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Race and History Forum

State of the black arts in South Africa

As a person who has been an arts developer and practitioner at core grassroots level since the mid seventies, I was disappointed when South Africa's new dispensation failed to bring any real improvement to black arts and artists.

In December 2003 while I headed the Dobsonville Arts Association (which was forced to close down in 2005 because the Johannesburg Metro Council threw us out of the community centre from where we provided free arts education to the disadvantaged) I compiled a set of questions with the heading "QUESTIONNARE ON THE STATE OF BLACK ARTS IN SOUTH AFRICA". I had hoped to solicit honest opinion from various people working in the arts and media, but it was not to be.

The following are some of the people to whom the questionnaire was sent but who never bothered to respond:
Aggrey Klaaste (deceased, former Editor-in-Chief of The Sowetan); Dr. Gomolemo Mokae (former Chairman of the Board of National Arts Council); Mondli Gungubele (former MEC for Arts And Culture in Gauteng Province); Walter Chakela (former Artistic Director at Windybrow Theatre); Sipho Mwale (Projects Co-ordinator at the Laboratory, Market Theatre); Sidney Selepe (Senior Manager in the national Department of Arts and Culture); and Professor Itumeleng Mosala (Director-General of the national Department of Arts and Culture). In the middle of 2006 a copy was sent to the office of Mathata Tsedu, Editor of City Press requesting that it be published but he too never responded.

The questionnare appears below and anyone who has knowledge about the arts scenario in South Africa can respond, but other views are welcome too. My e-mail is


1. Are black fundraisers in the arts trustworthy?
2. Do you think that there is enough funding for black arts practitioners in black areas?
3. Where do you think that funding for black arts should come from?
4. What must black artists do to be financially independent?
5. Is it really necessary for black and white artists to work together?
6. Why are white artists and arts practitioners invariably better off than their black counterparts?
7. Are black artists doing enough to promote the arts - instead of themselves - in their communities?
8. Do you think that - now that blacks are the major recipients - government is allocating enough funds for distribution in the arts, considering what the previous regime apportioned to the white provincial arts councils?
9. What is your view about the appointment of non-artists to key posts in various government arts administration levels?
10. White schools have always include arts education in their curriculum. Why is this not presently the case in black schools, especially after the introduction of outcome-based education?
11. The best arts facilities are in cities and towns; away from the majority. Why are similar, if not better structures not erected in black areas?
12. Children's arts programmes on television are mainly in English. Do you think that this discriminates against children who do not attend English medium schools?
13. A sizeable number of black television viewers believe that fictional characters they see in television dramas are real. What do you think is the reason for this?
14. Most black artists are destitute when they die in spite of having had thriving careers. In your mind what is the cause of this?
15. Cinema and television unapologetically promote white values, even in productions with a predominantly black cast. Why are black artists/writers/producers not attempting to counter this?
16. The rapidly growing list of black millionaires - most of them beneficiaries of black economic empowerment - are disinterested in the general development of black communities, more so the arts. Is it fair to oblige them to financially contribute to black social development?
17. Do you think that black artists have been politicised and has it stifled or improved their growth?
18. Do you think that the media is pushing a particular line of thinking in the coverage of black arts?
19. What role, if any, can black literature play in the development of black arts?
20. Have black artists been acknowledged for the part they played in sustaining political awareness at the time when the previous regime suppressed free political thought and expression?

Thank you all in anticipation.

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