On 19 March 2021, Assitej South Africa pledged their support toward Sibongile Mngoma and the creatives (now Abahlali ba se NAC) for their resilience and courage in standing up on behalf of the creative and cultural industry. They staged a sit/sleep in at the National Arts Council offices since 3 March, an unprecedented action in the history of the arts and cultural industry of South Africa.
30 April marked the 59th day of this protest action, and we learned with elation that Abahlali ba se NAC would finally vacate the NAC premises having lodged formal complaints with the Public Protector and the Hawks, seeking responses within a stipulated time period.
We express hope that the matter of the PESP funding debacle, being referred to the Public Protector, will be treated with urgency and we are deeply grateful for the support of the legal teams working together on this and other court actions, including our own case against the NAC for irregularly reneging on original contracts. We are also cognisant and grateful for the support of so many within the arts community, both locally and internationally, who have supported the sit-in and who have provided solidarity and community at this desperate time for the arts in South Africa.
We welcome the turn of events and wish to thank Abahlali for their resilience and resolute attitude to seeing the PESP matter move towards some kind of resolution. We express our joy that the end of the sit in has come about on the artists’ own terms and that they have chosen to leave in this dignified and responsible manner, ensuring that there can be no discrediting of what has been a powerful expression of artists’ rights to freedom of expression and of holding power to account.
We call on the government, the President, the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture and his department in particular, for accountability, for vision and responsiveness, and for a better treatment of artists and creatives.
Previously, we mentioned that ha ho senyeha ke ha ho loka is a Sesotho expression that can loosely be translated to mean “it’s in the chaos that order prevails”. As such our support toward artists and creatives working together to find sustainable solutions continues. This will be in the best interests of our sector, of the children of the artists, and indeed, of all our children in South Africa.
We note that this ending of the Abahlali sit-in coincides with the commencement of Africa Month and we call on the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture to demonstrate commitment to the African values of Ubuntu, particularly at a time when the majority of artists remain in dire poverty and affected by the lockdowns which continue to impact on their ability to work. The AU has declared 2021 the Year of Arts, Culture and Heritage and we call on our government to not simply pay lip service to these values but to exemplify them in vision, strategy and action.
ASSITEJ SA salutes Abahlali ba se NAC for their courage, and pledges our continued solidarity with Abahlali as they continue their mission to ensure that all those who fund the arts, including the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, are held accountable at this time of vulnerability and precarity for artists.