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Spending R22.5-million on a flag is a monumental stuff-up from Nathi Mthethwa

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, speaking during a memorial lecture of the late Dr Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The lecture was held at the Vaal University of Technology (VUT).Photo: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, speaking during a memorial lecture of the late Dr Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The lecture was held at the Vaal University of Technology (VUT).Photo: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Published May 19, 2022

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Johannesburg - Spending R22.5-million on a 10mx15m flag and a 120m high flagpole is simply a stupid idea.

It’s an idea that lacks imagination and tact. The timing of the announcement, which was made last week in minister for sports, arts and culture Nathi Mthethwa’s ‘Budget Vote Speech’, was poor too. In fact, there was never a good time to announce what his department is calling the “Monumental Flag Project”. It is a monumental waste of time and money.

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The arts industry was brought to its knees by the Covid-19 pandemic. The sports industry suffered too.

There simply had to be a better way for Mthethwa’s department to spend this money. In seeking to justify this ridiculous project, Mthethwa was on JJ Tabane’s show on eNCA this week talking about “deepening social cohesion”, because apparently the public is “not familiar with national symbols”.

There’s something on social media called #I’mTheFlag. Presumably Mthethwa wants that to trend. As the kids these days would ask:WTF?”

Already, according to Vusithemba Ndim, the deputy director general responsible for heritage promotion and preservation, R1.7m was spent on a feasibility study – apparently someone had to check if the soil where the flag is supposed to be planted could handle a 120m flagpole made of steel.

Oh, yeah, the steel. There’s a lot of it, according to Mthethwa. It will need lots of cranes and there’s other construction material. It will be lit at night, presumably with renewable energy initiatives, because we know Eskom won’t be providing electricity.

It’s madness. In a country where we deal with crazy every day, this was triggering. There are many involved across sports, arts and culture who would have been able to spend R22.5m on meaningful initiatives that would have created lasting and impactful outcomes for South Africans. There’s Connect NPC in Cape Town (connectperformance. co.za/connect-academy), the District Six Museum, which last year was begging the public for money, and the Fugard theatre, which closed down last year, costing many jobs.

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There’s much more real and impactful work Mthethwa’s office can do and it beggars belief that a giant flag was the best idea he and his department – which, by the way, employs five deputy director generals, 11 senior managers and five communication officers – could come up with.

The Springboks did more for the flag by wearing “budgie smugglers” with the flag’s pattern after the 2019 World Cup final, while downing beers with UK royalty.

Mthethwa’s time in office has largely been a failure. He can point to his role in dragging Cricket SA’s administration back from the abyss as a moment of success, but really, the fact that he had to get involved says more about the disastrous environment that organisation created for itself at the time than it does about Mthethwa’s political leadership.

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Other than posing for photos and releasing statements congratulating or commiserating with people involved in the arts, culture and sports industries, what has he achieved in that role? Rather than meaningful change, providing upliftment in those three sectors, Mthethwa, when he leaves office one day, will be known for being at the forefront of a monumental stuff-up.

What a legacy.

@shockerhess

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