An open invitation for coffee to Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa to plan monumental Africa Day celebrations

By Ismail Mahomed

Dear Minister Nathi Mthethwa

Since your staff are not very good at responding to invitations that are sent you I am inviting you publicly for a cup of tea. You can choose to order a caffe latte, cuppaccinno or even an expresso. The bill will be on me. I’ll even pay for coffee for whoever drives the blue light cavalcade. And I promise we won’t discuss the flag over coffee. We’ll stick to how you can put R22 million to combating xenophobia and growing social cohesion between our African brothers and sisters across the continent.

As you know — and you probably even have a photo opportunity scheduled in your diary for tomorrow — that tomorrow marks the 59th anniversary of the day when the Organisation for African Unity was formed and Africa Day was adopted. I will give you credit that throughout your tenure you have always looked very suave dressed in your African shirts at Afrika Day events.

I even have a photo taken with you at the Africa Day celebrations held at the Windybrow Arts Centre in 2018. You may recall that we posed in front of the Esther Mahlangu mural.

Strangely, when you commissioned a forensic report on the affairs of the Market Theatre Foundation one of the charges contrived by the amateur forensic investigators was that I was unauthorisedly absent from work on that Africa Day. They didn’t bother to look at our Facebook pages to see that as the CEO of the Market Theatre Foundation I was your official host at the Windybrow Arts Centre. Anyway, the entire forensic report was proven to have no substance; and as you recall the rest is water under the bridge so let’s get back to the coffee invitation.

You see, next year marks the 60th anniversary of Africa Day. It is an important milestone on the African continent but it often goes by without most South Africans knowing about its significance or about how the day can be commemorated. In fact, one of our legislated cultural institutions does far more for Black History Month than they do for Africa Month.

There is no doubt that you have tried quite hard to popularise the day and the Pan African anthem. Despite all your efforts to popularise the anthem it is quite unforgivable that the The Presidency of the Republic of South Africa a few months ago hired a really amateurish group to massacre the anthem at the opening of an economic summit. You may recall the television broadcast of the anthem with one of the women in the audience bursting out in laughter when the singers couldn’t hit the right note. Anyway, that video is on YouTube and Africans across the continent watch it to learn how not to sing the anthem but anyway, let’s get back to our coffee date plans.

Xenophobia as I mentioned earlier is one of the biggest faults that breaks the unity between us and our African brothers and sisters. Each time that there is xenophobic violence in South Africa the wedge between us and our African brothers from the diaspora grows deeper. Now, if you ploughed your passion for Africa Day into a really smart year long initiative next year to mark the 60th anniversary of Africa Day it could mark a significant turning point in your career. You could probably go down in South African political & cultural history as the only post-apartheid arts minister who firmly planted Africa Day into the cultural consciousness of the nation. In fact, your legacy could be so huge that it could easily over-shadow all the other blunders made during your tenure.

A properly organised event could bring an artist and an arts minister from every African country to South Africa. Can you imagine the photo-shoot opportunities that you could have with celebrities from the continent — and their Arts Ministers. And it doesn’t have to be a one day event. You could kick off the festival on Africa Day on 25 May 2023 and end up on 18 July which is Nelson Mandela’s birthday. He is celebrated as the greatest African leader of our century. Next year marks the tenth anniversary of his passing.

Now, just imagine a remarkable Africa Day celebration stretched over 7 weeks could be spread with events across the country. Just imagine the amount of work that could be generated for local technicians, stage crew, designers, performers as well as crafters who could be commissioned to create special Africa Day 60th anniversary mementoes. The possibilities are endless.

If your staff had responded to invitations that are sent to your office I was going to whisper all of this into your ear and you could have gone about throwing it out as your brilliant idea (and I would have acted like a ghost writer from behind supporting you). Now, that I have thrown this idea into the open I must caution you that there are going to be some of those sneaky guys on the board that you have appointed to the National Arts Council of South Africa (NAC) who might rush into a proposal to see how they can once again steal the milk of the land. This time round just don’t be stupid and let them do it! You are in the sunset years of your term as Minister of Arts & Culture and you need to do this right if you want to go out into the African sunset kicking up real dust!

Also, I advise just be cautious of the President. He is not to be always trusted. You saw how he turned the whole flag saga and your telcon with him into a joke on public television. He may just advise you to hire that same awful male singers he had at his economic summit to sing at the opening of next year’s event. He may look like a friend but it seems like he delights in undermining you.

I would suggest that you use the opportunity that next year presents to bring home some of our best opera stars — Pretty Yende, Musa Duke Nkuna, Njabulo Thabiso Madlala — and so many others who are flying high the South African flag abroad. And to make amends, I could even recommend casting your nemesis Sibongile Mngoma to sing with them.

Next year, could be your moment! Grab it! Own it! Let it make a difference! Let it overshadow everything else that you did wrong because the shallow thinking officials in the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture have constantly let you down because of their failures to strategise, plan, know our histories and their failures to understand how we can make cultural capital out of our histories. A 100 metre flag is low hanging fruit on how to build social cohesion. You have one last chance to do something even much bigger that it could re-paint your legacy in real African colours before your end of term. Do it!

Are you going accept my invitation to coffee or are you going to be a moegoe who drinks coffee only with his praise singers?

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