Open Letter to the President of the Republic of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa

Dear Mr. President,

RE: The Plight of Artists and Creative Arts Practitioners in Our Country

Yesterday afternoon, 25 March 2021 at 15h00, I was invited to meet with opera singer Sibongile Mngoma and other disgruntled artists and creative arts practitioners involved in the peaceful sit-in that began on 3 March 2021 at the National Arts Council (NAC) in Newtown.

In November 2020, the PESP was announced as part of government’s response to the rise in unemployment due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. R500bn was made available across various sectors of the economy with the view to promote innovation and facilitate the creation of new job opportunities for those most affected by the National Lockdown.

Of those resources, R300m was allocated to the NAC to distribute to the creative industry to sponsor various projects proposed by artists and creative arts practitioners within the sector.

However, only a percentage of payments were made, while a substantial number of qualifying recipients are yet to see a cent. 

It is most troubling that throughout the country and in various sectors of our society, the COVID-19 pandemic presented yet another opportunity for thieving and corruption that continues to negatively affect the lives of the hardworking people of our country in the most inhumane ways.

During my visit, the artists related how various forms of improprieties began to surface towards the end of tenure of the Council which was overseeing the distribution of funds. Among some of these is that some Council members benefited from the funds while substantive amounts were also given to entities not related to the arts.

Even more shocking are claims that some individual applicants received money to the tune of between R9m and R11m for their projects, while other applicants received as little as R50 000 – or even less!

These improprieties have led to some of the affected artists having to face evictions from their homes due to the inability to fulfil their rental or bond repayment commitments.  Others have reportedly sold their tools of trade to get by. Even more concerning is that there are those who have teetered on the brink of suicide.

Now on day 24, the activists seek answers regarding the PESP funding which was meant to be rolled out by the NAC.

Like all South Africans, artists and creative practitioners alike deserve the truth and to be treated with dignity.

We therefore on behalf of all the affected artists and creative practitioners that you please respond to their plight and, as promised by the National Arts Council, by 31 March 2021 outlining how this issue will be resolved.

In the event of the failure to respond, and further subject these artists to continue with the sit-in, ActionSA will be compelled to seek legal intervention on their behalf.