Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa has apologised for his “offensive” tweet regarding theatre in South Africa.
Mthethwa angered artists last week after he tweeted: “South African theatre is alive and well with performing arts institutions of the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture such as @ArtscapeTheatre, @MarketTheatre, @PACOFS3, @DurbanPlayhouse, @statetheatre and @WindybrowTheatr (sic) offering an array of indigenous drama and dance etc.”
They have since started an online petition calling for his resignation by 31 January. If he doesn’t resign, President Cyril Ramaphosa must replace him in February 2021, they demand.
The petition – sponsored by Gregory Maqoma, Sylvaine Strike and Alex Sutherland, to name a few – is not calling for Mthethwa’s resignation only because of the offensive tweet, but “because the tweet reflects our long experience of the minister as incompetent, aloof and out of touch”.
“Not only is this tweet patently untrue – these theatres have generally had dark stages for months due to lockdown regulations, with some offering filmed recordings of productions – the tweet [now removed] reflects how ignorant the minister is of the theatre landscape in the country and underscores his lack of understanding of, and empathy with the enormous losses within the arts sector over the last 10 months.
“The loss of income for many theatre-makers has had, and is having, a devastating impact on their mental, emotional and physical health.
“The relief funding made available by the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture – while welcomed – came with bureaucratic hoops that excluded many and was simply a drop in the ocean in terms of the needs within the sector.
“To say that ‘theatre is alive and well’ is to reflect an ivory tower position of privilege that is completely out of touch with reality,” said the artists.
In response, Mthethwa apologised for the tweet “more so, in light of the fact that the creative sector has been the hardest hit by the pandemic”.
In March, Mthethwa announced a R150 million relief fund to assist athletes, artists and technical personnel in both sectors.
In addition, R50 million had been added to the national relief fund by provincial departments.
The department was fast-tracking a third phase of relief funding for the industry, with the first two phases having helped 5000 people and over R80 million paid out.
“In spite of our best efforts, the department is fully cognisant of the fact that there are many others who did not benefit from these programmes, given the department’s finite budget. With that said, we have and will continue to engage national organisations in line with out open door policy.”
Information on the third phase of the relief fund will be issued in due course.
Read the full statement below:
Compiled by Vhahangwele Nemakonde