City of Tshwane ‘commercialises’ art

Inside the small piano room at the Tsa Lapeng Music Initiative in Stinkwater, near Hammanskraal, 12-year-old Duduzile Mazibuko fluffs certain phrases of Anton Diabelli’s ditty Wandeling, but quickly corrects herself. The initiative’s programme director, Brenda Makena, watches ­anxiously as she explains that the ­piano teacher, recording artist Norman Chauke, can’t make it to the day’s classes.

Tsa Lapeng, founded in 2002, has close to 50 pupils who take turns to learn on a variety of instruments. It gets by on occasional funding from the National Arts Council and Unisa, which support the club with instruments, teachers and 90% of the pupils’ examination fees.

Following the cancellation of the three-day TribeOne Dinokeng Festival in Cullinan days before its scheduled September 26 kick-off, it has emerged that the City of Tshwane, which sponsored the festival to the tune of R65-million, has a funding policy that is not in use because it is “under review”.

This makes it difficult to ascertain the criteria used to allocate funds for festivals such as TribeOne and worthy arts initiatives such as Tsa Lapeng. TribeOne was to feature 150 artists, headlined by international artists Nicky Minaj, J Cole and recent Grammy award winners Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.

An amount of R40-million was ploughed into developing infrastructure around the festival site, but in the finger-pointing match that ensued, organisers Rockstar 4000 (which pocketed R25-million) and Sony Entertainment pulled out, claiming that the Cullinan site was far from ready. The city scoffed at this, calling it disingenuous. Tshwane did not answer questions on its funding policy, except to say that the policy was under review.

City spokesperson Selby Bokaba explained that the TribeOne Dinokeng Festival was “seen as a great opportunity to assist the city to capitalise on the momentum created by the successful hosting of the Tshwane Open [golf event] last year. It was also a huge opportunity for the city to fully integrate the erstwhile municipalities (Nokeng tsa Taemane, Kungwini and Metsweding) into the City of Tshwane brand,” Bokaba said.

Tshwane-based arts groups and activists say the city is pushing this commercial agenda at the expense of its own treasures that have contributed immensely to its cultural stature. Lulu Tsheola, a member of Medleko Meropa band, says: “When we approached them for funding for a Julian Bahula and Malombo band tribute concert last year, they said they didn’t have enough money to help. They didn’t give further reasons.

“Look, they sponsor DJ festivals and that kind of thing. As far as live bands and music development goes, I don’t think they have an interest in that. They’re not looking at developing artists. They are looking at numbers. If you have 4?000 people listening to good music, I don’t think that’s a success for them. They are interested in commercialising the arts.”

Kenny Mmekwa, who co-ordinates an arts programme at the State Theatre, says the Bahula and Malombo tribute concert, like TribeOne, would have featured close to 150 artists, all of them local. “The funding didn’t come through but we gathered at Ditsong Museum and we did it anyway, for two nights.

“After meeting people at the mayor’s office, it was clear to me that some of these people didn’t even know who Bahula was.” Bahula, a percussionist, first made his name as a member of Philip Tabane’s Malombo band before going into exile in Britain. He recorded with, among others, the late singer Busi Mhlongo and saxophonist Dudu Pukwana.

“We had jazz, African contemporary, hip-hop, fusion. People like Vusi Mahlasela and Carlos Djedje were there, lending their support,” Mmekwa says. “Artists were putting in whatever resources they could. The reason artists are angry [about the TribeOne debacle] is that we are all out there doing the same thing but if you’re not powerful, nothing happens for you.”

The city’s Bokaba countered that with the Moretele Jazz Festival “five percent of the gate takings were given to the city and we ploughed back the amount into the development of local artists”. The TribeOne event was going to be treated like the Tshwane Open, which assisted the city in evaluating its participation in future Dinokeng festivals. Of interest, the Tshwane Open, arguably an elitist sport, generated … R104-million for the city.”

An anonymous artist said the city wanted to spin the Tribe­One festival into a tourism event: “It is about the arts – a music festival is about the arts, which again raises the issue of what other arts events would have been more appropriate, more developmental and which could also be hosted in Cullinan.

“The absence of any track record in local arts funding, or even a policy for arts funding, just raises questions about Tshwane’s commitment to the arts in the city.”

Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo studied journalism at Durban's ML Sultan Technikon before working at Independent Newspapers from 2000 to 2003. In 2005, he joined the Mail & Guardian's internship programme and later worked as a reporter at the paper between 2006 and 2008, before working as a researcher. He was the inaugural Eugene Saldanha Fellow in 2011.

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