STAND Board Member’s address to the NALEDI AWARDS

Lesedi van Niekerk, STAND Board member and Chairperson of TADA, addressed the Naledi Awards on 5 June 2023:

“I have just come back from an Arts Summit in Stellenbosch hosted by Tribuo, the Artist Disaster Relief Fund. Before I left I had already written an elaborate and somewhat intricate address for tonight. I then found myself in a room full of industry players to answer pertinent questions about our sector. Questions like “What is the state of the Arts in South Africa?” and “How do we emancipate and sustain ourselves as a sector?” I was treated to keynote addresses from the likes of Gregory Maqoma, Africa Melane and Marc Baruthi Joseph. I listened to panel discussions, engaged in conversations and participated in brainstorming sessions that were passionate and solution driven. I was moved and inspired, and I realized that the conversation has shifted. I tore up what I had written and started again. After all, it was the Theatre and Dance Alliance’s Deputy Chairperson Cornelia Faasen who appropriately opened her keynote address with this line: If you don’t like what is being said, change the conversation.

And so tonight I feel privileged to be standing here in front of all of you. I feel a great deal of responsibility because tonight my voice does not belong to me. It belongs to my wonderful colleagues who work tirelessly for the Theatre and Dance Alliance. It belongs to a sector I love and care for deeply. It belongs to the new generation of artists who deserve a fair chance at this game. It was Maya Angelou who said “I come as one, but I stand as 10 000.” And so tonight I hope my voice will be a force for good, a force for inspiration and a force for unity.

It’s a fabulous time to be alive in the theatre and dance sector. I have immersed myself in a lot of theatre over the last year attending shows, creating work and engaging with other theatre makers. I think it is safe to say that collectively we are creating some world-class work. We should be proud of ourselves. We certainly have earned a night such as this one to celebrate the overflowing excellence in this room.

But sometimes the blunt truth is really what we need to hear. Our sector is in crisis. Now I could stand here and complain about who did what to us, but I won’t because the conversation has shifted. The question is no longer “what happened to us?” or “whose fault is it?” but rather “what are we going to do?” What are you going to do about our state of emergency?

There are incredible organisations who are doing the work to find solutions for our sector. TADA is one such organisation. As the body for the theatre and dance sector, we should all be part of TADA, and every organisation, institution, company and individual you are associated with in theatre and dance should be part of TADA. One of the biggest challenges we face as an organisation when engaging with government and other stakeholders is that we seem to not be rallied behind one voice. With TADA being in it’s 3rd year of existence, there really is no excuse for this anymore. The voice is there. The channel is there. Are you aligning yourself with this united voice? When we all decide to rally behind a voice like TADA, it gives us the drivers of this organisation the confidence to engage with government and stakeholders knowing that we indeed are representing the sector. After all it’s a numbers game

When you join an organisation like TADA, you are aligning yourself with an organisation that is pushing the establishment and implementation of policies that will have an incredible impact on our sector. I am talking about policies like the National Theatre and Dance Policy that, even if half implemented, could seriously change the reality of thousands of artists on the ground. This policy has been approved by the Presidency and is now sitting in parliament for consideration. I am talking about policies like Sectoral Determination initiated and driven by the South African Guild of Actors and supported by TADA, a policy that will earn us protection under the labour laws, and allow us to collectively bargain as a sector. When you align yourself with TADA, you support the Charter of Rights for South African Artists, an impressive 13 clause document that clearly stipulates our rights as South African artists, rights that are often ignored or trampled on. And so you see, we need your voice to give us the muscle to fight these battles. It’s not going to take some of us, it’s going to take all of us.

Of course it is not all doom and gloom. We are happy to have learned of the Presidential Stimulus Employment Package funding granted to TADA through the National Arts Council to the value of R760 000. We also congratulate other organisations, institutions, companies and individuals who have also been granted this funding. It will go a long way in helping us collectively make a bigger impact in the sector, as well as to create some much needed employment across the country.

In the same breath we should not roll over because of temporary solutions that may or may not be used as pacifiers to keep us quiet. We must remain critical and continue to seek answers and insist on accountability. We must lobby for the minister to find a more sustainable way to filter funding to the sector. We must rethink how the arts and culture budget is dispersed because the truth is, in the top-down system we currently exist in, these resources are not filtering down to the artists. We must insist on better access and transparency where funding agencies are concerned. It is crucial that we start thinking innovatively about the pending blackout that will surely come, a blackout that could sneak up on us just like the lengthy lockdown did. How are we going to keep making and supplying art under those dire circumstances? Furthermore, we must begin to critically look at who runs our sector. We have seen the disaster that has been caused by the board of the Cape Town City Ballet, a board that has displayed poor governance and unethical conduct, behavior that has ultimately affected the artists the most and has left them feeling vulnerable and unsupported. We have to realize that we are capable and worthy of running our own sector and it is our responsibility to stand up and take our positions. We do not need pompous boardroom artists who have no interest in our sector except for how they can line their pockets through us. And speaking of those marginalized dancers, we must shed light on the mental health crisis of artists. Our people are struggling and we cannot continue to turn a blind eye. TADA is leading from the front with this and is working with the people from PANDA to create access to mental health assistance and treatment, and to destigmatise this crisis.

And finally, to you Minister Naledi Pandor, I say this. You may think that we do not need more artist trainers. No problem, and perhaps you have a point. Just tell that to Musa Motha who has just moved the entire world on the Britain’s Got Talent stage. Tell that to Grammy winners Zakes Bantwini, Wouter Kellerman and Noncebo Zikode. Tell that to the Mzansi Youth Choir who are making waves in America. Tell that to Gregory Maqoma and Vuyani Dance Theatre who continue to make us proud internationally. Tell that to Dada Masilo and her company of dancers who have just delivered world-class performances at the legendary Joyce Theatre in New York City. Tell that to Tebza Diphehlo who is spreading Pantsula Dance like wild fire across Europe and Asia. Tell that to Trevor Noah. Tell that to Thuso Mbedu. Tell that to Amapiano music and dance that have taken over the world. Tell that to this room full of excellence. But of course as Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, I wouldn’t expect you to understand that. We do not need your approval to be who we are and to fulfil our duty as the moral core and flag-fliers of this country.

If John F. Kennedy were here tonight, he might have said “Ask not what your industry can do for you, but what you can do for your industry.” Now is the time for us to pick up the mantle and clean up our sector. No one is going to do it for us. It really is up to us. We owe it to ourselves, but mostly we owe it to the next generation. Remember this and internalize it: we are worthy, and what we do has value.

Thank you to Lihan Pretorius and the Naledi Board for this gracious opportunity. From all of us at TADA, a huge congratulations to all the nominees and winners tonight.

I am Lesego van Niekerk, the Chairlady of the Theatre and Dance Alliance. Thank you all very much.”


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