Neglected creative sector should use the ballot paper to express their discontent

Kingsol Chabalala

Kingsol Chabalala

Published Apr 3, 2024


Kingsol Chabalala

South Africa’s vibrant creative sector, the engine that pulsates with our nation’s stories, songs, and soul, was left spluttering on fumes when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Live performances were silenced, galleries stood locked in an eerie hush, and film sets became ghost towns. The essence of the creative industry which is the electricity that flows from connection and collaboration was extinguished by social distancing.

During this time of immense hardship, the response from the ruling party, the ANC, was, to put it mildly, lacking.

Promises were made, relief funds trickled out with bureaucratic red tape strangling accessibility. This left artists, the lifeblood of this industry, scrambling to survive. Many were forced to watch the plays they had poured their hearts into and the meticulously crafted albums to gather dust on metaphorical shelves.

House bonds went unpaid, cars repossessed, and debt became a suffocating weight. This was not a pause; it was an existential threat to the very fabric of South Africa’s creative landscape.

The postponement of the Gauteng Discover Film Summit, initially planned for October 2022, is just one of the department’s failings. This summit held immense potential. It aimed to unite creative minds and policymakers within the audio-visual space, fostering dialogue on critical resolutions, global trends, and the local film industry’s future.

It was a crucial platform to ensure the industry’s sustained growth and identify tangible solutions for recovery after the devastating Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest disappointment came with the absence of MEC Morakane Mosupyoe at a crucial public meeting with stakeholders. This was not a last-minute oversight. An eleventh-hour apology confirmed the MEC’s prioritisation of another engagement over a budgeted meeting designed to address challenges faced by artists and athletes.

The MEC’s absence was not just disrespectful; it resulted in wasted resources. Catering and transportation arrangements for stakeholders across the province went unused due to the late cancellation. This is a blatant disregard for taxpayer money.

As election season casts its shadow, the ANC has seemingly rediscovered its interest in engaging with the creative industry. The ANC’s arts and culture subcommittee hosted an engagement programme with the creative industry on March 16.

Promises are being dusted off and polished, and photo ops abound. However, we must not be fooled by this sudden burst of attention. The creative industry deserves more than a campaign ploy, more than empty gestures aimed at securing votes.

The memory of 2020 and 2021 is still fresh. Artists, musicians, film-makers, and writers must remember the deafening silence from those in power when voices need to be heard the most. Remember the fight for basic survival and the despair that threatened to drown out your creativity? The plight of Gauteng’s artists transcends the provincial level.

The ruling party’s repeated failings paint a stark picture. Minimal support during the pandemic, the postponed summit, and now the MEC’s absence at a key meeting all point to a lack of commitment to the arts. Empty promises and party slogans ring hollow when juxtaposed with these actions.

Before any creative hand reaches for a ballot paper, take a deep breath, and ask a crucial question: Are these promises born out of genuine concern for the well-being of the industry, or are they merely an attempt to capitalise on your cultural influence?

The answer lies not in the ANC’s rhetoric but in their track record. Have they demonstrably invested in the long-term sustainability of the creative sector? Have they addressed the infrastructure deficiencies that plague our art spaces? Have they created a safety net for artists during times of crisis?

These are the questions that demand answers, not hollow promises whispered on the campaign trail. The South African creative industry deserves a government that sees it not as a source of votes, but as a national treasure.

We deserve a capable DA government in Gauteng that will foster an environment where creativity can flourish, where dreams can find fertile ground, and where artists are not left to fend for themselves in the face of adversity.

Let this election year be a moment of awakening for the creative industry. Let us not be swayed by empty gestures. Let us remember the struggles of the past and demand a future where our voices are valued not just during elections but every single day.

The power lies in our hands, the hands that paint the stories of our nation, that compose the anthems of our Struggle, and that weave the very fabric of South Africa’s soul. Let us wield that power wisely.

Kingsol Chabalala MPL, DA Gauteng Shadow MEC for Sports, Arts, Culture and Recreation (SACR).

The Star