#NathiMustGo: Artists demand removal of the Minister of Congratulations and Condolences

Lindokuhle Nkosi
First Published in News24/ Arts24

A group of South African artists- including the likes of internationally acclaimed dancer/choreographer Gregory Maqoma, theater doyenne Faniswa Yisa, award -winning playwright Mike van Graan and dancer/ choreographer Liam Anthony- have sponsored a petition calling for the removal or resignation of Nathi Mthethwa as the minister of the oddly clustered Department of Sports, Arts and Culture.

Dear Minister Nutty,
I hope this letter finds you in good spirits
The matter of spirits is an important one, as I intend to address what may turn out to be a thorny matter that requires a certain degree of coolness on your part.
You must be aware that since you took to Twitter a few years ago, they called you Minister of Condolences, Congratulations & Other Witchcrafts.
In this letter, I will limit myself to the craft of congratulations, specifically on Twitter, relying on observations made every time you have with much excitement congratulated an artist in that platform.
I think you will agree, Minister, that your congratulations have not been met with the celebratory fervor you wish to inspire. In fact, the general responses has-with reason- tended to elicit much contempt. You’re irritating us, Minister, and you don’t listen. I’ve seen you catch a few sub, the most recent being from Your Girl, B.
It is not that you cannot congratulate artists on their achievements- indeed, this is a kind gesture- but the question, a valid one, arises: did you enable said artists to achieve the success being congratulated? In most instances, Minister, it turns out you and your department have not. Therefore, being the first to congratulate the artist is more bitter than it is sweet.

So, I have the following advice for you, Minister:

Before you congratulate an artist, ask yourself: in what way have I created an environment that enables this artist this sector, to succeed. When you get to this point, resist the temptation to lie- to yourself and especially to us. If you find that this is one of the under supported sectors, as most art mediums are, then make a note to cause correct.
In the meantime, on Twitter, follow the artists. Not just the famous ones, but especially those who are still making a name for themselves. If, lets say, Trevor Noah bags The Daily Show gig, and you find that you cannot congratulate him since you did not contribute to his development, then find out who the emerging Trevor’s are. Follow them. Immerse yourself in their work. Retweet them. DM them, Have meetings with them. Talk to your team about policy and implementation that enables these Trevor’s. So that in three year’s time when another Trevor shoots up, they will have the department to thank and you will be well within your rights to take some credit for their success.

Otherwise, Minister, don’t congratulate artists you have not supported.
I suppose this approach will help you even with help you even with the condolences. If you take care of the artists, you can condole with the loved ones upon ones upon their passing. But it is insulting to the memory of the artist and wounding the family, friends and followers when a government that could have made the artist’s life more bearable, even flourishing but failed to do so, now wants to break the sad news of a death. It is unethical and will probably have you haunted by the unsisters.
You should have a database of artists in different artistic mediums, different phases of their careers, and be on the ball concerning support. This, ONLY THIS, grants you the right to share in their success or to condole with.
I could go on, Minister, and I probably should, but I am choosing to make it short and sweet. Next time, perhaps, we might have a moment to chat about your conscience as a humanities minister who oversaw the Marikana Massacre.
Yours Firmly in the arts.

Mfumane Mabonakude

Mthethwa apologises for ‘offensive’ tweet as artists say #NathiMustGo

Artists have been voicing their frustrations using the hashtag #NathiMustGo as they accuse the minister of failing to deal with the pandemic.
Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa has apologised for his “offensive” tweet regarding theatre in South Africa.

Mthethwa angered artists last week after he tweeted: “South African theatre is alive and well with performing arts institutions of the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture such as @ArtscapeTheatre, @MarketTheatre, @PACOFS3, @DurbanPlayhouse, @statetheatre and @WindybrowTheatr (sic) offering an array of indigenous drama and dance etc.”

They have since started an online petition calling for his resignation by 31 January. If he doesn’t resign, President Cyril Ramaphosa must replace him in February 2021, they demand.

The petition – sponsored by Gregory Maqoma, Sylvaine Strike and Alex Sutherland, to name a few – is not calling for Mthethwa’s resignation only because of the offensive tweet, but “because the tweet reflects our long experience of the minister as incompetent, aloof and out of touch”.

“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 10 months.

“The loss of income for many theatre-makers has had, and is having, a devastating impact on their mental, emotional and physical health.

“The relief funding made available by the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture – while welcomed – came with bureaucratic hoops that excluded many and was simply a drop in the ocean in terms of the needs within the sector.

“To say that ‘theatre is alive and well’ is to reflect an ivory tower position of privilege that is completely out of touch with reality,” said the artists.

In response, Mthethwa apologised for the tweet “more so, in light of the fact that the creative sector has been the hardest hit by the pandemic”.

In March, Mthethwa announced a R150 million relief fund to assist athletes, artists and technical personnel in both sectors.

In addition, R50 million had been added to the national relief fund by provincial departments.

The department was fast-tracking a third phase of relief funding for the industry, with the first two phases having helped 5000 people and over R80 million paid out.

“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 out open door policy.”

Information on the third phase of the relief fund will be issued in due course.