Uncertainty clouds impact of new arts funding organisation

Some of the changes under review in the government white paper on arts, culture and heritage present potentially serious issues for the continued funding of the arts in South Africa.

Concerned cultural activists and practitioners at a meeting at the University of the Witwatersrand last week, convened by theatre director Gita Pather and playwright Maishe Maponya, also voiced their concerns at the controversial establishment of a new body — the Cultural and Creative Industries Federation of South Africa (CCIFSA). 

There has been very little information available to the arts and culture sector about how the CCIFSA will operate, particularly in relation to other existing Section 21 (nonprofit) companies currently funding various facets of the arts.

The new organisation may fundamentally change the relationship between the department of arts and culture and practitioners. And it is unclear whether the CCIFSA will replace existing funding arrangements through these Section 21 arm’s-length bodies.

The CCIFSA supposedly represents all artists and sectors. But its formation has been plagued with issues relating to accountability and composition. It was set up with an interim committee, hand-picked by former arts minister Paul Mashatile, and incumbent Nathi Mthethwa.

A rash of problems

This interim committee was then tasked to draw up a memorandum of incorporation to establish the CCIFSA and to convene a conference in Bloemfontein to elect a new board. They were given R5-million of public money to do so.

Maponya told the Mail & Guardian that the CCIFSA’s interim committee did not account for this R5-million. “They must have audited financial statements, which they didn’t present,” he said, and added: “This whole process has been flawed.” There are also questions around the legality of the CCIFSA’s constitution and its opaque processes for electing officials. 

Pather also pointed to problems such as the new body’s lack of representation of different groups and unclear mandate. “And then to compound that, the memorandum of incorporation was never discussed, or endorsed by the arts fraternity.

“People actually came to the conference [in Bloemfontein] who did not have the necessary credentials, and many of the sectors that [the] CCIFSA purports to represent weren’t even at that conference.” In addition there had been a lack of consultation of interested parties. 

The CCIFSA, she points out, is so wide ranging that it lumps everything together from photography and architecture, to arts, music and drama. 

Neglect of the core arts

According to Pather, the ANC’s decision to set up the CCIFSA raises questions about the party’s understanding of the arts. In her view it confuses and conflates issues relating to the economic value of the arts and the value that the arts add to a society. 

“It creates concerns that what is happening is an attempt to control the industry via a centralised structure,” says Pather. 

The white paper and the CCIFSA refer to “the minister having the final approval [and] of projects having to meet very clear objectives,” adds Pather. These, she points out, are related to political objectives, around issues such as “moral regeneration” or “social cohesion”.

Pather highlights the dangers of removing the arm’s-length relationship between government and the arts. Until now, government has avoided interfering directly.

“The fact is they do [interfere], because people approach them directly and the whole nepotistic impulse that we see in government, is as pervasive in the department of arts and culture,” she says. 

“They’ve pushed through the election of a board, but there’s no accepted or endorsed memorandum of incorporation. We don’t know what they are going to do.” Pather wonders whether the other national arts bodies will now be dissolved.

“I think the core arts are being neglected and that is a frightening thing.” She suggests that government is “confusing its role,” but that “we still have a thriving arts scene despite them”.

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