Arts, Culture and Heritage: Ideas in competition

Although the revised white paper promises positive changes, the indication that the DAC is “captured” and the Minister “compromised” has created much secrecy around their functioning.

The cultural and creative industries sector in South Africa turns over approximately R100 billion per annum which is 3% of the GDP. Culture is additionally one of the four pillars of Gross National Happiness. 6% of all jobs in South Africa are creative ones. “Culture is dynamic, representative and central to global changes, in particular restitution, training and uBuntu. It is important to youth empowerment, job creation and the forced revolution of the digital economy,” explained South African Roadies Association (SARA) President Freddie Nyathela.

However, the apartheid legacy of strangling access to proper information, skills development, training and education has continued at the DAC, although under a different guise.

In 1994 the DACST (Science and Technology included then) was given to the Inkhata Freedom Party (IFP) and was used as an ideological approach to bolster Zulu nationalism. This set the stage for the ANC to continue to push their liberation agenda at the risk of youth development.

“We had Ben Ngubane, Pallo Jordan, Paul Mashatile, Lulu Xingwana and then Nathi Mthethwa and there is no change. Recommendations take five years. And, before implementation, someone else comes in and starts a new plan. It never ends.” Ringo Madlinglozi

The 1996 White Paper is currently being revised. It is now in its fourth draft and going through high level committees. When the policy revisions are turned into legislation it will trigger some important changes for the sector.

SARA challenged the White Paper on the grounds of the bill of human rights – sections 22, 29 and 33 and asked the Public Protector for intervention. The proposal was for the inclusion of a National Technical and Skills Council with the recommendation of a National Events and Technical and Production Skills Academy.

Skills development and training in the sector has been part of a constantly changing SETA (Sector Authority) landscape. The revised white paper admits that the Create SA project was the framework to accredit training provided by NGOs, however “unfortunately created a culture of dependency.”

Community Libraries is an outlet for education and information upliftment. The libraries have an annual grant of R1.5 billion. A further R4.5 billion is earmarked over the medium term to transform urban and rural community library infrastructure facilities and services. Culture is at the forefront of re-establishing diplomatic relations abroad after four decades of isolation. The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) has become a stakeholder and together with SA Tourism, are planning to establish an annual SA Performing Arts Market!

Inter-departmental cooperation is a further consideration. Education policy is dealt with in partnership with Department of Basic Education (DBE). Addressing the digital divide and new industry information such as “content,” is dealt with in partnership with DTI (Trade Industry), DOC (Communication) and SARS (Revenue Services). Wits policy unit is currently attempting to open dialogue between DAC and DIRCO.

According to an industry insider, “The DAC is a lame duck.” He said, “One wonders when the President and the ANC will wake up to the folly of a state captured DAC. It is election suicide to throw arts and culture under the bus for want of the appeasement of political forces which thrive on incompetent, inept and corrupt departmental leadership.”

Evident on the DAC estimated expenditure report, Vote 37, published on the Treasury website is that SARA stands alongside Bram Fischer Library, Origins Centre, “Cultural Precincts” (no further details) and the Centre for the Book as some of the organizations frustrated by funding being awarded but not given. SARAs fifteen million rand grant was a remedial action proposed by the public protector, which should finally see to the renovations of their Newtown educational facility.

DAC expenditure is estimated at R4.5 billion with R2.4 billion allocated to heritage and R1.2 billion to arts and culture. Funding in “heritage promotion and preservation” has increased year on year by 6.4%, whilst “arts and cultural promotion and development” only 1.9%. The two priority areas for arts and culture are events and creative economy. Of the R970 million allocated to the Mzansi Golden Economy (MGE), 33.7% is spent on cultural events. R385 million is budgeted annually to the Cultural and Creative Industries (CCI) Development. The SACO (Cultural Observatory), maps the sector.

According to Zayd Minty, an expert in cultural policy, “There are two tensions that underline decisions about any cultural policy making process – a centralised approach or a decentralised approach.”

The DAC have continued a centralized approach which existed during Apartheid and enables a small group of nationally recognized organizations to continue to benefit heavily from funding. Robben Island and Freedom Park are very well funded centralized organizations.

Whilst new centralized organizations pop up – others are collapsing. The National Arts Council (NAC), National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), Bloemfontein Theatre and Market Theatre Foundation are all in a state of crisis rocked by accusations from the staff.

The NACs 2016/7 financials indicate that only 35% of R102M was spent in the year. The revised white paper proposes NAC merge with the NFVF to form a new body, the National Art and Audio Visual Council of South Africa.

Minty says, “The best place to deal with community and youth development is at the local government level, but, it is not equipped to do so. Local government does not believe it has a constitutional mandate to fund cultural development. The need is for a sophisticated cultural dialogue and a lobby to fight for culture in its broader sense.”

The lack of interaction between local, provincial and national government is addressed in the revised white paper which proposes an interdepartmental structure to develop an “effective integrated intergovernmental service model.”

“The core problem is that there are no guidelines for local government to implement cultural policies, so culture isn’t well utilized to address pressing issues of societal transformation on the ground. Because of the definitional slipperiness of culture, heritage and arts, these area ends up getting used for narrow interest groups, political ends or for city branding,” explained Minty.

At a national level DAC uses heritage narrowly to valorize the ANC. Government donated R20 Million to the Committee of the Legends and implemented the Lifetime Achievement Awards. The DACs strong emphasis on the elders is represented in their proposed rebranding as Department of Arts Culture and Heritage (DACH). It is proposed National Heritage Council (NHC) assume the vision for all national provincial and local art galleries and museums. Centralized organisations such as Iziko and Ditsong are already struggling with the resources they have. NHC CEO Sonwabile Mancotywa is currently serving his third term.

Origins Centre Chair, Amanda Esterhuysen pointed out, “DAC is a huge disappointment. They provide little direction, support and guidance for the management of heritage in the country. Heritage Agencies are poorly staffed and don’t have the capacity to monitor the impact of development on the heritage landscape.”

As an example, DACs new social cohesion programme takes a R37.5M annual budget, but does not provide any known outcomes. Nkhumeleni Thovhakale, Media Liason at the Deputy Minister's Office did not comment.

The DACs bloated administration is evident in expenditure. Office costs are up 14% to R300 million and salaries amount to R232 million with fifty-two employees earning an average of R1.2 million per year. Current Minister, Nathi Mthethwa is also an ex-Police Minister.

Nyathela said, “We are playing with a ticking time bomb. The youth has energy. If you don’t create platforms and stages where they can let their energy out in a positive way you are asking for big trouble. When this frustration comes out, they will have nothing to lose.”

According to Minty solutions to youth development lie in the ground up development approach of cultural spaces. He uses the example of Medellin in Columbia, where a strong cultural democracy approach to funding has lead to success for the city as a whole.

Although DACST in 1996 constructed forty-two multi-disciplinary Community Arts Centres (CACs) in diverse urban and rural communities, today many of these have collapsed due to staff and government capacity.

Although R300 million was awarded to CACs, only R24.7 million was paid out last year and R7 million allocated for this year. Government support of the non-profit sector is also down 3.4% to R140 million.

Struan Douglas

Struan Douglas is a freelance writer and author based in South Africa.