After apologizing for mishandling the R300m ($20.5m) Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme (PESP) this week, the National Arts Council of South Africa (NAC) has approved 1 215 applications that will be paid by 31 March.
The beneficiaries were drawn from the arts, culture and heritage industries and the move aims to retain and create jobs in the creative sector. The PESP programme is in line with a range of measures made by President Cyril Ramaphosa to the National Assembly on 16 October to set the country on a new path of growth.
“Some 1 215 practitioners in the arts, culture and heritage sector are receiving much-needed relief as the National Arts Council moves to full gear to ensure distribution of PESP grants to successful beneficiaries,” the NAC said. “After careful due diligence in ensuring that equity, fairness and administrative justice is applied for approved beneficiaries, the NAC is going ahead with contracting and effecting payment to all compliant and approved applicants.
“Whilst a total of 1 215 practitioners’ applications have been finalised, deemed compliant and approved, the council has revealed that there are still a few outstanding approved applications that are yet to be finalised. The work of cleaning up all outstanding approved applications have been assigned to the council’s war room. This work is expected to be completed in due course.”
The NAC said the approval of applications was a result of tireless work by the council over the last few weeks, to ensure that all “hurdles and challenges discovered in the distribution of the PESP are addressed”
”To ensure that an honest and transparent process was undertaken, a list of the recipients was published including amounts related to each applicant. The successful applicants are expected to retain and create 24 735 job opportunities through the PESP intervention,” it added.
NAC acting chairperson Princess Dlamini said: “NAC is committed to continuously engaging with the industry to solicit counsel from all industry stakeholders, especially practitioners, on how to best work together. The improvement of the lives within the arts, culture and heritage sector remains our top priority. The council has equally set up communication mechanisms to allow the industry to engage with it in addition to industry briefings.”
The development comes after the council suspended NAC CEO Rosemary Mangope and chief financial officer Clifton Changfoot pending an investigation into the management of the PESP funds.
Sit-in protest at the NAC offices
The approval of applications coincides with an ongoing sit-in protest by creatives led by local opera singer Sibongile Mngoma, who have been camping at the NAC offices in Johannesburg for more than two weeks. The artists argue that there is a lack of transparency in the allocation of the R300m under PESP.
Responding to the approval of applications, Mngoma told Music In Africa that the NAC should be “ashamed that they are failing the arts sector in disbursing the money that is much needed by the artists in South Africa.”
“To date [18 March], R29 171 558.80 has been disbursed to 276 beneficiaries,” she said. “The NAC was given R300 million towards the PESP programme since last year by the National Treasury. To say that the NAC has so far disbursed so much is really concerning. Remember, this was meant to be a three-month job injection programme that was meant to start from January to March 2021. We are in the middle of March. To answer your question, all I can say is that it is a disaster.”
Mngoma also questioned the NAC’s role in the country’s creative industry. “What message are we sending to artists throughout SA if government entities can’t honour their own contracts? When I first came here on 1 March 2021, I posed eight questions to the NAC management and up until this day the answers have not been provided. What is it that the NAC and DSAC [Department of Sports, Arts and Culture] are hiding from the sector? Why is it difficult to provide answers to these questions? We need transparency as these are public funds.”
Appeals falling on deaf ears
Mngoma said multiple meetings with the NAC since the beginning of March, including one with NAC acting CEO Julie Diphofa on 3 March, had yielded little feedback and that a meeting with Minster of Sports, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa had been scheduled for 19 March.
”The minister wanted to meet with us last Sunday but at the last minute he never pitched and instead he sent the DSAC [Department of Sports, Arts and Culture] senior management team to meet with us. The meeting never achieved anything … The NAC management has failed to provide us with answers, the NAC board has failed to provide us with answers, so let’s see if the minister will provide the answers. We are not going anywhere up until they provide answers,” Mngoma said.