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Artists challenge the DSAC to fix industry

Press Release: Kgauhelo Dube

06 FEBRUARY 2020

Introducing #Im4theArts : Artists challenge the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture to fix the industry.

South Africa’s artists have always been at the forefront of people-centric social justice movements. The voices of artists have a huge impact when advocating for fellow citizens.

A painful reminder is Miriam Makeba’s 1963 speech to the UN General Assembly where she she called on the world to recognise and vilify the crimes against humanity committed by the apartheid Nationalist government, a brave action that led to South Africa revoking her citizenship. She became a woman of no nation, singing globally for her country’s freedom. 

It’s poignant that in 2020 – a whole 57 years after Makeba’s UN speech, a movement called #Im4theArts was started by another priestess of song – acclaimed opera singer Sibongile Mngoma. Through open letters to both the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture (DSAC) Nathi Mthethwa and President, Mngoma highlighted the current shambolic state of the arts in South Africa, this after artists had been successful, non-violent, key messengers of the liberation movement. Her main contention was the state of economic helplessness that most of South Africa’s creative community find themselves in. Mngoma’s personal framing of the letter resonated with thousands artists across all creative disciples and a Facebook movement called #Im4theArts was born.

Open letter:Dear Min Nathi MthethwaArtists are not prioritized in your department. As a result we are falling victim…

Posted by Sibongile Mngoma on Monday, 20 January 2020

Open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa:Dear Mr President You are the highest power in South Africa. The top…

Posted by Sibongile Mngoma on Saturday, 25 January 2020

Sibongile Mngoma’s open letters let loose a flood of responses and the #Im4theArts Facebook page grew exponentially. Artists from all over the country and abroad painfully recounted haunting indignities they’ve endured for little or no pay: all in the name of entertaining and stimulating South African audiences culturally.

The page soon showed that the weakest link in this story of a demoralised creative sector was the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture – the bona fide custodian of art and culture in SA.

“Setting up the Facebook group was a revelation,” said Mngoma. “As an artist, I wasn’t alone. I still cannot believe some of the stories I got in my inbox. What artists go through is unthinkable!” 

To date, in just over 2 weeks, the #Im4theArts Facebook page has attracted a following of over 9 900 active arts, culture and heritage practitioners who have “had it” with the status quo and are demanding tangible interventions. The group’s energy is positive, infectious and proactive. Grassroots community engagement and action interventions are being planned.

DSAC responded to Mngoma, asking for a meeting with DAC Director-General Vusumuzi Mkhize, which happened on 4 February 2020, at the DSAC offices in Tshwane.

The small #Im4theArts delegation, led by Mngoma highlighted the elephant in the room to the DG: The arts community has lost faith in the department. DSAC must function properly, and reform itself if it is to regain the lost trust of South Africa’s creative sector.

The #Im4theArts collective live-streamed the entire DSAC meeting – an innovation in transparent public engagement.