Transparency or a threat to artistic freedom?

Thami aka Mbongo

Thami Akambongo Manzana: Minister Gayton Mackenzie: Double Meaning to the Cultural & Creative Industries in South Africa.

Will Minister Gayton Mackenzie’s bold and unorthodox approach bring a much-needed revitalization to South Africa’s Cultural & Creative Industries, or will it stifle the very voices it aims to empower?

As he takes a stand against alleged corruption and nepotism within the Department of Sport, Arts & Culture, Mackenzie’s actions prompt a deeper examination of whether transparency and accountability can coexist with artistic freedom.

His tenure promises significant changes, but will these changes unite the sector or create new divides? The answer to this question will shape the future of South Africa’s creative landscape.

MINISTER MACKENZIE’S ADDRESS TO DSAC

Critique of Department’s Priorities

Minister Mackenzie’s address to the DSAC management and staff on his Welcoming Day was provocative.

“I think there’s a department that fails to maintain their Instagram lifestyle exclusively at the expense of other artists. But those artists perform at our events, they now think they have power. Because there are certain officials that bow to those artists. Their time is over. These are some artists who are outside, unleashing the light. There’s a department. There are artists that get much more than even the MPs. But when they open their mouth outside there, they are talking nonsense. How can a Makhadzi say she needs a taxi fare? She needs to go to Mashonisa. While this department has been booking her and giving her money when they book her. We will never be bullied again. If you talk, the first thing I am going to do, I am going to transparently release the list of every artist and how much they got from the Department”

SOCIAL MEDIA DECLARATION

Social Media Declaration

On social media, Minister Mackenzie reiterated his commitment to transparency, especially for those who did not hear the actual address at DSAC, announcing:

“I have given an instruction that a list be published of all Artists, Creatives & Sports people who have been receiving money from the Department of Sport, Arts & Culture, inclusive of amounts & reasons. The time where only a selected connected few benefit is over.”

Without the context of his address, this message may seem like a simple call for transparency. However, it is, in fact, a stern warning to artists who speak out against the Department.

THE MAKHADZI CONTROVERSY

A significant part of the controversy centred around popular artist Makhadzi. Minister Mackenzie highlighted her case, indirectly implying she unfairly criticized the department despite receiving substantial payments. In a DSAC media statement, it was declared:

“DSAC strongly rejects the assertion that it is not Makhadzi. Over the past 14 months, Makhadzi has been booked by DSAC to perform in several national engagements, receiving as much as 23,000 rand.”

Following the minister’s address, the DSAC released this media statement to clarify their position.

TARGETING OR TRANSPARENCY?

Is Makhadzi being unfairly targeted for speaking on MacG’s Podcast & Chill about needing to go to a Mashonisa for her BET trip? This situation raises broader questions about the relationship between artists and the government. If artists who perform at DSAC events are criticized for speaking out, is this a threat to freedom of speech? Or even those who are funded by DSAC.

The Cultural & Creative Industries practitioners and stakeholders should be deeply concerned about this issue and not take it lightly. It is too significant to be ignored.

COVID RELIEF AND CORRUPTION

As committed by Minister Gayton Mackenzie, the DSAC published lists of Covid Relief Funding beneficiaries, highlighting the department’s efforts to maintain transparency during the pandemic. The list released covered 2020 – 2021.

However, Minister Mackenzie’s focus on recent events overlooks the long history of corruption, nepotism, and misappropriation of funds. Shouldn’t the investigation start from 1994, the dawn of our democracy, to truly address these issues?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Sport, Arts & Culture (DSAC) had been plagued by numerous issues under the previous ruling party. There are many funds given to artists that are not even known to the public. Instead of releasing lists that are already in the public domain, wouldn’t it be wiser to share those that are not usually disclosed?

As the commitment made by Minister Gayton Mackenzie – The DSAC published lists of Covid Relief Funding beneficiaries, highlighting the department’s efforts to maintain transparency during the pandemic. The list released was 2020 – 2021.

CALL FOR ENGAGEMENT

Minister Mackenzie’s approach, while energetic, may benefit from broader engagement with CCIs practitioners and stakeholders. Instead of making public accusations, a more collaborative approach could foster trust and unity within the sector, as in the case of Makhadzi.

*Wouldn’t a dialogue with artists and stakeholders create a more harmonious and productive environment?*

Minister Gayton Mackenzie cannot rely solely on the information provided by DSAC management and staff, who have been in the department for a long time and may know how to manipulate the system.

It is high time an inclusive engagement with the Cultural & Creative Industries practitioners and stakeholders is organized as a matter of urgency. This engagement must be inclusive and represent the diversity of South Africa.

POSITIVE ENGAGEMENT & POTENTIAL DIVISIVENESS

Minister Mackenzie’s responsiveness on social media has been praised. For instance, he swiftly responded to a letter from the STAND Foundation and TADA within six hours.

“Finally, I want to thank you for taking my call and for your willingness to set up this meeting,” he wrote.

However, this promptness has also raised questions about potential favouritism. Why does the minister respond quickly to some while others wait indefinitely?

Who decides what reaches the minister’s table, and does this create an uneven playing field within the DSAC?

CONCLUSION

Minister Gayton Mackenzie’s tenure promises to be eventful. His drive for transparency and accountability is commendable, yet his methods and focus raise important questions about fairness, freedom of speech, and true engagement with the Cultural and Creative Industries.

Will this approach foster a more transparent and equitable sector, or will it create new divides and stifle artistic expression? Only time will tell.

By critically examining these questions and engaging in open dialogue, the Cultural & Creative Industries in South Africa can navigate these turbulent times towards a more inclusive and transparent future.


Thami Akambongo Manzana
akambongo@gmail.com
akaMbongo Foundation Pty Ltd
http://www.akambongo.co.za


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Thami aka Mbongo writes on his personal capacity.