A month ago, South African artists, among them Amanda Black and Natalia Molebatsi, were in Nairobi for something dubbed the South Africa Cultural Seasons in Kenya. Naming the event properly could have resulted in potentially important ways to connect artists in Kenya and South Africa. Instead, the misnamed event, which suggests South African domination, was further rendered useless by incompetence. It went something like this.
On Friday, February 22, I received a WhatsApp message for “Immediate Release”. The badly written release announced that South African artists, including the above-mentioned, would be in Nairobi for a cultural programme in which they would perform and share knowledge with Kenyan artists. The release stated that the events would happen for a week from Monday (February 25) until March 2, three days from the day I received the message. I could have, as national duty I suppose, edited it and forwarded it to the three major media houses in Kenya and to artists. I did not because the release had no venue for the events. I finally got the programme on Saturday.
A press conference was scheduled for Monday morning and a gala dinner for Monday evening. My Kenyan partner, a journalist, attended the press conference out of some misplaced in-law duty. According to him, the room was full of South African embassy staff and Kenyan mid-level staff from the ministry of sports and heritage. When he inquired from a department of arts and culture official about the late notice, he was told that the events were supposed to have happened in November. Because Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa could not make it, they rescheduled to February so that he could attend the event. Except he did not.
Instead, he attended the 50th anniversary of Fespaco (Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou)in Burkina Faso. The festival is an important event on the artistic calendar of the continent and yet somehow our competent (not) staff at the department of arts and culture could not schedule the Kenyan trip before and after it. I could not help commenting that it seemed as though some official in charge of finances at the department had bumped into a high commission senior staffer at OR Tambo International Airport, with the conversation going something like this:
Arts department official: Mfowethu, I have a problem yaz?
High commission official: And then?
Arts official: We still have too much money in the coffers and don’t know what to do with it.
High commission official: I wish my problem was too much money. The department of international relations and co-operation isn’t giving us enough over at the high commission. Mamela, I have a solution.
Arts official: Eh he?
High commission official: Come to Kenya. We’ll call it South African Cultural Seasons in Kenya and we can tie in 25 years of freedom what-what.
Arts official: I like cultural seasons. It sounds deep. You helped, uyaz? Mamela. Talk to your wife to arrange that side. So we give her consultation fees (wink). Akere she doesn’t share a surname with you?
High commission official: You know she doesn’t. Dankie grootman. [Hearty handshake. Shoulder bump.] See you in February.
Arts official: Sharp nja yam.
That’s how mediocre the organisation of events seemed.
Molebatsi and Black performed at the gala dinner. Then there were some cooking and sewing classes scheduled, and the week ended with a music concert. Except, again, this was an indication of how no one bothered to do their research. Every first Saturday in Nairobi there is a free music concert at the Go Down Arts Centre. A Motswana friend informed me that he was invited to the concert by a staffer from the Botswana high commission. He declined. But at least the Botswana high commission officials joined their South African counterparts to ensure that there were some audience members for the musicians at the concert.
Yet again, the arts department exposed how grossly incompetent it is. Black, Molebatsi and the other artists who came to Nairobi may have been paid for coming here, but they were robbed of a chance to create relationships, which could result in future collaborative efforts with Kenyan artists and audiences. I am not surprised because the department has not been competent at anything since the departure of Themba Wakashe as director general. I am saddened that this is the ministry that my work falls under. I am not holding my breath, but I seriously hope after elections there is an overhaul and we have someone in charge of the department who understands how best to serve the interests of their stakeholders.