Home News NC artists stage sit-in, hunger strike after R4m funding ‘evaporates’

NC artists stage sit-in, hunger strike after R4m funding ‘evaporates’

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The artists have occupied the MEC’s office and are demanding answers on what happened to the funds allocated to the arts sector

Northern Cape artists occupy the MEC for Sport, Arts and Culture offices demanding answers to R4 million which “disappeared”. Picture: Soraya Crowie

The artists, who have camped inside Fienies’ office for the past two days, were demanding clarity on how the R4 million allocated to the sector, as mentioned by Premier Zamani Saul during his 2020 State of the Province address (Sopa), had been utilised.

THE NORTHERN Cape Department of Sport, Arts and Culture said on Tuesday that only R1 million is left out of the R4 million originally allocated for the development of the arts sector in the Province.

This is after artists this week occupied the office of the MEC for Sport, Arts and Culture, Desery Fienies, and staged a sit-in and a hunger strike.

The artists, who have camped inside Fienies’ office for the past two days, were demanding clarity on how the R4 million allocated to the sector, as mentioned by Premier Zamani Saul during his 2020 State of the Province address (Sopa), had been utilised.

A representative for the artists, Thabo Motlhabi from the Cultural and Creative Industries Federation of South Africa (CCIFSA), said that none of the programmes Saul had promised would be implemented with the R4 million had been delivered.

“During Sopa 2020 the premier said that R4 million will be allocated towards the establishment of a Provincial Music Hub, a Provincial Craft Shop and the operation of the theatre. Saul at the time said that this will boost the economy and also empower the artists. Saul also called on the government to stop celebrating artists only once they are seen on television, saying that government must contribute to the development of artists. The country was, however, hit with the pandemic a few months later and none of the programmes were implemented,” said Motlhabi.

He claimed that artists were informed that the money was no longer available when they enquired about the programmes after the strict lockdown levels were lifted.

“We were all sitting without work during the pandemic and artists felt financial pressure. We were elated when the levels were lifted, however, when we wanted to implement the programmes we were told that the money was taken away by the Treasury department. That is heartbreaking as this Province does not take the creative industry seriously. That R4 million was meant to assist the arts sector but it just evaporated.”

Artists outside the MEC for Sport, Arts and Culture offices. Picture: Soraya Crowie

Motlhabi said that they will not end their hunger strike until their demands have been met.

“We have never been taken seriously by the Department of Arts and Culture. We have so many talented and creative people in this Province, but nothing is being done to develop this industry.

“There are people occupying positions that they have no knowledge of. We want creative, skilful and qualified people with a passion for the arts to occupy offices in the creative sector.

“The Northern Cape Theatre is being mismanaged and nothing is being done to address that matter. Meanwhile committed artists are suffering,” Motlhabi said.

Artists outside the MEC for Sport, Arts and Culture offices. Picture: Soraya Crowie

Department spokesperson Conrad Fortune said the Covid-19 pandemic had a major impact on the department’s budget allocation.

“We had to readjust the budget of the 2021/22 year after we were informed of a budget cut of R41 million for the financial year. This resulted in the department having to readjust its Annual Performance Plan, which unfortunately negatively affected developmental and support programmes for artists and athletes,” said Fortune.

“In March 2020, South Africa went into lockdown and hence no arts and culture programmes could be implemented during this period. This therefore resulted in our artists in the Province being severely negatively affected and had a huge impact on the well-being of artists.”

Fortune said the department had utilised the funds of R4 million to assist artists during the pandemic.

“The national Department of Sport, Arts and Culture made relief funding available for artists, where they could apply. As a department we realised that the artists in the Northern Cape may not all qualify for funding and hence we engaged with representatives from the arts sector, requesting that we as a Province utilise the allocated R 4 million to implement a Northern Cape artist relief programme – for artists to apply for temporary relief. A total of 96 qualifying artists then benefited from the funding.

“The arts sector then approached the department in September 2020 for additional funding, of which an additional amount of R1.5 million was made available after the Annual Performance Plan of the Northern Cape Arts and Culture Council was amended.”

Fortune added that the department has not abandoned the planned programmes.

“Due to the budget cuts that were imposed on the department, only an amount of R1 million is available from the R4 million used for social relief for the artists. We are in consultation with Provincial Treasury with regards to the current situation and to see if there are funds available that can be channelled to the department.

“We also need to state that we are going to implement the programmes, as agreed upon. We are, however, facing a financial challenge as we used the R4 million for the artist relief programme,” said Fortune.