CityLife Arts

Artists end sit in at the National Arts Council

The Public Protector has come in as mediator over the issue of the Presidential Economic Stimulus Package funds disbursement debacle and the Hawks are said to have an interest in the matter.

By Edward Tsumele

The occupation of the National Arts Council offices in Newtown, Johannesburg, in the past two months by the sit in artists ended yesterday with no drama. In the past four weeks there has been fears that the  situation could result in violence, especially since the NAC Council had obtained a Court Interdict against the occupying artists, and the possibility existed that the NAC Council could use the interdict to effect forceful removal .

The  voluntary evacuation of the NAC offices in Newtown yesterday by the artists who are now going by the name of Abahlali Base NAC followed  soprano Sibongile Mngoma who has been leading a group of around 40 artists that staged a sit in since March 3, 2021’s announcement on Friday April 30, 2021 that the sit in was coming to an end.

The sit in by Abahlali Base NAC followed numerous  complains about the chaotic manner in which the Presidential Economic Stimulus Package (PESP) was handled by the NAC. Since it was announced in October last year.

The sit in artists elected to leave the building yesterday, Sunday, April 2, 2021, leaving the issue to the Public Protector to handle a mediation process, while the Hawks are understood to be moving in to investigate the alleged improprieties of a criminal nature.

Sibongile Mngoma shortly before she left the NAC building yesterday. PICTURE/Im4theArts.

Mngoma  in her speech on Friday that  was received  by  the generality of artists, however made it clear that the artists were still going to take more actions tackling the broader issues afflicting the creative and cultural sector in the country, and going forward, the Abahlali were gunning for the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture in Pretoria. Abahlali is the name the sit in artists have given themselves during the duration of their occupation of the NAC building. They have since released a video promoting their grievances as well as a documentary that captured their plight during the sit in as well as laying out their grievances. The documentary has since been aired on Moja Love Channel 157 DSTV.

“When in March we announced we were taking this action, we indicated that we were going to four places, first the NAC, second Samro, (South African Music rights Organisation) third the National Film and Video Foundation and lastly DSAC (Department of Sports, Arts and Culture). 

 For Samro and NFVF you can relax for now. Our next stop is DSAC and DSAC must be ready for us because we are coming there. When we come as Abahlali, we do not announce, but we are coming,” Mngoma said in a statement  streamed live on the Facebook page of Im4the Arts, an organization of which she is President.

 However the artists who staged a sit in went there as individuals and not representing any formation..

In the company of their lawyer  Mngoma further indicated that everything  do with the NAC dispute with the artists  from there on was going to be handled by their lawyer  who will represent the artists at the mediation by the  Public Protector, but as far as the occupation of the NAC building was concerned, it was over,” she said. 

She invited the NAC staff to come back to work on Monday, May 3, 2021, and promised that they would find everything as they left them in the building

“We came in peace and in peace we are leaving,’ she said before she further remarked “nobody ever thought that this day would come, but every dog has its day,” 

Bahlali Base NAC activist artists. PICTURE/Courtesy of Sowetan

And indeed as per their word, when CITYLIFE/ARTS visited the NAC building  yesterday, we found a group of them at the exit area wishing each other safe journey home after two months of living in the NAC.

The artists we met there seemed to be in high spirits to be leaving the building heading home. However it was obvious that the exit was emotional as bonds had been formed among the Abahlali for the two months that they occupied the building. The group that CITYLIFE/ARETS found there at around 5pm , they seemed not to be in a hurry to separate and go their separate ways eventually,  forcing veteran musician and icon of the bubblegum era music of the 1980s t Mercy Phakela to remarked: “What is wrong with artists? You do not seem to want to say your last bye byes and go home.” 

 Everybody of course ignored her as they continued with their seemingly endless good byes. Indeed life time bonds seem to have been cemented among the Abahlali for the duration they spent in the NAC building. What a strange way of forming bonds.

But before the artists left they cleaned the building, including fumigating it.

“I came here with dignity and I will this building with dignity. We left the place as clean as we found it, but better than was it was before because this building is sterile.  We cleaned the building so that the NAC staff come to work tomorrow and not give the excuse that the building is in a mess. We are not a mess but they are. It is important for me for the NAC staff to come to work because the Hawks must find them here. From now onwards the law takes its course.

I would also like to says thank you South Africa. Thank you the international community for the solidarity and thank you to Abahlali and we are not going to partwas as we are now family as Abahali is now a company” said Mngoma as  she left the building with her four year old daughter with whom she came with on the first day of her arrival at the NAC building. The daughter however came with her to the building for the second das as all along she had been at home.

Mngoma also thanked the security guards at the NAC whom she described as helpful and respectful towards the artists.

“I came here with my daughter for the first time I came here on March 1, and on my leaving this building I came with her again. This is important for me because she will live to tell this story,” Mngoma added.

As the artists exited the building they sang a defiant song, vowing to continue the  protest in the near future where they will meet again at “our next stop.”  Understood to be the building housing the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture in Pretoria.

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