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Open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa

Open Letter: Sibongile Mngoma
26 JANUARY at 09:53

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Dear Mr President

You are the highest power in South Africa. The top executive.

We have a big problem.

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.

Malum’ uMatamela, please help us to help you rebuild this beautiful and 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 music.

Today many of us are hungry, homeless, and wordless to the questioning eyes of our children. Our work has been interrupted, sabotaged and blocked – the resources allocated for it stolen and consumed by others. Many have died penniless. What was fought for and built lovingly in the ’90s, authoring the missions of the NAC, has been 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 Culture to be open for ALL, including us. Yet cadre deployment has turned the DSAC into a patronage machine. That seminal document envisioned that the “government shall discover, develop and encourage national talent for the enhancement of our cultural life. All the cultural treasures of mankind shall be open to all. By free exchange of books, ideas and contact with other lands. Educators shall teach the youth to love their people and their culture, to honour human brotherhood, liberty and peace”.

Legitimacy is the foundation of trust.

We feel the DSAC has lost legitimacy. We implore you, as a first response, to clearly, explicitly and visibly answer our question: What is the mandate of the DSAC?

When we query anything, the DSAC, a faceless author of rules and requirements, patronisingly tells us “relevant officials have responded” and we must respect “internal processes”. The lack of transparency, plainly written rules and processes and of accountability and engagement at any level is appalling, intolerable and, at worst, illegal.

Baba. President. When you took the reins we celebrated. We believed rationality, sanity and integrity would return to governance. We begged you to put an artist in charge of the arts, and we did this with good reason. We realise that you can’t please everyone.

We also understand the current climate of paralysis. Our department is failing us. The collective soul of our nation is being robbed of our gifts, of our particular powers to bring real one-ness and unity through the fusion of the heritages of the People of the South.

The DSAC refers us to the Department of Labour or the DTI to resolve our concerns and grievances, instead of responding directly.

Rather than discovering, developing and encouraging national talent, the DSAC is concerned with Social Cohesion, an empty term reminiscent of the apartheid era. We are a community of people, not a collection of objects to be “glued together”.

It is the artistic community that is responsible for highliting the diversity of our nation. We continue to achieve globally, attracting millions of visitors to interact with our artists, musicians, crafters, and cultural creators.

Samora Machel said: “The question of people’s power is the essential question of our revolution.” We are taking that seriously. We are now organizing from ground up, once more, to take back our power as creative people who can contribute meaningfully 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. We have learned our lessons. We will not stop at the behest of the media, the police, or the government.

We will march for social justice, marching with everyone who is increasingly fed up with outdated colonialised presentations of power and selfish interest protection agendas.

We will march to the civil justice system, where we will mobilise legal class actions with the help of our legal allies. We will force more accountability and transparency, bring thieves to account, end the culture of impunity and careless disrespect of 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. Artists cannot continue to exist in a space that doesn’t embrace their existence. A culture that takes food out of our mouths and tears down the roof over our heads.

Mr President, help us to help you. Meet us half way. Come down from the top as we rise up from the roots. Let us respect and honour the heritage and legacies of Miriam Makeba, Gerard Sekoto, Hugh Masekela, Ernest Cole, Todd Matshikiza and the many other Sons and Daughters of South Africa.

Mr President. Hear our call. Answer our key question. Engage us. Listen to us.

Our lives and livelihoods are at stake. The 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 will give you everything we have to help you provide tangible structural intervention. We trust we will hear from you soon?

We call on you to start by answering our key question and replacing the Minister with a person of integrity – and an Art 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 bringing about change and transparency to communication and action. If not, then you will be failing us even as we say “yes, call us!”

Ngiyabonga Matamela.
Ozithobayo.
Sibongile Mngoma and #Im4TheArts

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