It’s still ANC 4/10; EFF 3/10; everybody else — ZERO!
It’s proving easier than I had feared to keep track of the cultural policies of South African political parties in the run-up to the election – most of them don’t have any. The DA joined those dishonourable ranks on Feb 23 with a slick document that doesn’t even seem to know we have a cultural heritage that matters, and that our creative industries already contribute nearly 3% to GDP: more than agriculture on some calculations.
So far, the ANC still has the most extensive acknowledgment of the sector overall, although one constrained and distorted by its commodifying lens. The EFF wins hands-down on arts education, with its call for a teacher for every grade in every school.
In Tito Mboweni’s budget, the ANC continued its trend of acknowledging the area – but still not quite getting it. The finance minister promised: “Officials from the National Treasury and the department of arts and culture will consider proposals for the development of a new national theatre, a new national museum, and also consider financial support for the national archives, a national orchestra and ballet troupe.” One wonders if anybody in government reads the masses of research produced over many years indicating the unique nature of the creative industries. They tend to be small, highly mobile, flexible, often project-based and therefore short-lived. Establishing monolithic, centralised, fixed infrastructure is absolutely not the best way to help them and could well suck more resources and talented people away from communities. It favours elite culturepreneurs and establishments. (And somebody’s just reminded me that we already have a State Theatre, albeit one housed in a monstrous lump of police-state architecture. We really don’t need to go there again.)
Certainly, the inherited disparities of apartheid mean we do need infrastructure. We need to replace – as we still have not done, nearly a quarter of a century later – the vibrant grassroots cultural infrastructure that people’s organisations sustained within communities throughout the struggle. But I guess giving artists spaces with the required digital and physical resources in their own communities, or keeping current modest initiatives alive, just doesn’t sound so grand?