Sports, arts and culture officials grilled by MPs about Covid-19 relief fund

07 July 2020 - 17:09 By Sisanda Mbolekwa
Artists have been hit hard by the financial implications of the lockdown. Stock photo.
Artists have been hit hard by the financial implications of the lockdown. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Melinda Nagy

Top officials from the department of sports, arts and culture were grilled on Tuesday by MPs about suspicious payments made by the department's Covid-19 relief fund to artists and athletes.

A 42-page list, comprised of 2,003 beneficiaries, was questioned by several members of the portfolio committee on sports, arts and culture, particularly because some amounts exceeded the department’s announced capped relief sum.

MPs demanded clarity on the criteria used to decide the amounts paid out.

DA MP William Farber asked why some beneficiaries received R53,000 when the department had capped the relief funds awarded to recipients at R20,000.

Charles Mabaso, chief director of cultural development at the department, said the R53,000 payments were for various companies that had applied to provide it with "possible digital solutions".

“These solutions were to say, 'How do we ensure that artists continue to do what they do?' So these were ideas that came - they would have come from somebody who wants to do a programme, a digital programme on poetry, on dance, on music, on visual arts – so it was an open call. So these are the people that would have sent their applications and these are the people that we have responded to,” said Mabaso.

The committee heard that beneficiaries were classified into two categories, excluding appeals, of which a normal beneficiary for relief qualified for a maximum of R20,000.

Some beneficiaries did not state the amount they needed and got R10,000. Those who specified an amount between R10,000 and R20,000 were given the specified amount.

“Then those who got R53,000. This is funding  based on their proposals that they want to do a digital livestreaming of their events and so on. In terms of that, the classification was that the highest amount would be R75,000 and there will be a first-time payment of 70%,” said Mabaso.

“Most of the people who received more than R20,000, it was because they received the first part of their approved amount. So that is why there are some people who received R53,000 – because their digital applications have been approved. As a result, the R53,000 is the first amount. After they have completed the work, they will receive the balance that is due.”

Lulama Ntshayisa, an MP from the African Independent Congress (AIC), questioned why different artists were given different sums.

Mabaso said some people were given R20,000, for example Arthur Mafokate, while others like Abigail Kubeka received R10,000 as part of the relief for "living legends".

He said "living legends" were also affected and could not do the work they had been doing throughout the year.

“So the R10,000 was for the masterclasses that they provide digitally – because part of the overall approach was that we need to have space for the legends to continue to do their masterclasses digitally and the ceiling [was] R10,000 for their contribution to inter-generational skills transfer,” he said.

The criteria for the fund applied to:

  • loss of income due to cancelled events, projects or productions as a result of the national lockdown;
  • loss of income to athletes and arts practitioners who were confirmed to participate in events that were cancelled; and
  • financial support for digital proposals providing an alternative to conventional presentation platforms.

In the presentation, the department stated it had reprioritised R130m - R62m at national level and R68m to be transferred to provinces. These funds "will be utilised for Covid-19 related transactions", it said.