National Arts Council hauled to court as artists continue to picket

01 April 2021 - 07:00
Thami AkaMbongo and Sibongile Mngoma protesting inside the National Arts Council premises in Newtown, Johannesburg. Among other demands, they want to know when payments are being finalised for those who have signed contracts.
Thami AkaMbongo and Sibongile Mngoma protesting inside the National Arts Council premises in Newtown, Johannesburg. Among other demands, they want to know when payments are being finalised for those who have signed contracts.
Image: ANTONIO MUCHAVE/SOWETAN

Arts organisation ASSITEJ SA has launched legal action against the National Arts Council (NAC) over what it says is the maladministration of the government's promised stimulus fund.

Apparent failures to help artists hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic has left the sector outraged. Numerous protests, including an unprecedented month-long sit-in by frustrated artists at the NAC offices in Johannesburg, have taken place.

This action is supported by Im4theArts, SAUCCIF, ASSITEJ SA, TADA, TDEA and others.

The NAC said it was not aware of the court action.

Yvette Hardie, director of ASSITEJ SA — a national network of artists, educators, organisations and institutions across the country — said that through this legal action they wanted the NAC to properly support artists.

“It is utterly unacceptable that after a year of closure and continued uncertainty, the arts and culture sector — the very sector that helped the world cope with lockdown through music, literature, film — continues to suffer injustice.

“Artists are, quite literally, starving, and instead of supporting organisations to retain jobs and stimulate the economy, as was the purpose of the grant, the National Arts Council has in fact made organisations more vulnerable and the situation more precarious,” Hardie said.

A case was lodged at the Western Cape High Court on Friday March 26, spearheaded by ASSITEJ SA, with pro bono support from law firm Webber Wentzel, and supported by Afrika Burns Creative Projects and UNIMA SA.  

Sports, arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa admitted on March 29 — almost exactly a month after a large group of creatives began their sit-in — that there had been maladministration of the Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme (PESP) funds, which has now led to the suspension of the NAC CEO and CFO.

He also promised that there would be a forensic investigation into the matter.

“But creatives are frustrated and disappointed at the delay in being recognised by the [department]. They have pledged meaningful, non-violent and powerful interventions to effect change and the dismantling of structures such as the NAC that do not embody service to the constituency which they were set up to assist,” said the artists involved in the sit-in, under the banner of “Abahlali-based National Arts Council”.

On Wednesday, the group picketed outside and inside the NAC, with musical performances, dance, poetry, drumming, visual arts, craft, fashion, theatre pieces and comedy.

“Through this protest action, it is hoped that there will be change — transparency and respect for creatives as well as renewed vision and a transformative strategy from the DSAC. Through a creative revolution, spaces can be transformed and lives can be altered,” the group said.

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