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Friday, January 29, 2021


Join more than 1,200 colleagues in the arts who have already signed the petition for the Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture to resign or be replaced.

Petition’s initial sponsors:

Gregory Maqoma, Sylvaine Strike, Faniswa Yisa, Ismail Mahomed, Warren Nebe, Lesego van Niekerk, Yvette Hardie, Daniel Galloway, Ipeleng Merafe, Sbonakaliso Ndaba, Alex Sutherland, Liam Anthony, Mike van Graan, Jackie Rens, Lee Sophia Piedt, Malika Ndlovu


Mike van Graan’s statement reads:

We, the undersigned artists, arts organisations and individuals who seek to make our living within the theatre sector, and more broadly, within the South African arts ecosystem, hereby call upon Mr Nathi Mthethwa to resign as Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture by 31 January 2021. Failing this, we call upon President Ramaphosa to replace Mr Mthethwa in February 2021.

On Friday 15 January 2021, Minister Mthethwa 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”

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 ten months.

We wake up almost daily to reports of artists – including many theatre and dance practitioners – having succumbed to COVID-19. Many more have lost family, friends and colleagues which has impacted adversely on their emotional well-being. Some of the country’s most active theatres in providing work and income for artists such as the Fugard Theatre, the Baxter Theatre Centre and Theatre on the Square have been shut for extended periods. Festivals – important producers of new work and key platforms for theatre-makers to generate income – have been cancelled. Those that have gone online have not been able to secure anywhere near the remuneration for artists that live festivals have done in the past. The loss of income for many theatre-makers has had, and is having a devastating impact on their mental, emotional and physical health. Most are independent contractors dependent on freelance work, unlike those employed in subsidized theatres who receive income and social benefits whether they stage productions or not.

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.

Theatre will live – not because of the Minister or because of the few theatres subsidized by the state – but it is not well.

Theatre and the arts generally could be in a far better space both during the pandemic and beyond, if we had a minister who showed an interest in and who understands the sector, and who engages with it in order to ensure the best interests of its practitioners and all those who seek to make their livelihoods within it.

We do not call on Nathi Mthethwa to resign or to be replaced simply because of his insensitive tweet, but because the tweet reflects our long experience of the Minister as incompetent, aloof and out of touch.

His tweet mentions five theatres, four of which were inherited from the apartheid era, and twenty-six years later, the Department has continued to privilege these theatres and their locations and has not made subsidized theatre spaces available in Eastern Cape, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West and Northern Cape.

It took the Minister the whole of his first five-year tenure to revise the White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage, and the revised White Paper is still not being implemented.

The Minister and Department created and continues to foist an illegitimate body – Cultural and Creative Industries Federation of South Africa (CCIFSA) – as the representative structure for the creative sector when it has no membership, no credibility and no support from the major formations created by artists themselves.

PACOFS and the Market Theatre – two theatres subsidized by the Department – have experienced debilitating governance challenges, at least some of it due to the Minister’s appointment of council members despite being informed that they had abused the public resources of these institutions.

These are just some of numerous charges laid against the Minister and the Department in a dossier compiled by the Theatre Collective which was submitted to parliament last year.

There is little in our post-1994 history to make us believe that those in positions of political power who do not deliver on or who fail dismally in executing their responsibilities, resign or are replaced. That Nathi Mthethwa was the minister of police responsible for the Marikana massacre, a massive blot on our post-apartheid democracy, still occupies a ministerial position, confirms this lack of belief in democratic accountability in our country.

But this will not deter us from asserting our democratic rights, to raising our voice and to acting in our collective interests as a sector.

Accordingly, we call on the Minister to resign forthwith, failing which, we call on President Ramaphosa to launch ‘a new dawn’ for arts and culture by exercising his right to replace the Minister, as well as the leadership of the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture that has been complicit in the failures of the Department and the minister for the last number of years.

We are keen and willing to work with a new minister and a new leadership of the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture in building a vibrant, sustainable arts and culture sector that serves all our people and that forges mutually beneficial relationships globally.

To support this petition, click on the link below and fill in your details (name, practice within the sector, email address and province). Share this petition and the hashtag #NathiMustGo widely.

Mike Van Graan or 082 900 3349

MVG Productions -