When Nathi Mthethwa was appointed as SA’s minister of arts and culture in 2014, the arts sector let out a collective groan. Here was a man associated with Marikana and Nkandla, a Zuma acolyte who appeared to have been “demoted” to the job from the police ministry because he didn’t defend Msholozi with adequate guile. Things got off to a bad start when Mthethwa used a presser at the National Arts Festival to lecture artists about not being too critical of the government, suggesting ominously that he didn’t think freedom of expression is always important, and encouraging everyone to adopt a parochial pseudo-patriotism that would paper over the post-apartheid cracks. I have referred to that speech a few times in this column since then, because it encapsulates precisely what one doesn’t want in an arts minister. For five years Mthethwa has been a vanilla presence, a kind of ministerial meh, presiding over a department that is desperately in need of fixing — and doing precious little to ...

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