Lockdown: Artists alliance calls for meeting with Ramaphosa over state of sector

The group has asked the president for a meeting and for its demands "not to be relegated to the Minister in the DSAC with whom we have already exhausted all avenues of engagement".

President Cyril Ramaphosa addressing the nation on 24 May 2020 on the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Picture: @PresidencyZA/Twitter.

JOHANNESBURG - An organisation called the Alliance of Cultural and Creative Industries Stakeholder National Organisation has written a memorandum of demands to President Cyril Ramaphosa to support arts industries, saying the COVID-19 relief offered for artists was insufficient.

The group, which comprises South African artists, activists and arts institutions, raised their concerns through the memorandum released on Wednesday, calling the situation an "unacceptable state of the cultural and creative industries".

"Since the commencement of the national lockdown instituted in terms of the Disaster Management Act in March 2020, the arts and cultural sector has remained shut down and our constituency has been severely affected by a loss of income, retrenchments and the closing down of institutions and arts organisations; this has not only affected the livelihoods of artists and cultural workers, but also their families where such workers are sole breadwinners," the group added.

"The Cultural and Creative Industry in South Africa needs to be opened from all the other lockdowns that have plagued the industry for decades."

The group has also asked the President that he meet with them by 25 September 2020 and for the demands "not to be relegated to the Minister in the DSAC with whom we have already exhausted all avenues of engagement".

"In the past, South African artists, musicians, cultural activists, arts institutions, NGOs, Foundations and many ordinary citizens called on you, Mr President, to appoint a credible new Arts and Culture minister from civil society who is respected by the arts community. This request was not honoured and we respected the President’s decision on that," it said.

"What should be a celebrated arts and culture sector has been plagued by inadequate support, inaction,+ and lack of a clear vision of how to take this important community, at the heart and soul of our country, into the new dawn you speak about," the group said.

"In the spirit of the late Bra Hugh Masekela of Thuma Mina and many of our fallen heroes and heroines in the creative sector that have passed on, we, the undersigned national organisations, are reaching out to you to hear the pleas and cries of the Cultural and Creative Industries in South Africa.

These are the eight problems the group has with the COVID-19 relief fund for artists:

1. The bureaucratic and administrative processes of the Covid-19 Artist Relief Fund has been totally impractical and out of touch with the reality of the vast majority of our practitioners. The Artist Relief Fund has not served the most vulnerable members of our economic segment. It has favored a small 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 a vast majority of practitioners earn a predominantly non-contractual cash hand-to-mouth remuneration for their work in a sector which is highly unregulated.

2. The 2nd Wave of Relief Funding has had an overwhelming application comeback rate that has been attributed to the above factors. We have also witnessed those with correct documentation being asked to re-apply.

3. 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 Department of Sports, Arts & Culture is with the reality of our sector.

4. The Closure of both State and independent venues (including theatres, galleries and music halls) has decimated the performance arts sector and has paralysed the basic ability of performers to earn any kind of a living.

5. In instances where, through their sheer desperation artists have resorted to protest action to draw attention to their plight, such as the recent case in Durban, they were rubber-bulleted, many arrested and they now stand to have Criminal Records which will seriously impact on their chances of having any gainful employment again.

6. Our sector keeps hearing from the Department of Sports, Arts & Culture about an Economic Stimulus package of which R1.2 Billion is earmarked for Sports, Arts & Culture; and yet we have received no indication of when such much-needed stimulus will become a reality and of how it will be apportioned between our sector and that of Sports. The latter is already enjoying the economic benefit of the partial re-opening of their sector, while our sector remains for the majority of our people in a total shut-down as if it were level-5 due to restrictions and affordability on many aspects of our industry.

7. There exists a myth that all the income streams in our sector can be diversified to online performances. There may be (partially) a rapid transformation to a more tech-based performance distribution product, but it cannot instantly replace the completely different revenue-earning models that existed up until a few days before the National Lockdown. Such a model will also always favor a small privileged portion where the vast majority is not able to compete equally within the technical requirements of such an environment.

8. Even the highest Relief pay-out of R20k in the first wave of the Artist Relief Fund could never reasonably sustain any of our practitioners beyond a maximum of 3 – 4 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 2020. There is also no apparent reason for a restriction on the relief for those between the ages of 60 – 69, which demonstrates a thorough lack of understanding that artists do not retire post-60, but that because of their vulnerability in an unregulated industry, they have no retirement benefits.

Signatories to the memorandum:

  • SAACYF – South African Arts and Culture Youth Forum

  • TUMSA – Trade Union for Musicians of South Africa

  • SAWACH – South African Women in Arts, Culture and Heritage

  • CAF – Cstahood Arts Foundation

  • Im4theArts – Civil society movement Lobbying for the Arts

  • House of CREW – Creative Resources Empowering Workers - Speaking for freelancers across the Travel, Events and Arts Sectors

  • The Clap n Tap Federation – Speaking for choirs and Brassbands

  • GYA – Gildar Youth Academy

  • ASSITEJ SA - International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People

  • SACPU – South African Creative Practitioners Union

  • SAMSA – South African Musicians Support Association

  • IBF – Independent Beneficiaries Forum

  • TDEASA – Theatre and Dance Employers Association South Africa

  • SAMA – South African Maskandi Association

  • AESA – Association for the Entertainers of South Africa

  • YTSA – Youth Tourism South Africa

  • CAC – Citizen Action Campaign

  • SARA – South African Roadies Association

  • GUDtv Africa