Artists decry lack of relief in lockdown, demand stimulus for industry

16 September 2020 - 14:18

A small contingent of artists, musicians and creatives protested at the Union buildings in Pretoria on September 16 2020. The protesting artists say that government has not done enough to support an embattled industry during the coronavirus pandemic.

An alliance of cultural and creative sector activists on Wednesday protested at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, demanding action from President Cyril Ramaphosa to protect artists and enable investment in their industry.

Artists have been without work and incomes since the start of the lockdown at the end of March. The organisations staging the protest said the promised government relief was poorly co-ordinated and too little to sustain them.

Hepter Mailula, president of the SA Creative Practitioners Union (SACPU), said it is time government takes a serious approach to assisting the sector.

“We are marching to the Union Buildings to highlight the issues affecting the industry since the dawn of democracy. The sector has been under severe suppression. Even the budgets are not well thought out by government. President, it is time to take our creative sector seriously. All sectors must be treated equally because all contribute to the country's GDP,” he said.

“Covid-19 has taught us something. We had time to reflect while in lockdown and that is why we need to fight for our space and what is due to us.

This is the beginning. We will fight until our sector is treated the same as other sectors. The creative sectors and creative practitioners are ill-treated. Our sector is not regulated. It is being neglected,” Mailula said,

It's like we are in a prison because we are sitting at home and have no food. Our families are starving
Maskandi artist Buselaphi Gxowa

The Alliance of Cultural and Creative Industries Stakeholder National Organisation, representing a host of organisations in the arts, travel and events sectors, said in a memorandum: “We have exhausted every attempt in good faith to engage with the department of sports, arts and culture (DSAC).”

The alliance asked Ramaphosa for his “personal executive intervention as the only remedy to rescue our sector from pending and inevitable collapse”.

“The economic stability of our sector has been compromised by 26 years of insufficient and inept regulation. There has been a continuous lack of efficiency by the DSAC, as evidenced by the prolonged delay in the execution of the White Paper. The situation is further compounded by operating in an environment of zero social security or  other societal protection mechanisms like the Unemployment Insurance Fund,” read the memorandum.

The alliance proposed that arts venues be allowed to reopen at 70% capacity and an easing of rules for artists trying to obtain Covid-19 relief funding.

To help the entire sector, it recommended:

  • An immediate interministerial task group be set up in conjunction with sector stakeholders to review, propose and implement revised strategies that will grow the sector, protect artists and enable investment in the arts and culture ecosystem. “This should include a thorough review of the Cultural Institutions Act, which, in its current form, is not designed in favour of the sector”
  • Immediate situation-based funding of arts performance venues to facilitate a partial subsidy of these for them to cover their basic requirements to operate
  • The allocation of R600m as an economic stimulus for  the arts sector
  • Subsidies for training programmes and technical installations for artists in the lowest socio-economic sectors. “This can be achieved by partnering certified academies, associations and trade unions.”

“Our sector keeps hearing from the DSAC about an economic stimulus package, of which R1.2bn is earmarked for sports, arts and culture, but we have received no indication about when this much-needed stimulus will become a reality, and how it will be apportioned between our sector and that of sports,” said the memorandum.

The latter is already enjoying the economic benefit of the partial reopening of their sector, while our sector remains, for the majority of our people, in a total shutdown, as if it were level 5, due to restrictions and affordability on many aspects of our industry.”

In the year ahead, the alliance said it would like to see regulation to ensure ring-fencing of local content in all public spaces, including broadcasting, advertising and live performance; regulation of all live entertainment and/or recorded playback performance venues, to comply with copyright and collection society licensing; a 90% quota for local content on public radio and 70% quota for local content on public and private commercial radio and venues; and a drastic clamp down on corruption and misallocation of arts funding and systems for proper accountability and auditing of sector bodies receiving public funding.

The alliance criticised the assistance offered to out-of-work artists.

The bureaucratic and administrative processes of the Covid-19 Artist Relief Fund has been impractical and out of touch with the reality of the vast majority of our practitioners.”

Protesters said many artists have not been able to access relief funding during the lockdown.
Protesters said many artists have not been able to access relief funding during the lockdown.
Image: Emile Bosch

“The Artist Relief Fund has not served the most vulnerable members of our economic segment. It has favoured a small and privileged portion with better access to data, documentation, technology and information on tax compliance. The administrative processes, requiring bank statements and tax compliance certificates, demonstrates a thorough lack of understanding that the majority of practitioners earn predominantly non-contractual cash hand-to-mouth remuneration for their work in a sector which is highly unregulated.

“The second wave of relief funding has had an overwhelming application comeback rate attributed to [these] factors. We have also witnessed those with correct documentation being asked to reapply.

“Even the highest relief pay out of R20,000 in the first wave of the Artist Relief Fund could never reasonably sustain any of our practitioners beyond a maximum of three to four months, and yet they are not eligible for the second wave of funding, which is supposed to sustain our entire sector until the end of December.

“There is also no apparent reason for a restriction on relief for those between the ages of 60 and 69 years, which demonstrates a thorough lack of understanding that artists do not retire after 60. Because of their vulnerability in an unregulated industry, they have no retirement benefits.

“In general, the Artist Relief Funding for theatres and arts organisations has been very scattered, ineffective and based on non-realistic criteria for application, which demonstrates how out of touch the DSAC is with the reality of our sector.”

Buselaphi Gxowa, a maskandi artist, said she owes R24,000 in rent for her Johannesburg home.

“I am owe rent on the flat for four months. Where can I get that money? It's not only me. Other artists have the same problem, and some don't even have a place to stay.”

She knew about people “staying in shacks but their landlords chased them away because they don't have R70 to pay for the shack.”

Gxowa said their plea is for the president to open up the country so they can earn an income.

“Artists are hungry. We are not here to fight with anyone, but we are here to ask for the president to open the country so we get something.

“It's like we are in prison because we are sitting at home and have no food. Our families are starving,” she said.

While she was fortunate to receive an initial payment, Gxowa said many artists did not understand the form given to them to apply for relief funds.

She said the amount she had received was insufficient.

“I got R20,000 in July, but it is finished. It is not enough for my family. My fridge is empty. There is only water. I have a lot of people depending on me, not only my family but other artists too,” she said.

Four families depend on her support, said Gxowa.