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Monday, 22 December 2014

SADC arts councils could aid regional poverty reduction

By Andrew Mulenga

Southern Africa’s National Arts Councils can collectively play a leading role in building workable and conducive environments where cultural resources can be used for poverty eradication, job creation and significant contributions to national Gross Domestic Products.
This is an assessment springing from two days of robust debate and exchange of ideas at a colloquium entitled Artist Rights and Regional Cooperation in Southern Africa held in Cape Town, South Africa that brought together key players, cultural operators, creative practitioners and government officials from 8 Southern African countries early this month.

AN Secretary General Peter Rorvik observed that 
all stakeholders need to be involved at practitioner, 
public, private and civil society level - (Photo - Grant Williams)
The colloquium was organized by the Arterial Network’s (AN) South African chapter and the continental group’s Artwatch Africa (AWA) creative rights programme. Opening the series of closed door, as well as public sessions that focused on success stories and strategies to raise awareness on the status of the arts, culture and heritage sectors of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), AN Secretary General Peter Rorvik observed that all stakeholders need to be involved at practitioner, public, private and civil society level.

The first session of the colloquium, Cultural Ownership and Artist Rights Administration in Southern African brought to light some success stories from Malawi and Madagascar on artists and creative communities’ ability to benefit from the collection of royalties. Lightwell Kachimba from the Copyright Society of Malawi shared how his country’s musicians – with the aid of a UNESCO collaboration -- are not only benefiting financially from airplay on private and public radio stations but also on how the local music scene can boldly claim that it is in fact a “music industry” as it continuously contributes a growing margin towards the country’s GDP. Deidre Prins, an independent researcher and scholar explained how a community in Madagascar has managed to save an ancient and traditional dance, maintaining its traditional authenticity but also allowing it to adapt and merge with more recent and foreign genres.

In a session on cultural mobility Vis a Vis the mobility of artists and creative products, Daves Ghuza of Zimbabwe, Maswati Dludlu of Swaziland and Yvette Hardie of South Africa discussed the challenges that the sector faces and observed that it was only through lobbying governments on the importance for regional integration within the arts that the sector will be seen to be strengthened as a profitable force to reckon with.

A session entitled The Role of Arts Councils saw three country heads Elvas of the Mari National Arts Council of Zimbabwe, Stanley Dlamini from the Swaziland National Arts and Culture Council and Rosemary Mangope of the National Arts Council of South Africa discuss the role of arts councils in cultural policy development.

Unlike the Zambian situation where arts policy documents have been hanging in the balance of uncertainty, more so with the current political ambiguity in the country towards next month’s presidential by-elections, it was acknowledged that Zimbabwe and South Africa had made considerable progress towards renewing their existing policy documents with the aid of the councils as statutory agencies. While the panel discussed the many ways that arts councils can help support a favorable environment for creativity and development, it is during this session that SA’s Mangope urged artistes to refrain from being “the beggar”, declaring that although they had a right to entitlement, they should not always see themselves as being eligible for funding and assistance, instead they should prove their self-sustainability when they approach councils for funding.

Mangope urged artistes to refrain 
from being “the beggar”
Nevertheless, while overall the colloquium intended to identify only three common themes that would be redrafted as a problem statement, five key points would end up emerging from the discussions that will need “the formulation of concrete actions that can be put into process”:
The first was the SADC cultural desk “The colloquium strongly identified the need to resuscitate the SADC cultural desk as a significant step towards regional exchange in the fields of arts, culture and the creative industries. As Zimbabwe is the current chair of SADC it is proposed that AN Zimbabwe should play a leading role in the process to reinstate the Cultural Desk, and gather momentum before Botswana assumes the chair of the SADC in August 2015.”
The second was cultural exchanges, “The colloquium proposes enhanced focus on cultural exchanges between SADC countries. The reinstating of the SADC Cultural Desk is expected to accelerate and enrich this process. It is envisaged that SADC cultural festivals could also be reinstated.”

The third was revitalising AN National Chapters “While some AN chapters in the region are doing well, it is also recognised that others are not properly functional. In order to strengthen cooperation between countries we need to revitalise national chapters that are lagging behind. AN will explore a range of supportive measures through which the capacity and effectiveness of national chapters can be enhanced.”

The fourth was capacity building, “This links directly with the fore-going point. An evaluation will be undertaken to assess the needs in the respective countries and how best these can be addressed. One contribution to this process will be through various forms of capacity building. AN will seek funding support to accelerate the process.”

National Arts Council regional bodies, “The colloquium identified the need for greater cooperation between the National Arts Councils of the region, suggesting that a regional SADC structure of National Arts Councils will serve such a purpose. Whilst such a process should best be driven by National Arts Councils themselves, AN will play a facilitative role where required.”
AN is arguably the fastest growing network of creative practitioners on the African continent with a good number of success stories at chapter and continental level, having successfully introduced and hosted the African Creative Economy Conference four times. The network was launched in 2007 when delegates from 14 African countries met on Gorée Island, Senegal but it now has official national chapters in 40 countries, however, one can argue that it has perhaps grown too rapidly and may tend to demand too much in terms of perceived activity among individual country chapters.

It is high time that the network collectively took a few steps back to look at how difficult it is to run civil society bodies on the African continent, seeing there is no common pool of funding for each individual chapter, also Africa is not one country and each state is unique with its own policies and commitments towards the arts among other things. 

Also African boarders are not as seamless as Europe’s Schengen countries; take for instance the terribly embarrassing situation that occurred towards the run up to the African Creative Economy Conference in Rabat, Morocco last month. A good number of creative practitioners were unable to attend the conference because of the host country’s excruciatingly restrictive VISA procedures particularly towards fellow African states outside the Arab North. The prohibitive mobility situation appeared to be compounded by the country’s exaggerated Ebola fears; bear in mind this is around the period when the North African Kingdom disgracefully failed to confirm its hosting of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations subsequently attracting a two-tournament ban by the Confederation of African Football (CAF).

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