Artistic freedom as we celebrate Freedom Month

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

By Gauteng MEC for Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation Faith Mazibuko

A discussion on artistic freedom of expression is one of the important constitutional guarantees that should be cherished and protected by artists and everyone who subscribes to freedom of expression. As Bob Marley would say ‘redemption songs, the songs of freedom, (including theatre, poem and all) are all our people ever had’, as motivation and hope that their freedom shall and will come.

Not only was freedom for the oppressed but even for the oppressor and everyone who lives in South Africa. Each one of us has been freed from our corners to being equals. The oppressed have been freed from their bondage and the oppressor has been freed from their barbarism to live together in building a prosperous South Africa for all and not ‘the skunk of the world’, as former President Nelson Mandela said during his Inaugural Address, on 9 May 1994 -“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world”.

As the country celebrates Freedom Day on 27 April, 22 years on we still remember how South Africa’s freedom was never free. Some died, others exiled, disappeared, crippled and the majority of the population suffered their dignity and were never equal enough in the country of their birth. The Freedom we enjoy today means a lot of things to a lot of people including freedom of association and expression.

To artists, freedom of expression is crucial in their line of work because it inspires and allows them to be creative in interpreting life and telling the story. In the recent past we have seen the explosion of comedy as an art of freedom of expression. Why is it growing so much, is it because it gives a true sense of freedom of expression without fear, what about other forms of art including music, theater etc? We have also seen the growth cartoonists and painters, sometimes controversially exercising what they believe are their artistic freedoms of expression as provided for by the constitution.  

Whether it is abusing or letting it exist in vain artists and everyone involved in the arts should never take the guarantee of freedom of expression for granted. It is important for artists to be sensitive and avoid putting the arts industry into disrepute under the banner of artistic freedom. In advancing a course artists should most probably take into consideration the sensitivities surrounding it and how will it be received by all the sides even the unintended targets. The issues of race, gender or any other prejudice expressed to attack and/or expose the other is often seen as insulting and looking down upon others. 

The arts including literature should continue finding space and relevance in the lives of people and thereby amplify their voice louder and louder. Yes, there will always be a question of resources including facilities, finances etc however these should not come in the way of artists creating and producing works of art.

It is also important for this freedom, our freedom to benefit artists including those from yester-year who used the arts to contribute in bringing about freedom to South Africa. The likes of Gibson Kente, Mahotella Queens, Stimela, Gomolemo Mokae and many others should be on the airwaves, bookshelves, theatre etc. The efforts of Don Laka and the South African Music Movement should be commended for claiming what should rightfully be the norm. The issue of the local quotas involving the licensing of stations should be taken seriously.

The Gauteng department of Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation has in the past partnered with a few stations to have them exclusively playing local music for the whole hour with its Mzansi local music programme. We have also used every opportunity we get whether through the National Days, Gauteng Sport Awards etc to feature local artists and what we refer to as The Legends. Recently during the provincial Human Rights Day, we featured Mahotella Queens. For the Gauteng Sport Awards we have featured the likes of Tshepo Tshola, Mdu, Brian Temba, Mandoza, etc. We will continue doing our bit to work, support all the various genres of art including performing, visual, craft etc and we hope these will also play a role in the strengthening of our freedom and democracy.

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