CityLife Arts

Today artists march to Parliament and Union Buildings over Covid-19 difficulties and grievances

By Edward Tsumele

South African artists are today marching to several government institutions, including the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Parliament in Cape Town and provincial Government Premiers’ offices around the country.

Organisied by several artists organizations in the country led mainly by the recently formed and influential artists representative body, Im4the Arts, led by soprano Sibongile Mngoma, the protest action is prompted by the suffering of artists as hunger and poverty have now reached home, with some artists starting to lose homes and cars as the effect of the lockdown is now biting for real in the arts community.

The Covid-19 necessitated lockdown since March has hit hard in the arts community as artists such as musicians and other performers have not been able to earn a living under any of the risk adjusted lockdown levels so far that disallows more than 50 people to meet at one place at the same time. The artists are calling on government to allow music venues to organize gigs at 70% capacity under the current level 2, and to extent the night curfew to up 12midnight instead of the current 10pm cut off by which everyone must be off the streets.

The artists representative bodies’ decision to take this protest action follows that mounted last month by Durban based artists, who under the campaign tag  #Vula President! occupied a section of the busy N3 in Durban and started a concert. That action resulted in several artists being arrested and police using rubber bullets to disperse the protesters.

The use of harsh measures by the police has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many artists who feel that the use of force was not necessary. The current protest action is also informed by a popular perception within the arts community that the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, has not done enough to mitigate the effects of the lockdown in the arts community. They also complain that there is a reluctance  and lack of appetite to meet the artists by Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa to discuss their grievances.

The Department of Sports, Arts and Culture has however given out funds to artists since the lockdown, but the artists maintain that that assistance is not enough and is not inclusive enough as many artists could not be assisted. The artists are now calling for President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene directly and set up a task team to look into a range of issues affecting the creative industry.

The artists coalition body that has organized the protest march released a statement ahead of the march.

”We as the South African Cultural and Creative Industry Organisations have come to the point where our situation has gone beyond any reasonable state of acceptability and we have now exhausted every attempt in good faith to engage with the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture.

It is no secret that the Cultural and Creative Industry was the first to be shut down by COVID-19 regulations and it is doomed to be last to re-enter any semblance of normal continuation of our profession. Our sector further notes that the untenable situation requires redress and we therefore submit this memorandum to seek your personal executive intervention as the only remedy to rescue our sector from looming and inevitable collapse.

On Wednesday, 16 September 2020, our industry will be marching to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the National Assembly in Cape Town, and Provincial Premier Offices. The marchers will assemble at Church Square in Pretoria and in front of Parliament in Cape Town.

Issues leading to this planned march include:

. Relief Fund Processes

. The bureaucratic and administrative processes of the Covid-19 Artist Relief Fund have been totally impractical and out of touch with the reality of the vast majority of our practitioners. The Artist Relief Fund has not served the most vulnerable members of our economic segment. It has favored a small privileged portion with better access to data, documentation, technology and information on tax compliance. The administrative processes requiring bank statements and tax compliance certificates demonstrates a thorough lack of understanding that a vast majority of practitioners earn a predominantly non-contractual cash hand-to-mouth remuneration for their work in a sector which is highly unregulated.​

. The 2nd Wave of Relief Funding has had an overwhelming application comeback rate that has been attributed to the above factors. We have also witnessed those with correct documentation being requested to reapply.​

. In general, the Artist Relief Funding for theatres and arts organisations has been very scattered, ineffective and based on non-realistic criteria for application which demonstrates how out of touch the Department of Sports, Arts & Culture is with the reality of our sector.

. The closure of both state and independent venues (including theatres, galleries and music halls) has decimated the performance arts sector and has paralysed the basic ability of performers to earn any kind of a living.

. In instances where, through their sheer desperation artists have resorted to protest action to draw attention to their plight, such as the recent case in Durban, they were rubber-bulleted, many arrested and they now stand to have criminal records which will seriously impact on their chances of having any gainful employment again.

. Our sector keeps hearing from the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture about an Economic Stimulus package of which R1.2 Billion is earmarked for Sports, Arts and Culture; and yet we have received no indication of when this much-needed stimulus will become a reality and exactly how it will be apportioned between our sector and that of Sports. The latter is already enjoying the economic benefit of the partial re-opening of their sector, while our sector remains in a total shut-down as if it were level-5. We as the representative bodies state clearly that we need to be part of the process of determining how stimulus packages are structured and be in constant consultation on their effectiveness.

Organizing the Arts and Culture Sector

. A more equitable participation for the arts sector in our Economy, by way of greater access to the means of production, and ring-fencing of LOCAL CONTENT in all public spaces, including broadcast, advertising and live performance.

. Regulation of all live entertainment and/or recorded playback performance venues, to comply with Copyright and collection society licensing.

. Arts Qualifications and/or experience criteria for public servants and politicians charged with the task of decision-making on arts and cultural issues.

. Drastic clamp-down on corruption and misallocation of arts funding and systems for proper accountability and auditing of sector bodies receiving public funding.

. Working together to regulate our sector. Our sector is still not regulated after 26 years of democracy.

. An explanation on the implementation a strategy of the 1996 Revised White Paper that was endorsed in February 2020.

. A need to set up a Ministerial Task Team with stakeholders to review, propose and implement revised strategies that will grow the sector.

We request the intervention of Honourable President Cyril Ramaphosa to engage with the Arts and Culture Industry.

Some of the arts representative bodies that organized this march include the following:

.SAACYF – South African Arts and Culture Youth Forum

.TUMSA – Trade Union for Musicians of South Africa

.SAWACH – South African Women in Arts, Culture and Heritage

.CAF – Cstahood Arts Foundation

.Im4thArts – Civil society movement Lobbying for the Arts

.House of CREW – Creative Resources Empowering Workers – Speaking for freelancers across the Travel, Events and Arts Sectors

.The Clap n Tap Federation – Speaking for choirs and Brassbands

.GYA – Gildar Youth Academy

..ASSITEJ SA – International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People

..SACPU – South African Creative Practitioners Union

.SAMSA – South African Musicians Support Association

.IBF – Independent Beneficiaries Forum

.TDEASA – Theatre and Dance Employers Association South Africa

.SAMA – South African Maskandi Association

.AESA – Association for the Entertainers of South Africa

.YTSA – Youth Tourism South Africa

.CAC – Citizen Action Campaign

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