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Advocate Sipho Mantula takes a look at the state of the arts and cultural affairs, 30 years after apartheid and towards the new South Africa

The South African apartheid years (1948-1994) witnessed a great diversity in the South African art and culture environment, ranging from landscape rock paintings to abstract art and creative expressions.

There was engagement with European and American currents, but also a fiercely local sense of what it meant to be an artist or sports personality in this country during troubled times of segregation and apartheid.

Inevitably, black artists and sports figures were largely neglected in all sporting codes because of the apartheid system of class and divide. It was left to white artists and sports teams, endowed with training, resources, and supportive galleries, to build a corpus of South African sports, arts, and culture. The beginning of colonial apartheid white sports, arts, and culture practices.

South Africa’s young democracy is observed throughout the continent and the world as an exemplary pluralistic rainbow nation. Be that as it may, as the country approaches its most important and highly contested seventh democratic elections in 30 years, does sports, art, and culture replicate true reality of life and survival? Did we grasp honestly with the linkages between heritage and identity?

These national questions of heritage, identity, and true reality of life and survival are not as straightforward as they might first appear to our readers. Perhaps the first and best place to begin addressing these questions is by acknowledging that in a country like South Africa, there is not one heritage, or an easily delineated set of distinct identities.

The cultures, languages, and heritages of South Africa are multiple, diverse, and dynamic. Intersectional and inter-generational issues of gender, ethnicity, and race further complicate the matter of identity and make it highly inadvisable to categorise the different people contained within South Africa’s borders. Hence social cohesion and nation building should be the glue that will stick the people of the south and the continent together as one.

It is depressing and concerning to begin first to assess and evaluate the state of arts and culture 30 years later in South Africa, when the global stage has been overtaken and led by social upheaval, revolutions, and lasting change, often beginning in the arts and creative spaces and long before they manifest on the political and economic stages.

Pan African creative communities of practice have been discussing and continue to unmask the changes they want to see in the country and world; they go on to write blogs, open letters, struggle plays, life-biographies books, and liberation songs, and find ways to work around censorship and oppression to reach new audiences with their messages.

The sports, arts, and culture politics and economics in South Africa since 1994 under the Ministry of Science and Technology, Arts, and Culture under the leadership of the first Minister, the late Ben Ngubane, have been suffering and confounded with the real challenges facing its own community first and many unsung and unrecognised heroes and heroines have passed this earthly world without due recognition and respect for their revolutionary act of calling.

The South African arts and cultural development of the country has failed to be grounded in villages and townships; rather urban areas have been favoured, better funded, and over-concentrated. The honest reality is that in townships and villages that is where stars and trailblazers are born and nourished, yet they are neglected and rejected.

The are many milestones and achievements we can count in favour of the South African sports journey since 1994, from sports tournaments which we hosted such as the African Cup of Nations in 1996, Rugby World Cup in 1995, 2010 FIFA World Cup, and 2023 World Netball Championship; all these sports’ diplomacy activities raise the bar and status of South Africa in the global sporting governance and history.

The post-apartheid arts and culture space was ignored and left stranded in the pavement of democratisation, issues such as the protection and promotion of creative expression was left to the international pirates of the arts and business, the independent and ethical public funding for the arts and culture was supposed to be handled with utmost care and diligence by all agencies and funding institutions such as the National Arts Council, which for many years has been accused of being embroiled in many maladministration and corruption scandals since its formation.

One of the challenges that South Africa is facing and towards its philosophical and not tangible developmental and responsive plan known as National Development Plan 20230, is within the sports, arts, and culture sectors.

We need to honestly reflect and look back at all political appointed Ministers and Director Generals who have led the arts and culture portfolio and ask ourselves, do we really need such leaders who have left the arts and culture space paralysed and bruised with pains and anger?

What lesson can we learn from these political characters such as Ngubane, Pallo Jordan, Lulama Xingwana, Fikile Mbalula, Paul Mashatile, Nathi Mthethwa, and now Zizi Kodwa? Are we able to redeem and save the sports, art, and culture as the least supported and funded department in the country and always accused for not contributing to the growth and development strategy of the country? Can the private sector and universities invest in the sports, arts, and culture development and policy implementation by providing resources that are needed by the sports, arts, and cultural communities?

One has posed all these questions as part of starting the debate to reshape and shake up the arts and creative space and allow freedom of expression to prevail and to benefit the present younger generation of South Africa to be firm and focus, and never give up the struggle of reclaiming their artistic expression and cultural knowledge and skill.

Advocate Sipho Mantula is a Human Rights Lawyer with the Thabo Mbeki School of Leadership.

By Editor