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Sport, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa stays on as President Cyril Ramaphosa changes Cabinet

By Ismail Mahomed

Thursday 5 August 2021 will go down as the night when the cultural & creative sector held their breath while President Cyril Ramaphosa announced changes to his cabinet. The long held breath ended in a spuitpoep of disappointment.

This past week the sector had mobilised itself around the following call urging President Ramaphosa to remove Nathi Mthethwa as the Minister of Sports, Arts & Culture, “@PresidencyZA President Ramaphosa, COVID-19 is taking a huge toll on artists and the arts sector. As you reconfigure your cabinet, show that you care. Appoint a new minister to work with us to re-imagine our future and our ongoing contribution to the country’s well-being.”

Earlier in the week I wrote in response to the artists’ call, “Whether the President will heed the call is a case of wait and see. If Ramaphosa does heed the call then it will be an indication that his “Thuma Mina” was delayed but quite heartfelt. If he doesn’t then only time will tell when the arts sector will begin to carve out the kind of cartoons and caricatures that shows up Cyril Ramaphosa as the lame duck president who has put party interests before the nation’s interests.”

As much as I agree that Nathi Mthethwa must fall I wasn’t going to choke myself on a spuitpoep hoping that the President would act on the call. I actually didn’t even bother to watch the President’s address. I was hosting a dinner at the time. The President’s addresses over the last year have been fairly predictable.

In any event, if the Nathi Mthethwa had been removed my dinner would have been disturbed with WhatsApp messages from some arts journalists asking for comment. There were no messages. I just knew that Nathi Mthethwa was going nowhere. I didn’t have to wait for the President’s address to be disappointed. I knew at 11:00 on Thursday morning that Nathi Mthethwa was still going to rule the roost.

This past Monday Minister Nathi Mthethwa was due to address the media on his new plan for revitalising the sector but as word spread about the reshuffling of cabinet the press conference was cancelled. Jokes began to filter that the Minister might not need to share his new plan.

The Minister was in full steam this morning when he convened the very same press conference that had been postponed and delivered his “For the record” report card which was nothing more than an aggressive fight-back campaign. He said, “We thought it is important to start our inaugural #ForTheRecord conversation with you by focusing on this issue repeatedly raised about the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture’s unresponsiveness to the dire needs of the creative sector. It is also underpinned by the fact that we do not want to create an information gap between us as we now move from relief support to recovery of the sector.

Based on facts that are publicly available and verifiable, we are today stating it unequivocally that statements and allegations suggesting the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture has been unresponsiveness and uncaring are not backed up by fact.

Yes, we are unable to support each and every role player in the sector in need of assistance. But that is because of limited resources, not because of refusal to support. If anything, monies spent thus far are just under R 700 million, that is over half a billion rand. This translates into just under 65 000 beneficiaries. By all accounts, this cannot be counted as a small feat.”

The Minister then went on to list institututions, organisations and individuals that the Department has supported. Case closed

It wasn’t that Ramaphosa didn’t listen to artists’ protests. It’s surely a case of Minister Nathi Mthethwa winning the argument. His report was filled with stats, numbers, figures and names.

Several of those names of individuals and organisations who have been loudly vocal against the Minister have also been beneficiaries of funds. The Minister may be labelled a Mampara but he is not just an ordinary Mampara. He is an astute Mampara.

By punting the list the Minister is simply showing that his list which is essentially about quantity of service and not about quality of service still speaks louder than the thousands of voices who call him a Mampara. The remorseful Minister ended his address with, “I am looking forward to an open, frank snd interactive dialogue with you. Whilst we will be answering questions and comments you pose, we will be taking note of lessons that could assist us in moving forward.”

What a wonderful display of remorse for mistakes made. Just how could Ramaphosa not respond with, “Congratulations, Bra Nathi, you stay on. Condolences arts sector. You have to stick around with Nathi”.

.Ismail Mahomed is an award winning playwright and veteran arts administrator.

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