Fat and fatuous

Are you bored with being the irregular dependent of a funding agency? Do you want a secure future with a suburban subsidy and medical aid to cover the costs of garlic? Would you like to travel the world and get to know its golf courses intimately? Then the Department of Arts and Culture is the place for you!

Apply now for the position of Director: Multilaterals and Resourcing. If you don’t know what that means, don’t fret. Just look at the annual remuneration, R453 147, and everything will become clear. The total value of the six department posts advertised this week (but not necessarily available as they might already have been earmarked for individuals recycled from within the department or the broader civil service planet) is R1 547 142, at an average of R257 000 a post.

It is a national disgrace that artists — even those with outstanding records — annually have to justify their work to get paltry sums of funding when under-performing bureaucrats constitute a wholly subsidised sector.

There is something seriously wrong when one individual in a government department can earn half a million rand a year (and that’s only at the level of director), when, four months into the financial year, the country’s top performing arts companies have still not heard whether they will receive core funding of between R150 000 and R500 000, which could mean the death of some.

But do not fear! The Minister of Arts and Culture, Dr Pallo Jordan, is talking, again, of a social security network the department is working on for performers. Yippee! We’ve been hearing the same thing every year since the adoption of the White Paper in 1996 when the ministry promised ”the creation of optimum conditions in which artists may practise their art and enjoy their right to freedom of expression in a relatively secure working environment, and with the same protection enjoyed by other workers”. Yet, every year since then, artists have continued to die as paupers with the department forking out a few thousand rands to cover their funeral expenses.

According to a recent Sunday Independent report, the minister apparently said that such social security network schemes ”were hampered by the absence of a tradition of organisation among local artists” and that ”artists in South Africa had no collective voice”, whereas in other countries foreign artists needed the approval of artists’ unions and the state to perform there.

If I didn’t know better, I would have thought that the minister was a headline act at the local Comedy Festival. At least since the mid-Eighties, artists have organised themselves and were largely responsible for the policies reflected in the White Paper on arts, culture and heritage. Artists’ unions comprised the Consultative Committee that vetted foreign artists coming into the country, but it was the government that unilaterally disbanded this committee a few years ago.

If there has been any ”absence of tradition”, then it has been the department’s refusal to engage with the organisations that artists themselves have created to articulate and defend their interests, with the department deliberately undermining those ”collective voices” where they were deemed too critical of the failures of the department to implement its own policies. Now, artists are conveniently blamed for their apparent lack of organisation, as if it were their responsibility to implement the social security policies promised in the White Paper — and as if they had the resources to do so.

If the many new knights in shining armour on their steeds of denial at the department gave up just one of their annual salaries, it would be sufficient to run a couple of national ”collective voice” organisations. But then, it’s never been about service delivery in the arts, has it? It’s all about the lifestyles of a bureaucratic élite. Fore!

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