David ForbesPRESS RELEASE, facebook wall post
28 JANUARY 2020, 20h00
It took a courageous
and talented woman with integrity to call out the failures of the
South African government in the arts and culture sector.
diva Sibongile Mngoma, who began her career as an OK Bazaars cashier
in Hillbrow, is a singer of prodigious talent, ranging from opera to
jazz and gospel.
But, having studied in
the global arena, and performed at prestigious international venues,
such as London’s Royal Albert Hall, she could not understand why the
Department of Sport, Arts & Culture (DSAC) treated her and her
many fellow artists with such disrespect.
After much agonising,
she took a brave decision and put her career on the line. She wrote
an open letter to Nkosinathi “Nathi” Mthethwa, the relevant
minister since 2014. Then, on 19 January, having had no response, she
put it on facebook, starting a group called Im4theArts,
which exploded to more than 5 000 members in a week. The resonances
within the group’s posts, and its rapid growth have surprised her.
“After my letter was
ignored, I got a brainwave to find out if there were other Artists
who had similar issues. Within 3 hours we hit 500 members and I was
blocked,” said Mngoma.
setting up the page, I shared my letter to the Minister again. That
is when things changed and suddenly I was blocked from inviting more
people until the 4th of February. The reason being I was ‘a menace’.”
Sibongile’s Open Letter
to Mthethwa followed two separate public complaints published some
time earlier by other prominent SA actresses. Vatiswa Ndara had
written an Open Letter setting out her grievances against film
production companies. Rami Chuene had posted on twitter about
conditions on film sets.
issues concerning actors and their working conditions,” said
Mngoma, “I have no contact with either lady. I started my group .
. . (and) . . . (W)ithin three hours we hit 500 members.”
Posts on the page
reflect a deep anger that has been simmering in the arts and culture
sectors for decades. The former Minister of Safety and Security
during the time of the Marikana Massacre, Nathi Mthethwa, is not
generally liked by the artistic community. Some of the stories on the
page detailing their abuse are heartbreaking.
Although Mthethwa holds
only three certificates and no other tertiary qualifications, he has
failed to bring highly qualified people on board to unify and develop
the sector. The DSAC staff often do not even answer the phone or
e-mails. Complaints take a long time to be resolved, often
unsatisfactorily. People are ignored. Others have accused Mthethwa
and others in the sector of corruption, looting, mismanagement,
nepotism and criminal behaviour, although none of these allegations
have been proved yet. There is also pushback against the term “social
cohesion”, viewed as retrogressive.
To facilitate both the
“coming out” of stories about how badly artists have been
treated, and also to prevent litigation, the group created a private
“Members Only” page to ensure that whistleblowers were protected.
People can vent on the Members page and share documents and other
Lawyers are now
scrutinising these documents with a view to one or more class actions
against the DSAC to force a review of how the arts and culture sector
is run. “We have had enough,” is a common cry on the page.
Despite the rancour
expressed on the page, people are very positive about the movement
that Mngoma and other brave artists are creating to ensure a proper
growth and development of the arts in South Africa.
discussed are private arts funding initiatives (with private business
support), a comprehensive database, formation of unions, new
provincial representatives independent of DSAC, and the dissolution
of the Cultural and Creative Industries Federation of SA (CCIFSA).
This official DSAC-sponsored “official voice” of the sector, has
been widely discredited after a funding scandal within CCIFSA to the
tune of R100m broke in July 2019.(1) There have also been
allegations of suspensions, and other rumblings in the DSAC, but the
department is tight-lipped and appears to deny everything.
A senior arts
administrator who did not want to be named said: “Putting the more
than 5k members who joined Im4theArts in one week (!) into
perspective … the facebook page for CCIFSA (last post March 2015)
records 1.9k likes; the page for Arterial Network SA (last post May
2019) records 3.3k likes. CCIFSA is of course funded by the DAC as
the self-declared ‘controlling body’ for arts and culture . . .
(T)his is clear evidence that Im4theArts enjoys an unprecedented
level of support and should be taken seriously.”
responded to Mngoma’s Open Letter almost immediately with a press
release on 22 January 2020 which “noted” the Open Letters and
claimed that many of the issues had been “patiently responded to in
great deal”. While refusing to address any issues specifically, he
claimed to have “fulfilled his obligation”, and referred
remuneration and other issues to the Department of Employment and
Labour. He asked Mngoma to report her allegations directly to the
ministry and asked for details. Mthethwa also expressed “sympathy
and understanding” to members of the creative and cultural
industries, and assured them of his commitment to bring about change.
drew an angry and dismayed response from Chuene and Ndara, according
to an article in The Star. Chuene, who was axed from a
television production, said Mthethwa’s statement left them with more
questions than answers. She tweeted: “Did you just pass the artists
onto the Dept of Employment & Labour? With all due respect sir,
you’re heading OUR department. This is still in your jurisdiction
before it even gets to DEL. Do better Sir.” (sic). Ndara said she
was disappointed: “It’s almost as if the minister does not want to
be accountable. Minister the industry is falling apart please act.”
Mngoma said: “The
Minister’s response putting us all together reflects his own
character and how he views women in the space, in general.”
Mngoma then addressed a
new Open Letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa, asking him to step in
because there was clearly a problem with the DSAC: “You are the
highest power in South Africa. The top executive. We have a big
“In the ’80s and
’90s, we responded to the call to serve South Africa and liberate our
country. When utata uMadiba asked us to stay and help him reconstruct
and develop, we did. When you told us to Thuma Mina, we
believed you and responded positively.
“Our problem is this:
we are struggling to help you rebuild a Capable State. Our way is
currently blocked and frustrated at every turn by DSAC. All our
routes to recourse are exhausted.
please help us to help you rebuild this beautiful vibrant, country.
I, Sibongile Mngoma, and currently around 4 000 arts and culture
practitioners and allies, are at a total dead-end with the Department
of Sports, Arts & Culture. They disrespect us. They ignore us.
They talk down to us, the creators of meaning for arts, culture and
“Today many of us are
hungry, homeless, and wordless to the questioning eyes of our
children. Our work has been interrupted, sabotaged and blocked, and
the resources allocated for it stolen and consumed by others. Many
others have died penniless.
“What was fought for, and built lovingly in the 1990s, authoring
the missions of the NAC, has transformed into a bureaucratic
nightmare, out of touch with the country’s artists, creators and
cultural practitioners. We have become victims of faceless
box-ticking bureaucrats, many of whom don’t even answer the telephone
nor our e-mails. The Freedom Charter instructed “The Doors of
Learning and Of Culture to be open for ALL, including us. Yet cadre
deployment has turned the DSAC into a patronage machine.”
The Open Letter told the President the artistic
community felt DSAC had lost legitimacy, and asked him to “clearly,
explicitly and visibly answer our question: What is the mandate of
the DSAC? The lack of transparency, plainly written rules and
processes and of accountability, and of engagement at any level, is
appalling, intolerable and, at worst, illegal,” the letter said.
discovering, developing and encouraging national talent, the DSAC is
concerned with Social Cohesion, an empty term reminiscent of the
apartheid era,” said the letter, pointing out that “(W)e are a
community of people, not a collection of objects to be ‘glued
together’. It is the artistic community that is responsible for
highlighting the diversity of our nation. We continue to achieve
globally, attracting millions of visitors to interact with our
artists, musicians, crafters and cultural creators.
“We are now
organizing from ground up, once more, to take back our power as
creative people who can contribute meaningly to our country and the
health and well-being of our people and communities. We are for the
country. FINISH ‘n KLAAR!
“We are mobilising.
We will march in every corner of our beautiful Mzansi, the Azanian
shores, onse Suid-Afrika, Afrika Borwa yarona, Izwe lethu. . . . (W)e
will force more accountability and transparency, bring thieves to
account, end the culture of impunity and the careless disrespect for
the artistic community. Most of us have more integrity in our little
fingers than entire floors of the DSAC.
“We have given up on
DSAC. We call on you to dissolve the DSAC immediately. Work with us
to create an authentic, new structure that speaks for and represents
all sectors and areas of South African Arts, Culture and Heritage. A
society without culture is a society without soul.”
The letter exhorted
Ramaphosa: “Mr President. Hear our call. Answer our key question.
Engage us. Listen to us. Our lives and livelihoods are at stake. Our
nation’s soul is in the balance. Call us! Artists have always been in
the frontlines of battle. Raising the battle cry. We are the nation’s
torchbearers and carriers of the national banner, and the creative
solution. . . . We call on you to start by answering our key question
and replacing the Minister with a person of integrity – and an Arts
administrator who understands us and what we can contribute to the
country if we all work together. We are asking you to accelerate the
process of . . . action. If not, then you will be failing us even as
we say “yes, call us!”
after Mngoma formed the page, fake accounts began to appear with news
and posts designed to divide and confuse, but were quickly shut down
by administrators. By Tuesday 28 January, Mngoma reported that her
phone was being “jammed”. She later said it may have been cloned,
because a drone had “visited” her during the night, and she had
lost all her data, airtime and signal.
To date neither the
President nor the Presidency has responded. The DSAC has remained
silent. More than 5000 people from the arts, culture and heritage
sectors are growing more vocal by the hour. “We are not going to
stop until we have changed this thing,” said Mngoma. She has
assumed a humble position within the group, which has a flat
leadership structure, and is planning its next campaign.
“They can do their
worst,” said Mngoma tonight, “I’m ready for them.”