Musicians and artists protest outside parliament in Cape Town, September 16 2020. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES
Musicians and artists protest outside parliament in Cape Town, September 16 2020. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES

SA’s arts and culture practitioners have called for an urgent meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa to discuss measures to rescue the sector from collapse.

The artists marched to the Union Buildings, parliament and premiers’ offices across the country on Wednesday to deliver a list of demands related to Covid-19 relief funds and the lockdown.

The industry contributes R63bn or 1.7% to GDP and is responsible for 1-million jobs.

The cultural and creative industries have been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic as they remained closed since the lockdown began six months ago, resulting in a loss of income, retrenchments and closing down of institutions and arts organisations.

Sports, arts & culture minister Nathi Mthethwa allocated R65.7m in the first tranche of Covid-19 relief funds to assist athletes and artists in the sector. Mthethwa recently announced another R77m for the second tranche of relief funding, with those who qualify getting R6,600.

However, the organisations, which include the Trade Union for Musicians of SA (Tumsa), SA Arts and Culture Youth Forum and the Theatre and Dance Employers’ Association SA, among others, bemoaned the relief fund’s “bureaucratic and administrative processes”, saying it was out of touch with the reality of the vast majority of practitioners.

“The artist relief fund has not served the most vulnerable members of our economic segment. It has favoured a small privileged portion with better access to data, documentation, technology and information on tax compliance,” the memorandum said.

“The administrative processes requiring bank statements and tax compliance certificates demonstrate a thorough lack of understanding that a vast majority of practitioners earn a predominantly non-contractual hand-to-mouth remuneration for their work in a sector which is highly unregulated.”

The closure of both state and independent venues, including theatres, galleries and music halls, has severely damaged the performance arts sector and paralysed the ability of performers to earn a living.

On Wednesday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced in his address to the nation that SA will move to alert level 1 of the lockdown at midnight on Sunday. He said a maximum of 500 people are now permitted for outdoor gatherings and 250 people for indoor gatherings. However, people are still required to wear masks in public and observe social distancing.

Tumsa interim chair Vicky Sampson said they were looking for further engagement with the government because “we have a host of other proposals, suggestions and demands to address the aspects of our failing arts and culture ecosystem”.

“We are also asking for a drastic clampdown on corruption and [misappropriation] of arts funding, and for a proper accountability and auditing of sector bodies receiving public funding,” said Sampson.

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