weaknesses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Who is the RWP for?

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

  1. Hasten transformation to enable accelerated transformation?

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

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

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

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

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

  1. African Knowledge Systems (AKS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Social Cohesion and Nation-Building

The RWP states that

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

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

The RWP states

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

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

  1. Performing arts traditions

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

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

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

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

TRANSFORMATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABSENCE OF RESEARCH

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

  1. The impact and limitations of the 1996 White Paper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. The National Development Plan: Vision 2030

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Reports and documents

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

National Development Plan Vision 2030 (2011)

Constitution’s Bill or Rights (1996)

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

Charter for African Cultural Renaissance (2006)

UNESCO Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001)

Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003)

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

The African Union’s Agenda 2063 (2014)

Charter of the United Nations

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

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

DAC National Mapping Study (2014)

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

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

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

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

NEW POLICIES FOR ARTS, CULTURE AND HERITAGE

  1.  Theatre

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

  1. Dance

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

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

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

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

4. The Cultural and Creative Industries

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

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

  1. Arts, Culture and Heritage Education and Training

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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