Creatives staging a sit-in at the National Arts Council insist that they won’t move until they are paid
Creatives who have been staging a sit-in at the offices of the National Arts Council (NAC) said they would not move until their money was paid despite promises by the council to fast track outstanding payments.
A group of between 30 and 50 dancers, singers, actors, musicians, poets, puppeteers, visual artists and crafters have been protesting at the NAC offices in Newtown since March 1.
The sit-in was started by renowned opera star Sibongile Mngoma who holed herself up in the NAC offices. The group said if Mngoma leaves, NAC management will shut and bolt the doors to stop “hungry, desperate artists and performers from protesting there”.
Many artists said they’ve had to sell their equipment to stay alive as a result of the slow pace of payments. Initially, the council promised a 72-hour turn-around time but according to the protesters, they have been waiting for months.
Next stop for the group is Cape Town where they will today stage a protest on the Artscape Plaza. Organisers say they will present a variety of performances in solidarity with colleagues in Johannesburg, highlighting the skills and talents of a highly specialised industry, decimated by Covid-19 and “hung out to dry by a dysfunctional Department of Arts & Culture”.
At the heart of the protest is the Presidential Economic Stimulus Package (PESP) of R300 million.
The package was focused on employment creation and retention initiatives for artists, creatives, cultural and heritage sector workers. Applications were called for, assessed and the first grant recipients had contracts sent to them, and in some cases, funds disbursed. But now the protesters claim the NAC had made the “unilateral” decision to recall or revise contracts and cut initially allocated funding amounts to artists, many of whom had leapt into action and were already working on the projects that had been funded. They also claim that much of the money might have been misappropriated.
Mngoma said the groundswell of support across the country showed their cause was shared and of utmost importance.
“Sit-ins, hunger strikes and protest marches – these are clarion calls for meaningful change in the agencies and government departments that are tasked with the care of arts and culture. We call upon creative industry practitioners across SA to unite and take action wherever they can so that truth, transparency and progress can prevail and our industry can get up off its knees and thrive.
Actor, drama facilitator, educator, theatre writer and director, Thami Mbongo, who’s been at Mngoma’s side since day one, said their questions to the NAC remained unanswered.
“They are hiding something. Why can’t they give us the list of people who have been approved. Why can’t they tell us exactly how much they have paid out?” he said.
Mbongo said despite meeting with NAC board members, they were no closer to getting any answers. While he was 100% behind the Cape Town leg of the protest he would not be attending for fear that he might be locked out of the NAC office in Newtown, should he leave.
Mbongo said the NAC had indicated that 70% of the stimulus package would be disbursed by March 31 but they would continue their protest action beyond that date if they didn’t receive their money.
The NAC announced yesterday it had distributed R68.4 million to 516 beneficiaries and there was still R216 million in its coffers for 862 beneficiaries who had applied for funding.
Board member Dr Sipho Sithole hit back by denying any funds had disappeared and dismissed any allegations of corruption.