Mashatile ‘to etch youth on arts canvas’

Newly appointed Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile hopes to turn around the ­image of his department – from ­being a place where people go to get free tickets to events to being a key player in the country’s economy.

Although the vision of his ­department is to “develop and preserve South African culture to ­ensure social cohesion and nation-building”, Mashatile says there is a lot it could do to use the creative arts to create employment ­opportunities for the youth.

“Arts and culture are a huge ­industry, and we are going to make sure that we position them as a ­major contributor to the economy, and grow the economy to create jobs,” he says.

He cites visual art, such as film – which is big industry in countries, such as India, Nigeria and the US – as an example of an art that could be used to create job opportunities.

“We must get the National Film Foundation to create employment opportunities for many young people in that sector.

“There is no reason why we can’t get to the standard of Hollywood or Bollywood.

“Supporting the film sector is one of my major priorities,” Mashatile says.

The mooted National Skills Academy for the Arts will go a long way towards nurturing young ­talent and skill in various arts, so that the country will be able to build a “huge pool of employable young people”.

He says there is a need to ­encourage as many young people as possible to get into technical services – an industry that is worth R8?billion – to provide expertise in areas such as sound engineering for concerts and conferences.

In its latest yearly report, the arts and culture department celebrates a three-fold increase in the number of letters written to President Jacob Zuma in languages ­other than English that the department then translates into English for the official record.

While that is a positive development, it goes on to show that we continue to pay lip service to the need to use indigenous languages as languages of officialdom.

“We are not doing enough to ­encourage their use.

“We must ­encourage people to speak them even in Parliament,” Mashatile ­admits.

Some have even suggested that ­mono-lingualism – where we adopt just one indigenous language as our means of communication to avoid being unintelligible to one another – is the way to go.

However, Mashatile says part of the solution is for each province to adopt four languages as its ­languages of record.

“This is so that we avoid the ­danger that some day some languages become extinct,” he adds.

Some of the country’s major cultural tourist attractions, such as Robben Island and the site of the ancient Kingdom of Mapungubwe, have been in the news recently for the wrong reasons.

Mashatile says the Robben ­Island Museum – formerly a jail for political prisoners – is already on its way to more stability.

A few weeks ago, a new board and chief executive of the museum were appointed.

The department, he says, is currently formulating a turnaround strategy for such institutions, so that they can begin to function ­optimally.

He hopes this will help the ­department to contribute significantly to Zuma’s economic growth target of creating five million job opportunities in 10 years.

But before all these ideas can bear fruit, Mashatile needs to sort out his own backyard.

Auditor-General Terence Nombembe has pointed out that the arts and culture department faces leadership hurdles, and that it never complied with public ­finance management laws and ­regulations in how it reported on its performance.

Part of the problem is that the ­department has a 26% vacancy rate, a figure that includes its ­director-general.

The Special Investigating Unit is still probing how the ­bulk of the ­department’s irregular spending of R60?million came about.

Mashatile promises to fill all the empty management posts by the end of March next year.

“We don’t want to enter the next financial year with people in acting positions.

“All the issues that the Auditor-General has raised we will deal with later this month when we have a strategic session about our vision and mission and our service delivery agreement,” he says.

“After the turnaround next year, we won’t be known as the department that people go to for free tickets to events,” Mashatile says.

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