#NathiMustGo: Mthetwa apologises over SA theatre comments
Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthetwa's comments that SA's theatre scene is 'alive and well' went down like a lead balloon.
Sport, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mtethwa has been forced to issue an unreserved apology for a tweet he posted in which he suggested that South Africa’s theatre industry is “alive and well” despite lockdown measures leaving stages empty and COVID-19 leading to daily reports of deaths in the theatre community.
The tweet, in which Mthetwa wrote that “South African theatre is alive and well with performing arts institutions of the department…” has drawn fierce criticism from the theatre community, with a petition for Mthetwa’s resignation having been launched.
Mthetwa apologises for insensitive tweet
The Department of Sport, Arts and Culture said on Thursday that Mthetwa wishes to convey “heartfelt remorse” for the tweet, “more so, in light of the fact that the creative sector has been the hardest hit by the pandemic”.
“To date, the theatre industry has played an invaluable role in driving social cohesion, by bringing crucial messages to ensure that our history is not forgotten and that we continue to educate and empower our nation,” they said.
The #NathiMustGo petition has been launched by a host of aggrieved South African artists, who feel that the department and its Minister have failed to provide the sector with desperately needed relief funding.
“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,” they said.
“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 wellbeing.”
Further relief funding and job creation promised
The Department said that it is currently fast tracking a third phase of relief funding for the industry – “to continue all efforts to aid the plight of artists affected by this pandemic that is taking lives and livelihoods, compromising the dignity of our practitioners and preventing them from fully living out their passion within the arts”.
It went on to say that nearly 5 000 practitioners were recommended for the first phase of relief funding and that over R80 Million was paid out to the sector, with over R2 Million paid out during the second phase.
“Furthermore, through the Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme (PESP), there are several interventions being implemented throughout the country that are geared towards job retention and job creation,” they said. The National Arts Council (NAC) has since approved a total of 352 applications for job retention that is comprised of 200 organisations and 152 individual beneficiaries. The entity also approved a total of 126 applications for job creation that is comprised of 66 individual applications and 60 organisations.”
They said that 2 475 jobs will be retained and a further 3 453 jobs will be created as a result of this approval.
“In spite of our best efforts, the Department is fully cognisant of the fact that there are many others who did not benefit from these programmes, given the Department’s finite budget. With that said, we have and will continue to engage national organisations in line with our open door policy,” they said.