CityLife Arts

Artists take their fight with the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture over Covid-19 related difficulties to Luthuli House

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

A group of artists mainly  from the dance and theatre sector who included prominent arts personalities such as soprano Sibongile Mngoma,  internationally reputed dancer and choreographer Gregory Maqoma, finance  specialist from Vuyani Dance Theatre Lindiwe Ledwaba, Nadia Virasamy, the Managing Directro of Moving Into  Dance, among others, took their fight with the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture to Luthuli House, the home of the ruling ANC in central Johannesburg, yesterday, August 30,2021

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The peaceful protest that saw artists take part as individuals hailing from different arts entities and organbisations including Abahlali Movement Drive , an orgnisation formed by artists who occupied the National Arts Council offices for 60 days, to raise their grievances about the plight of artists under lockdown, and how the Presidential Economic Stimulus Package fund disbursement was handled by the National Arts Council, were hoping to meet President Cyril Ramaphosa at Luthuli House.  The artists wanted to raise issues of how the current 50 audience capacity rule of Covid-19 rule is stifling and crippling theatre financially.

The National Working Committee of the NAC meets at Luthuli House on Mondays, and hence the artists took their march there yesterday. But instead of meeting the President, they only managed to hand a memorandum of demands which was received by an official from the office of the acting secretary-general of the ANC Jessie Duarte.

Sibongile Mngoma

One of their key demand is that Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa, who survived the recent cabinet reshuffle by President Ramaphosa be removed from the arts and culture  portfolio. The artists  charge him of not caring enough about the creative sector during the hard lockdown, including how DSAC handled the complaints by artists in relation to how the NAC, an agency of DSAC, handled the PESP. The chaotic administration of the PESP funds, among other issues of maladministration,  saw the NAC Council reduce funds allocated to artists that had applied grants under the PESP, delays in paying artists, some of whom are still waiting for payment many months after the deadline, as well as losing court cases from those challenging the decisions of the NAC Council pertaining to the PESP.

The NAC has in response instituted a forensic investigation into the fiasco, and as per last briefing to the sector by NAC Council spokesperson, Tshepo Mashiane, that report should be complete by end of August. It is not known as to whether that report is complete yet and ready to be  released this week as previous undertaking to the industry by the NAC.

However the artists who marched to Luthuli yesterday, carrying placards with various messages of their demands, which among other demands demanded theatres to be opened to more audiences, instead of the current 50 maximum cap.  These restrictions, they argued, made it unpractical and unprofitable to produce a theatrical production. The frustrated artists dispersed at 10am.

This latest activism in relationship to the creative sector’s grievances as a result of the biting effects of a series of lockdowns that has seen the sector severely bruised and almost decimated for lack of opportunities to earn a living is one of several that have taken place this year.

A Protester

In May the Abahlali artists marched to the offices of the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture in Pretoria, seeking an audience with Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa and his top officials. The artists however could not meet with either the officials or the Minister, but instead, found a strong police presence around the government building in Pretoria.

When President Ramaphosa made changes to his cabinet last month in July, 2021, many in the creative sector were expecting him to also effect changes in the Sport, Arts and Culture Portfolio. However that did not happen, and hence the current protest action.

However Minister Mthethwa argues that his department has done all it could do under the circumstances  of limited funds to fund every artists needing Covid-19, relief

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At a media briefing he held with the media in July, under a new initiative from his office called #On theRecord, Mthethwa announced that his department had so far given out more than R700 million to artists and arts organisations as Covid-19 related relief.

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