Cultural commissar: Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, centre, at a media briefing in Parliament in March. He is flanked by director-general Vusi Mkhize, left, and arts and culture institutional governance deputy director-general Kelebogile Sethibelo. Picture: SIYABULELA DUDA
Cultural commissar: Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, centre, at a media briefing in Parliament in March. He is flanked by director-general Vusi Mkhize, left, and arts and culture institutional governance deputy director-general Kelebogile Sethibelo. Picture: SIYABULELA DUDA

Though the revised white paper promises positive changes, indications that the Department of Arts and Culture is "captured" and the minister "compromised" have created much secrecy around their functioning.

The cultural and creative industries sector in SA turn over about R100bn a year, which is 3% of GDP. In addition, culture is one of the four pillars of gross national happiness. About 6% of all jobs in SA 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," says South African Roadies Association (Sara) president Freddie Nyathela.

But the apartheid legacy of strangling access to proper information, skills development, training and education has continued at the department, though in a different guise.

In 1994, the then department of arts, culture, science and technology was given to the Inkatha Freedom Party and used as an ideological tool to bolster Zulu nationalism. This allowed the ANC to continue to push its liberation agenda at the expense of youth development.

Musician Ringo Madlingozi points out: "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."

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

Sara challenged the white paper on the basis of sections 22, 29 and 33 of the Bill of Rights and asked the public protector to intervene. 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 have been part of a constantly changing sector education and training authority landscape. The revised white paper concedes the Create SA project was a framework to accredit training by nongovernment organisations, but this "unfortunately created a culture of dependency".

Community libraries are an outlet for education and information upliftment. The libraries have an annual grant of R1.5bn. A further R4.5bn 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 Co-operation has become a stakeholder, and together with SA Tourism is planning to establish an annual SA Performing Arts Market.

Christophe Farnaud, French ambassador to SA, said: "There is strong bilateral co-operation between France and SA, strengthened by a three-year programme of co-operation signed by our governments in 2016. This agreement covers sectors from the performing arts to creative industries, from the publishing industry to the promotion of linguistic diversity.

It is election suicide to throw arts and culture under the bus for the appeasement of political forces that thrive on incompetent, inept and corrupt departmental leadership

"A strong emphasis is put on capacity building, education and vocational training to ensure employment opportunities in the arts, creative and culture sector in SA."

Interdepartmental co-operation is a further consideration. Education policy is dealt with in partnership with the Department of Basic Education. Addressing the digital divide and new industry information such as "content" is done in partnership with the departments of trade and industry and communication, and the South African Revenue Service. The Wits policy unit is trying to open dialogue between the departments of communications and international relations.

An industry insider says the Department of Arts and Culture is a "lame duck". He says: "One wonders when the president and the ANC will wake up to the folly of a state-captured Department of Arts and Culture.

"It is election suicide to throw arts and culture under the bus for the appeasement of political forces that thrive on incompetent, inept and corrupt departmental leadership."

Evident in the Department of Arts and Culture 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 organisations frustrated by funding being awarded but not given. Sara’s R15m grant was a remedial action proposed by the public protector, which should finally see to the renovations of its Newtown educational facility.

Department of Arts and Culture expenditure is estimated at R4.5bn, with R2.4bn allocated to heritage and R1.2bn to arts and culture. Funding in "heritage promotion and preservation" has risen year on year by 6.4%, and "arts and cultural promotion and development" only 1.9%.

The two priority areas for arts and culture are events and the creative economy.

Of the R970m allocated to the Mzansi Golden Economy, 33.7% is spent on cultural events. About R385m is budgeted annually to cultural and creative industries development.

The South African 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 Department of Arts and Culture has continued the centralised approach of apartheid and enables a small group of nationally recognised organisations to continue to benefit heavily from funding. Robben Island and Freedom Park are very well funded centralised organisations, for example.

While new centralised organisations 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 NAC’s 2016-17 financials indicate that only 35% of R102m was spent in the year. The revised white paper proposes the NAC merge with the NFVF to form the National Arts and Audio Visual Council of SA.

Minty says: "The best place to deal with community and youth development is at the local government level, but they are 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 tackled in the revised white paper, which proposes an interdepartmental structure to develop an "effective integrated intergovernmental service model".

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

At a national level the Department of Arts and Culture uses heritage narrowly to promote the ANC. The government donated R20m to the Committee of the Legends and implemented the Lifetime Achievement Awards. The department’s strong emphasis on the elders is represented in its proposed rebranding as the department of arts, culture and heritage. It is proposed that the National Heritage Council (NHC) assume the vision for all national provincial and local art galleries and museums. Yet centralised organisations such as Iziko and Ditsong are already struggling with the resources they have. NHC CEO Sonwabile Mancotywa is serving his third term.

Origins Centre chairwoman Amanda Esterhuysen says the Department of Arts and Culture 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, the department’s new social cohesion programme takes a R37.5m yearly budget but does not provide known outcomes.

Nkhumeleni Thovhakale, media liaison officer in the deputy minister’s office, did not respond to a request for comment.

The department’s bloated administration is evident in expenditure. Office costs are up 14% to R300m and salaries amount to R232m, with 52 employees earning an average of R1.2m a year. Minister Nathi "Nasty" Mthethwa is a former police minister and strong ally of former president Jacob Zuma.

Nyathela describes the situation as "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."

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

Though the former arts, culture, science and technology department constructed 42 multidisciplinary community arts centres in urban and rural communities in 1996, today many of these have collapsed due to a dearth of staff and government capacity. Though R300m was allocated to fund these centres, only R24.7m was paid out in 2017 and a further R7m was allocated for 2018.