Covid funds for artists: Public Protector intervenes

“Artists are not seen as employees but as freelancers” says performer

By Julia Evans

20 May 2021

Artists protest outside the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture in Pretoria on Monday to hand over a memo of demands. Photo: Julia Evans

The Office of the Public Protector says that it will be mediating the dispute between the National Arts Council (NAC) and a group of protesting artists who have been staging sit-ins for two months.

Performers have been staging sit-ins at the council offices in Newtown, Johannesburg since 3 March. They are demanding answers about the management of Covid-19 relief funds and the Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme (PESP). (The group is also demanding that the Amended Copyright Bill be ratified, among other things.)

Earlier this week, the artists went to the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture (DSAC) head office in Pretoria.

According to an NAC statement on 14 May, over R200 million has been paid to 1,300 beneficiaries. This is 70% of the total grant for the PESP (R285 million).

“That’s not true,” said Savage Tau, one of the artists at the gathering. “The reason we’re here is because … it’s more than the PESP now … it’s about the Constitution - that the artists are not seen as employees but as freelancers.”

“We die as paupers because of the law, which is not right,” said Tau.

At the end of April, Oupa Segalwe, spokesperson for the Public Protector, announced that Advocates Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Kholeka Gcaleka would mediate the dispute between the artists and the NAC and the Department.

Segalwe said that the advocates met with Minister Nathi Mthethwa and members of the NAC council and had a separate meeting with the artists at the end of April.

In their meeting, artists claimed that some of the council members were also PESP beneficiaries of and therefore conflicted, a point which had been denied by the Minister and the council.