Curtains close permanently on The Fugard as artists protest against Nathi Mthethwa and the NAC

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The Fugard Theatre & The Bioscope will remain close
The Fugard Theatre & The Bioscope will remain close
  • Fugard Theatre announced its permanent closure through a press statement.
  • While the theatre closes its curtains for the last time, a number of artists have embarked on protest against the Department of Arts and Culture and its minister, Nathi Mthethwa.
  • In February, a petition calling for the removal of Nathi Mthethwa as minister of Arts and Culture was delivered to the offices of Cyril Ramaphosa.


Fugard Theatre announced its permanent closure through a press statement published on its website late on 16 March, 2021. 

"Dear Friends of The Fugard Theatre,

"After a year of Covid closure it is with great regret and sadness that I have to confirm that The Fugard Theatre will close permanently with immediate effect," Eric Abraham, founder and benefactor of The Fugard Theatre & Bioscope.

On 1 June 2020, The Fugard launched its digital platform, The Fugard At Home. The platform offered patrons access to the theatre’s archive, allowing them to stream recorded titles such as The Road to Mecca, "Master Harold"...and the BoysEmily Child free of charge. These services were discontinued on 15 July 2020, just two weeks after the service had hit the one month mark.

Based in District Six, Cape Town with 320 seats, the not-for-profit theatre was named in honour of Athol Fugard, a veteran South African theatre practitioner who is celebrated for his contributions to theatre and film.  

"If we’re building a theatre in the middle of Cape Town, the country cannot be on the edge of imploding. Whatever else the theatre is, it’s a place for intellectual pursuits. I’m convinced we’re on the right track," theatre director Mark Dornford-May told the Mail & Guardian at the theatre’s opening in 2010. 

As a result of their doors being closed for the better part of the year, a majority of their staff were to be retrenched, leaving only a small care-taking team on their payroll.

"We are not persuaded that it will be Covid safe or financially viable to reopen as a theatre in the foreseeable future," the statement continues.

"The theatre will be handed back to the owner of the freehold of the building – the board of The District 6 Museum – as a working theatre and we hope that they will be able to use it for the benefit of the Museum and the District 6 community.

"I thank our extraordinary staff for all their hard work and you, our patrons, for your support for The Fugard over the last ten years.

"Stay well and take care."

While this iconic theatre, which made a huge impact in its short decade of existence, closes its curtains for the last time, a number of artists have embarked on protest against the Department of Arts and Culture and its minister, Nathi Mthethwa.

Last week Arts24 reported on a number of artists who, at the time of that article, had staged a week long occupation inside the offices of the NAC, led by world-renowned Opera singer Sibongile Mngoma. On 1 March 2021, artists reached out to the NAC to ask more details on what went wrong with the Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme. Artists began asking for more information after the council suspended its CEO, Rosemary Mangope, and the CFO, Clifton Changfoot.

Through this suspension, artists learned how the total that the NAC promised to give artists and institutions for relief projects was more than the R300 million, which the Employment Stimulus Programme had allocated them. With the council being over budget, Mangope and Changfoot are being investigated regarding the management of the funds. 

Today, a group of artists in Kimberly announced the commencement of the hunger strike. Led by Thabo Motlhabi, former Provincial Coordinator of CCIFSA (Cultural and Creative Industry Federation of SA Northern Cape), artists marched to the offices of Arts and Culture MEC to demand the release of the promised Covid-19 relief funds. 

"The march is taking place because the Covid relief for loss of income that the department promised have not been released," explains Motlhabi. "They're claiming that they are still dealing with internal processes, but we are not getting clear answers as to why. Since October of last year, we went through the process of application, moderation and adjudication. We've been expecting people to get paid out but we are not getting any clear answers on that. Over and above that, this is the kind of treatment that we get from the Department of Arts and Culture in our province. They commit to things, and they never deliver."

In Bloemfontein, 40 or so artists staged a sit-in at the Performing Arts Centre of the Free State (Pacofs) on Monday last week.

In February, a petition calling for the removal of Nathi Mthethwa as minister of Arts and Culture was delivered to Cyril Ramaphosa. The president is yet to respond.

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