The 31st of July was the deadline decided on by the South African Department of Arts and Culture (DepARTment) for arts practitioners and institutional responses to a revised White Paper they made available (in very limited fashion) earlier in the same month.

There was nothing normal about the process but nothing abnormal either. Because this is how it is in our sector.

Hastily convened meetings, sometimes called summits or conferences, sometimes just called meetings, are the order of the day. If you work in the sector you are lucky to hear about them at all. Usually, these speedy events include a programme of speeches by the minister and or the director-general and a very important person or two, followed by a few hours of breakaway sessions at which the sector is apparently consulted. There is never enough time or expertise given consideration, and, as a consequence, the distrust between the sector and the department is increasingly cemented. Worse than that though, this kind of (lack of) process also reinforces perceptions that the arts in South Africa are not worth any respect, that they are luxuries and nice-to-haves.

Indeed, the DepARTment’s way of working would not give the lie to the view that they accept their position as a poor-relation in cabinet and that the ministry itself is a demotion.

Is it true that we could live without the arts? Could you? Imagine:

The world is beige. There is no music. There is no article to read. Indeed there is no writing. What is writing? Language? There is no voice at Sibongile Khumalo (skies ma’am). There are no libraries. I said there are no books. No books. Repeat after me. No books. No, no computer games either. The Brothers Moves on, also. They are not on Soundcloud anymore. They are just not. Moving on anywhere. There is nothing to see. No films. Nada. Sam Nhlengethwa’s oils are just for cooking tjips and, oh my goodness, there is no national anthem.

Indeed, there is no singing. Ha! Your world is the Gautrain rules.

Politicians no longer have inspiring quotes to stick like so much decoration at the beginning and end of their speeches.

The Market Theatre is a ghost and that brilliant production The Epicene Butcher is in its moer. Dancing? Nah. Humans don’t dance.

There are also no cartoons. Bye Zapiro. Some people will be happy. Deathly happy.

No more Cape Town Design Capital. No more buskers in the street, blind or otherwise. No more heritage works to remove as if they are so much bad graffiti. No more graffiti regulations. Not required.

Everything is blind.

Oh yay! There is no Film and Publication Board! Who needs them? Boom. Gone.

Shrek. Sob. That scene when he sticks his fingers in his ears to make a candle out of the wax. Never happened. And Nuyerev never had the sacred fire. And you, you are dressed in beige. Beige is the only colour left.

Attempting to get our DepARTment to communicate with the sector in a way that acknowledges the significance of this potential White Paper have so far been fruitless. Even the Arterial Network’s submission in response has been, at time of writing, ignored. A link to my own hastily written beginning of a submission focused on public arts, the DepARTment’s document and Arterial Network’s response is over here:

I hope you’ll take more than a quick skim and give some thought and voice to how the arts helps you to get dressed in the morning and what it would mean to you if it was gone.

And I apologise for being horrible about beige.


  • Lesley Perkes writes about the state of imagination, her general loss of respect for politics and big business with too few exceptions, eyesores, aesthetically pleasing moments of bliss. Every now and then she writes too about grave matters some people think are best kept to yourself. She does not. Err. Obviously. Sometimes she writes about the silencing and the wars. MsChief at artatwork, a public arts action dis-organisation based in Johannesburg, Lesley is also #lesfolies at The Troyeville Bedtime Story, a timeless legend and neighbourgood adventure, in happy collaboration with Johannes Dreyer, photographer and artist. Writer, curator, producer and general artist with performative tendencies, in February this year Lesley spoke at TED2013 in Los Angeles. It was a life experience of note. She uses her time to fund, or find funding and resources to produce artwork and advocate for make-believe.


Lesley Perkes

Lesley Perkes writes about the state of imagination, her general loss of respect for politics and big business with too few exceptions, eyesores, aesthetically pleasing moments of bliss. Every now and...

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