Speech by Deputy Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi during the Arts and Culture Imbizo at the Market Theatre, Johannesburg
Veterans of the arts and culture Industry;
Delegates of various associations;
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here today with legends in the arts and culture fraternity. It is awe inspiring to have this occasion graced by the presence of so many of our legends and artists whose work I sincerely admire. It is not every day that you find such a calibre of great minds gathered under one roof.
It would seem that artists live a life of perpetual struggle. From the days of the liberation struggle to the post-apartheid era, artists are always in the coal face of social movements. Through their music, paintings, storytelling, they reflect the architecture of their society and thus inspire social change. They capture the painful rhythms, the aspirations, as well as the agonies and the ecstasies of their society.
We can never forget the role that artists played in raising the consciousness of our people during the liberation struggle. Artists became the target of the security forces, subjected to torture, banning orders, and banishment from their country of birth.
Many of our artists were forced into exile but even this did not succeed in silencing them. Instead, they amplified their voices and the cry for freedom reverberated across the world. Someone had to listen.
The truth is that even apartheid did not manage to kill the spirit of the people.
In spite of continued harassment by the security forces, the oppressed continued living a happy life. The arts provided a convenient outlet for us to escape the horrors of apartheid and continue to smile amidst all the adversity surrounding us. Artists continued to create work of high quality, and even producing art about living under apartheid as a way of contributing to the liberation struggle.
We look back to those days not with bitterness or anger, but with fondness because they epitomise the triumph of human spirit. When we hear the music of Miriam Makeba, Dorothy Masuku, Hugh Masekela, and other legends, we cannot help but reminisce about the struggle days.
The plays of Mthuli kaShezi, John Kani, Athol Fugard, Gibson Kente, Mbongeni Ngema, brought the horror of apartheid alive on stages across the world. They remain reliable reference points for those who want to learn about that episode of our history.
Such memories do not in any way suggest that we have apartheid nostalgia. Instead, they demonstrate the power of the art in documenting a people’s history.
We celebrate these legends today because they are the giants on whose shoulders the younger generation should stand. The new generation must build on the foundation that has been laid by those who traversed this path before them. We do not expect them to fall into the social and economic trappings that many of our artists find themselves entangled in.
As we celebrate twenty years of freedom and democracy, we must review the role of artists in society and continue to try and address their challenges. We consume art on a daily basis, yet artists often struggle to make a living despite the popularity of their work. It is disheartening to witness the passing of great artists as paupers. This is an indictment that we must collectively fight as a nation.
Today’s Imbizo is exactly about that. We are here to celebrate your work, listen to your concerns and together find solutions to existing problems. I am convinced that artists are the ones who can find solutions to their challenges. Our role as government is to create an enabling environment to augment your initiatives. We do so by creating structures and developing policies that support the growth of the industry.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the industry cannot grow without the production of high quality work by the artists. One of the challenges that have been highlighted in the past is the fact that the industry was fragmented and did not speak with one voice.
To this effect, a number of interventions have been made, including the establishment of the Cultural and Creative Industries Federation of South Africa (CCIFSA). The objective of such a structure is to ensure that we have an integrated approach in addressing pertinent issues in the industry.
We understand that that the existence of structures like CCIFSA does not discount the importance of having direct interaction with the individual artists.
We also understand that many of our legends may not be able to participate actively on the structures that have been established. This makes it vitally important for us to create platforms where we can speak directly to the veterans of the industry. Today’s gathering is such a platform.
The situation of the 16 actors who were sacked from generations after a labour dispute should serve as a wakeup call to all of us. It tells the story of talented and well-established artists who are legally disempowered and thus vulnerable to exploitation.
Such a situation should never be allowed to happen again. We must set up structures to ensure that there are relevant bargaining platforms that deal with such matters and avoid exposing artists and production teams to such dire situations.
Ladies and Gentlemen, no artist should expect hand-outs from government. We want artists to work for themselves and earn their stripes. I have heard that some of the complaints from the sector include the use of the same artists at festivals, concerts and government functions. We will ensure that our artist line-ups are as diverse as possible and that artists are appointed on merit.
We have also heard terrible stories of artists who get frustrated because of prolonged delays in their payment after performing at government functions. Artists are service providers and must be paid within the 30 days period as stipulated by government.
Also, it seems we are always keen to hire artists from abroad, from America in particular, at very high rates and give them substantial advance payments. And yet, we cannot pay half the amount to local artists who are equally talented.
Without pre-empting the discussions today, I just hope that this Imbizo will interrogate some of the challenges that face the industry at large. I hope that we will have candid discussions that will not only be about lamenting the difficulty that artists find themselves in, but also sharing of success stories that can be emulated.
We have officials who will take notes and ensure that issues raised here are escalated to the relevant platforms.
In conclusion, I once again express my gratitude to all the artists that graced this occasion today. This day belongs to you, as well tomorrow evening when the President of the Republic hosts a gala dinner in your honour.
With these gestures, we acknowledge the sterling contribution that you have made in our liberation struggle. Without your contribution, we would not be celebrating twenty years of freedom today.