South Africa

ARTS SECTOR

National Arts Council apologises for the way it handled R300m stimulus programme

National Arts Council apologises for the way it handled R300m stimulus programme
Mercy Pakela (centre) is angry at the National Arts Council and says it has undermined the integrity of artists who have been affected by the lockdown. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

At an online meeting on Sunday night with the arts sector, the National Arts Council apologised for how it had handled the stimulus package.

At a Zoom meeting on Sunday evening, the National Arts Council (NAC) apologised to the arts sector for how it has handled the R300-million Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme.

In the meeting, attended by officials from the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, Princess Celenhle Dlamini, the acting chairperson of the NAC’s council, apologised to the arts sector. 

“I really do apologise for all of this. With each and every meeting we’re going to have, we’ll have to apologise because we really didn’t want to be at loggerheads with the artists,” said Dlamini.

Since 3 March a group of artists has been staging a sit-in at the NAC’s offices in Newton, Johannesburg. About 12 artists have been sleeping at the offices, with about 50 people present during the day delivering food and showing support, said opera star Sibongile Mngoma, who’s been leading the sit-in.

This was after the NAC told the industry that the money that they were to initially receive was to be reduced.

The guiding figure was adjusted from the maximum of R25,000 for organisations and R16,600 for individuals per job to R10,895 per job. 

Another council member, Avril Joffe, said that she was “deeply sorry” that “it has gotten to this point. I’m also sorry that management hasn’t been up to scratch and that’s why we’ve had to suspend the CEO and the CFO.”

In a statement issued by the NAC two weeks ago, they said that the CEO Rosemary Mangope and the CFO Clifton Changfoot were suspended “pending an investigation in relation to the management of the Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme”.

At Sunday’s meeting, Lara Foot, the Baxter Theatre’s CEO and artistic director, said that the NAC’s council had still not told the sector the exact reasons for the suspension of their CEO and CFO.

“Today’s the day something else happens, not these long ridiculous protracted meetings. We need new leaders, leaders who know what it takes to put together a play,” said Foot.

Foot, as well as other artists, asked the NAC whether they had asked for more money for the stimulus package. In response to this, Dlamini said that “from the perspective of the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture and the Presidency, we were all caught off guard and being able to raise a large amount of money in a short space of time was not possible”.

“We understand that you’re in a difficult situation and we apologise for putting you in this situation,” said Vusithemba Ndima, the department’s acting director-general. 

“What the new [NAC] council did was to say: ‘Rather than leave many people out there, let’s spread this’, but in doing so they created more problems.”

By reducing how much money approved applicants would get, the NAC said that they’d be creating more job opportunities. 

“With the adjusted guiding figure, the NAC [has] exceeded the number of targeted jobs from 14,000 to 21,249 jobs,” reads their statement.

Other issues with how the stimulus package has been rolled out are non-payment. When Jaco van Rensburg had his two-day theatre production earlier this month, he had not received a cent from NAC.

Mngoma said that they would not leave the offices until all payments to all applicants have been made. 

“We also demand the suspension of the council… We don’t have time for Zoom meetings with no solutions. We don’t have time for platitudes,” said Mngoma. 

Mngoma also demanded that the council hand over the Pesp memorandum of understanding the NAC has with the department by close of business on Monday, 15 March. DM

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