South Africa


ANC vision of Arts, Culture & Heritage revealed — graves, archives and very little art

ANC vision of Arts, Culture & Heritage revealed — graves, archives and very little art
The ANC’s Baleka Mbete. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

From which particular vision is the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture obtaining its mandate? This question has seemed ever more fraught in the context of expensive ‘social cohesion’ projects while artists plead in vain for financial support. Few answers were available at a Monday media briefing to discuss the ANC’s latest policy document on the subject.

In the ANC’s latest policy discussion paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage, the word “artists” appears just once.

At a media briefing on Monday at which the subject was discussed, a Soweto artist who attempted to pose a question on behalf of local artists was told that the session was for journalists only, and was directed to take up her issue separately.

The overview of the policy paper given by the ANC’s Baleka Mbete at the briefing dealt almost exclusively with the party’s concerns over the desecration of graves.

Mbete cited as a recent example the vandalism of PAC leader Robert Sobukwe’s grave, suggesting that when such graves are treated with “indignity and disrespect”, it reflects “how much disrespect we have for ourselves”.

The Arts, Culture and Heritage paper on which Mbete was briefing the media is one of a bundle of ANC discussion documents released in May ahead of the party’s upcoming national policy conference.

The paper acknowledges the current and past shortcomings in the ANC’s thinking around arts, culture and heritage. Policies on these subjects have often seemed to be “ad hoc, tentative and poorly expressed”, it notes.

It states that arts and culture have suffered from being bundled alongside sport, “which undoubtedly receives more prominence and funding”, and suggests that one reason for the current weaknesses in the area is that the ANC has not had a dedicated arts and culture commission since 1991.

The paper suggests that as a result, South Africa sees the ongoing “dominance of English and to a lesser degree, Afrikaans; of neoliberal ideologies and western cultures”.

Another possible consequence: “the levels of violence against foreign nationals”, which the paper attributes to “the lack of understanding of our current humanity”, an issue that arts and culture should be seized with.

The link drawn between xenophobic violence and arts and culture policy failures reflects a view that dominates the paper. This is that the arts can, and should, be put to highly instrumentalised and pragmatic purposes to support nation-building, social cohesion and the pursuit of “a revolution or transformation in a transitional post-apartheid society”.

This vision will not be news to anyone who has followed the government’s arts and culture plans over the past few years, illustrated most notoriously in May by Minister Nathi Mthethwa’s shelved plans to spend R22-million on a “monumental flag”.

But for those already concerned that there is little scope in such a vision for supporting artists who may not wish to be co-opted into any particular revolution or patriotic agenda, this latest policy paper does not offer much cause for hope.

Although the paper lists as one of its recommendations a need to develop “new funding methods to ensure sustainable resourcing of arts, culture and heritage”, that proposal does not appear in the conclusions as to “priority policy interventions and flagship programmes”.

The paper concludes that immediate priority is to be given instead to:

  • A revival of “cultural attaches” in important embassies across the world;
  • The development of a repatriation policy for the “mortal remains” of South Africans abroad;
  • An archives policy, to ensure the safeguarding of records from the liberation struggle;
  • A focus on indigenous knowledge systems and language policy;
  • The “promotion and mainstreaming” of the philosophy of ubuntu; and
  • The development of three cultural/memorial sites: the Southern African Liberation Heritage Route, the Liberation Memorial Multipurpose Centre and the National Heroes Acre.

It is hard not to conclude that the “heritage” portion of “arts, culture and heritage” is being treated as considerably more important than the “arts and culture” bit.

There is also the fact that the government’s existing heritage sites, such as the Robben Island Museum and Winnie Mandela House in Brandfort, have been mismanaged or neglected — raising the unanswered question of what new projects in this area might do differently.

The ANC’s paper in fact cites both the Robben Island Museum and the Winnie Mandela House as “legacy projects” to be celebrated, despite abundant recent evidence to the contrary.

It, does, however, note the problem of “seemingly progressive ventures” being launched without further resources going towards upkeep, and advises: “Our policy position must address itself to this dilemma.”

At Monday’s media briefing, Mbete assured the Soweto artist whose question was cut off that in preparing the discussion paper, artists had been widely consulted.

Mbete said these artists had been asked: “What are the key issues that they wanted highlighted?”

The claim that the resulting paper does indeed capture the key concerns of South African artists is one that is certain to be hotly contested. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Lothar Böttcher says:

    The centrist ANC ideology has all the hallmarks where art can only exist in the myopic world of Stalinist “nation building”. Art for these dinosaurs should be a vehicle of antiquated and dusty self-serving beliefs and not be allowed independent or critical comment of facts.
    Why don’t Art Museums or theatres get R22M to raise flags, where culture and discourse can meet?

  • Malcolm McManus says:

    Do we actually need a department of sports, arts and culture. I wonder what the cost is of actually running such a department, and who actually benefits. I hope they are also documenting the current ANC governments culture of blatant theft and the lack of “dignity and respect”, they show for the very people who vote for them.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Yeap, that’s the ANC we love to ditch: big on policy and paper plans, poor on consultation, inclusion, maintenance and implementation. Mbete, and her paper, embody all the worst aspects of the philistine ANC. Thank God this policy will never be anything other than a politicised wish list.

  • Rochelle Keene says:

    I would like to know how many times the word ‘museum’ appears in this document. There are important museums, monuments and heritage sites which are in a state of severe disrepair or are closed due to lack of funding. I won’t quote the well known ones (starting with Robben Island) but for example the Cradock Four Museum in Cradock is closed and in a state of disrepair. It’s on the main Struggle Route. Does anyone care?

  • Alan Paterson says:

    There has never been a vision of anything, merely versions from the ANC hymnbook. From the day that these conquering heroes arrived on the coattails of the international opprobrium that felled the apartheid system their only vision was one of ANC uber alles.

    • Luan Sml says:

      The only vision the ANC cadres have are those of Bentleys in the garage, Prada on the back, Chanel over the arm and Laboutin on the feet!

      Our libraries go to ruin, museums are pillaged and poorly run, heritage sites vandalised and our art galleries and national theatres are but a shadow of their glory days… arts, culture and heritage are for the people to keep alive, just look after the places using the money we give you!

  • Scorched Earth says:

    I was recently in Mahikeng researching my family history, which is linked to the Siege of Mafeking by Boer Soldiers and the hundred of black lives lost, calculated from the War Report filed by Baden-Powell to his Commander-in-Chief stood at 318 Barolong and others but none of their remains are interred at the Siege Cemetery. No record exists even at the Mahikeng Museum of the many black people figthing a “white man’s war”. The museum itself was in a poor state of disrepair with only 4 displays. Nothing could even be found of who build Cecil John Rhodes the railway line from Vryburg to Mafeking. My great grandfather still remain buried like all other black people in their racially classified burial grounds even though the British Government gave the Boers £3million for loss of property as part of the Treaty of Vereeniging.

  • William Stucke says:

    “A revival of “cultural attaches” in important embassies across the world;” . . .

    Right. So more opportunities for jobs for pals in lekker places, right?

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