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In spirit of the times

Artists are often called upon to donate their creativity to some worthy cause. Yesterday it was a benefit concert for those who failed to get a 4×4 out of the arms deal. Today it will be poetry evening for people living with spies.

In the freebie charity stakes artists must be the most called upon professionals. And make no mistake, they are professionals. They are generally well educated, have vast experience and seek to make a living through their artistic practice. Yet artists are often asked to donate their time and work to some charitable organisation that needs the funds.

The lucky artists get thanked for their charitable efforts, while the luckier ones are given (donated) food and drink. Of course, artists have a choice about whether to participate in these charitable ventures. Often there is social cachet in being seen to be associated with a good cause. On other occasions charitable platforms may be good marketing opportunities for an artist’s work. And sometimes artists may even believe in the cause.

This was the case when the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) hosted a dinner recently for some of Cape Town’s artists to ask them to help to raise funds for its treatment project. We all know the figures. There are five million people infected with HIV in our country. Of these it is estimated that 500 000 need anti-retroviral therapy. Yet even with the best political goodwill in the world, it is unlikely that more than 200 000 will be able to access the medicines they need through the government’s proposed plan by the end of next year.

Treatment for one patient costs between R500 and R850 a month. The TAC treatment project aims to provide generic anti-retrovirals, counselling and support for about 500 activists and a matching number of community members by the end of 2004. The project has been kick-started by an international artist who donated personal funds to launch it. And now South African artists are being asked to do their bit.

They may not have dollars like their international counterparts, but local artists have other capital, like creativity, influence, public profile and markets for their work. Last year an auction organised by Beezy Bailey raised more than R1-million for Aids orphans. That amount would provide treatment for more than 100 people.

Radio DJ Lawrence Dube recently told mourners at the funeral of his brother: “Unlike Thabo Mbeki, I know someone who has died of Aids. And that person is my brother.” Artists know of other artists living with HIV. Like Gibson Kente. And Blaise Koch. And artists know of artists who have died of Aids. Like Bonnie Ntshalintshali. And Anneline Malebu. But it is not only for other artists that this campaign is important. It is about all of us taking responsibility so that 600 people will not die each day.

Amid the celebratory functions for which artists may — or may not — be requested to donate their time, there can be few better ways for artists to celebrate 10 years of democracy next year than by engaging in this campaign to save the lives of their fellow citizens.

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