Sunday Times

‘It’s ugly. Artists are dying like paupers’

- — Leonie Wagner

It’s been 28 days since opera singer Sibongile Mngoma staged a sit-in at the National Arts Council (NAC) offices in Newtown, Johannesbu­rg.

Mngoma and other artists are demanding to know exactly how the R300m allocated to help artists during the pandemic was spent.

Artists from various discipline­s have joined Mngoma in her quest to get to the bottom of what she believes are funding irregulari­ties. The artists claim at least some of the money was siphoned off to companies that have nothing to do with the arts.

Just before the sit-in, the NAC suspended CEO Rosemary Mangope and CFO Clifton Changfoot, and has since launched an investigat­ion.

The Newtown precinct has been buzzing with dancers, musicians and other artists staging live performanc­es as a form of protest. On Thursday, visual artists took their protest into the NAC building, lining the walls where Mngoma and others were meeting with drawings, paintings and art pieces.

Choreograp­her and arts administra­tor Yuhl Headman worked at the Wits University theatre before the pandemic and has been able to sustain himself using his savings. But with theatres closed and his funds running low, Headman is struggling to make ends meet.

“I had a bit of savings which I needed to split out throughout 2020 in order to survive. But it wouldn’t last me that whole year,” he said. “So I’m at a point right now where I could lose my car if I don’t pay my instalment by the end of this month.”

Actor Thami Mbongo has been sleeping at the NAC offices in support of the sit-in. He applied for funding for two projects but has not received any, despite his projects being approved. He says his projects would have created jobs for 50 young artists.

In 2019 Mbongo secured a role in a television series that was meant to start filming last year, but then the pandemic struck.

“It’s been really hard, that’s why we are giving it our all for the many artists who are struggling,” he said.

“In South Africa we have so many artists passing away due to depression, it’s ugly and we can’t be watching while artists are dying like paupers. We can’t allow the institutio­n to keep doing what it’s doing. We can’t make it seem like mismanagem­ent is normal.”

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