SA cultural observatory: Measuring and valuing SA’s cultural and creative industries

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For the period under study, the cultural economy grew by 2.4%, as opposed to 1.1% for the rest of the economy. Pictures: Supplied
For the period under study, the cultural economy grew by 2.4%, as opposed to 1.1% for the rest of the economy. Pictures: Supplied


In everyday conversations it is quite common to hear someone making a comment such as “to behave or act in that manner is not part of our culture”, or that “pizza is associated with Italian culture”.

While most of us seem to have a sense of what we regard as our culture, many of us are often found wanting when asked to quantify our culture in economic terms.

This might explain why so many people do not regard the cultural and creative industries as economic sectors in their own right, that make a significant economic contribution to the country’s GDP.

In recognition of the role that the sector plays in the economy, in 2014 the department of sport, arts and culture established the SA Cultural Observatory (Saco) to serve as an economic and statistical research centre for this sector in South Africa.

The SA Cultural Observatory undertakes research and provides information on such aspects as the sector’s role in job creation and employment, ownership, transformation, skills, contribution to the country’s GDP, location and make-up of the sector, challenges and opportunities, industry needs, and general trends, and in the process become a centre and key institution for South Africa’s cultural information.

Since establishment, the observatory has produced various research reports on South Africa’s arts, culture and heritage sectors. In this publication we briefly highlight a few recent reports which can be downloaded in full from our website:

Informal participants are likely to consume formal culture

Cultural Participation and Consumption in South Africa: A demand-side report

While substantial international research has been done on factors that determine the levels of participation in, and consumption of, cultural activities, there has been no overall study of cultural participation or consumption in South Africa to date.

In this context, Saco undertook the research to get a better understanding of the cultural consumption and participation patterns of South Africans.

This is important for two reasons: in order to track the effectiveness of cultural policy in broadening access and participation in diverse sociodemographic groups; and in order to understand the cultural ecosystem that underpins the demand side of the creative economy, especially in terms of the marketing strategies adopted by cultural and creative firms in the post-Covid-19 recovery.

Results show that South Africans are relatively highly culturally engaged, with 74.7% having engaged in some form of cultural consumption in the last year, and 78.3% had engaged in some form of cultural participation in the same period.

The key findings of the report include the following:

  • Those from households with higher standards of living are more culturally engaged;
  • Younger people are more likely to be culturally engaged that older people;
  • People with higher levels of education are more likely to be culturally engaged than people with lower levels of education, even when controlling for other variables, like household resources.
  • Those who participate in informal cultural activities are also much more likely to participate in formal cultural consumption.
  • Men are more likely than women to engage in formal cultural consumption, but women are much more likely than men to engage in cultural participation;
  • Black South Africans are less likely to have engaged in cultural consumption in the last year, but much more likely to have engaged in cultural participation, even when controlling for other variables, such as household resources, age and education levels.

Implications for cultural policy are that, in order to achieve higher levels of access and participation, funding should be directed not only towards formal cultural production and consumption activities, but also to enabling informal cultural participation.

Private sector support for cultural and creative industries in SA

South Africans are culturally engaged, with about three-quarters of the population having consumed orparticipated in some form of culture in the last year

This study was undertaken against the backdrop of continued dominance of public sector funding for the cultural and creative industries.

This dominance raises concerns of sustainability for the industry and calls for urgent industry attention to do its best to attract and leverage private sector funding to reduce dependency on government funding.

This would further unlock the industry’s potential to be a major contributor to economic growth, job creation and social cohesion.

As it stands, private sector funding is largely biased towards events and festivals, the visual and performing arts, shows and exhibitions, film and television, and training and educational programmes.

The study found that private sector support is predominantly for bigger events and for larger and more established organisations.

This raises concerns about growth and transformation, as the industry is dominated by smaller businesses, many of which are individual artists or those who operate on a freelance or short-term contract basis.

The report shows that the main form of private sector funding support is corporate social investment and is often done with economic considerations and for regulatory compliance.

However, the cultural and creative industries can make a business case for private sector investment, including innovations that have come from those industries.

Informal participants are likely to consume formal culture

The Mapping Study

Every two years we produce a comprehensive key economic report on the sector, The Mapping Study, that evaluates and highlights different issues about or affecting this sector.

A key issue in this study is the sector’s contribution to the South African economy, expressed in terms of the GDP.

As our society grapples with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is important that we have a full grasp of the various sectors that drive our economic and social life.
Unathi Lutshaba

Although Covid-19 has severely affected the industry, the last mapping study, conducted before the pandemic and titled The Economic Mapping of the Cultural and Creative Industries in South Africa 2020, revealed several significant findings about the industry.

Key among these was the sector’s 1.7% or R74.4 billion direct contribution to the GDP. The report showed that if indirect and induced (multiplier) effects were included, the cultural economy accounted for R241.8 billion or an equivalence of 5.6% of the GDP.

For the period under study, the cultural economy grew by 2.4%, as opposed to 1.1% for the rest of the economy.

At the time of the release of the report, Saco executive director, Unathi Lutshaba, commented: “As our society grapples with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is important that we have a full grasp of the various sectors that drive our economic and social life, as this will assist policymakers and society at large in shaping our response and interventions, especially those meant to benefit the sector.

“This report is thus instructive in our understanding of the economics of the cultural and creative sector,” added Lutshaba.

The value of the repatriation of South African museum artefacts: Debates, case studies and a way forward

This report sets out the results of an investigation of the strategic policy and implementation problems relating to the repatriation of South African cultural artefacts from museums and galleries around the world.

The investigation provides an overview of the salient academic literature and legal landscape, as well as the outcome of an online survey and focus group discussion.

The key arguments for retaining the global status quo in cultural artefact distribution centre on arguments that support or challenge the concept of the “universal museum”.

These arguments are premised on providing global access and security to previously plundered cultural artefacts from other countries.

The industry is dominated by smaller businesses, many of which are individual artists or those who operate on a freelance or short-term contract basis.

The arguments for the repatriation of African cultural artefacts rest on three main pillars: justice and moral rights of ownership; social and cultural significance and value; and economic values.

In the first case, there are those who argue that the only way forward is the unconditional legal and physical return of the object.

However, as the case studies and review of international laws and practices have shown, unconditional, or even legal, return is very seldom achieved, and can delay any kind of agreement for decades.

In the second case, the value of the object to the people of the country of origin is argued to be greater than to those in the foreign country. This is particularly the case with objects of important cultural or spiritual significance.

Some objects of “national importance”, as defined by the SA Heritage Resources Agency, may be regarded as part of the cultural capital of the country and of great importance to the heritage and identity of its people.

The main values sought in this case are the cultural, educational and research activities and appreciation by people in the country of origin.

A less common argument is the economic one – that the physical location of significant cultural artefacts contributes to the national and international prestige of museums, which attracts tourists and research grants.

The main values sought in this case are financial (and possibly those related to research status).

Key Findings

. Arguments for the repatriation of cultural artefacts are based on a variety of values and are not simple; 

. Identifying the objectives of repatriation can help to determine which repatriation options may be acceptable; 

. There is no clear set of priorities for repatriation in South Africa, although there is a comprehensive and generally accepted definition of what makes an artefact “of national significance”; 

. An argument against repatriation was the perceived lack of resources in South African museums to properly curate and protect valuable cultural objects; 

. South African museum professionals felt strongly that repatriation requests should take into account the context in which the artefact was obtained, as well as its cultural, historical, educational and aesthetic values; and 

. As also recommended by the African Union and AFRICOM, the digitisation of South African museum archives is an important priority.
The reports and our work can be viewed and accessed on our website:


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