Mpuma artists to raise their concerns with Zuma

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mbombela - Local artists from Mpumalanga are making their way to Johannesburg where they will meet with President Jacob Zuma to voice their grievances about what they call the "shameful" state of arts and culture in the province.

The artists, some of whom are members of the Creative Writers' Union of South Africa, will join other artists from around the country on Tuesday at the Sandton Convention Centre, where Zuma will be responding to questions raised before his election in April.

"Our artists have suffered too much in this province. We will therefore drive all the way from Nelspruit to Sandton to ensure that the President deals with our grievances once and for all," said the union's provincial co-ordinator, Alpheus Nhlabathi.

Nhlabathi said the union would ask Zuma to address issues such as the fact that Mpumalanga's Department of Culture, Sports and Recreation allegedly splashed R22 million on a once-off play about apartheid struggle hero Gert Sibande.

The money was given to controversial playwright Mbongeni Ngema.

"In comparison, the KwaZulu-Natal Government built a R15 million studio that can be used by talented local artists who want to record music in that province," said Nhlabathi.

"Artists from the province are always criticised for the quality of their albums, but to get good quality you have to travel all the way to Johannesburg," Nhlabathi said.

He also criticised the department for giving entertainment contracts to the same people over and over again.

"When you attend functions organised by the department, you will be shocked to realise that the same two companies are always hired to provide sound and the stage," said Nhlabathi.

He added that the union would also alert Zuma about the police's failure to curb piracy in the province.

"Anyone can just walk down the street or to the taxi rank and see that our music and videos are being sold for R20 on the streets. Would a drug dealer be allowed to sell dope so openly without being arrested?" he said.

He said the police's failure to crack down on piracy meant that they viewed the work of artists as "nothing of great value".

"With artists suffering from this kind of treatment, it is only proper to ask: 'Are we workers or court jesters?' It seems to me we are nothing but mere entertainers," Nhlabathi said.

Spokesperson for the Presidency Zingaphi Jakuja said Zuma will be meeting the artists.

"The President has met these sectors prior to the elections to listen to the issues facing the creative industry. The purpose of the meeting will be to give a progress report on some of the issues that were raised before," said Jakuja.

"This is also done with a view to continue engaging with the rest of the creative industry. South Africa as a world partner of the Millennium Development Goals of 2014 regard the contribution of cultural industries in the economy as important," she said.