OPINION | How the power of creative industries should be used in rebuilding our nation

Filming in progress.
Filming in progress.
Photo: Getty Images

The transformative power of the creative industries in promoting social cohesion cannot and should not be underestimated as we work towards rebuilding our nation, writes Matshepo Seedat.

A few years back, when I had the honour of attending the annual South African Film and Television Awards on behalf of Deputy Minister Buti Manamela, who was the chairperson of the Presidential Task Team on Creative Industries, it was a truly inspiring learning experience, especially about what constitutes this industry.

The event comprised two award ceremonies held over a single weekend. The first ceremony focused on honouring the often-overlooked contributors to the arts — the editors, sound engineers, art directors, wardrobe masters and mistresses, cinematographers, and production assistants, among others. These individuals, who work behind the scenes in film and television, form a significant part of the creative sector's value chain. While they may not be visible in the end product, their work is crucial for bringing stories to life and ensuring that the show goes on.

To fully appreciate the arts, we must recognise their vastness and value in terms of what they contribute to a society. While it is important to train young people in technologically advanced fields and address skills shortages in various sectors of the South African economy, we must also acknowledge the creative and cultural sector as one of those areas.

The creative industries rely on technical artists such as sound engineers, who design and operate sound systems for stage events, and lighting engineers, who create visually captivating lights and effects. These roles require advanced lighting technology and computer-controlled systems for movies, soapies, and music videos.

These technical artists are indispensable to the arts, and their skills fall squarely within the STEM category. That is why we cannot pit the two sectors against each other, creating areas of importance and significance over others. World-renowned artists like Leonardo Da Vinci, Hamid Yeganeh and Amadeus Mozart, who were mathematicians by training, exemplify that STEM and the Arts are not opposing spectrums but can be complementary when used creatively.

The mental well-being of society 

South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world, and fostering social cohesion is a priority for our government while working towards equity. By harnessing the power of the creative industries, we can break down stereotypes and address social issues that seek to further divide us. The transformative power of the creative industries in promoting social cohesion cannot and should not be underestimated as we work towards rebuilding our nation.

An excellent example of this power is the impact of Master KG and Nomcebo Zikode's Jerusalema, which united South Africans and connected us to the rest of the world during a lockdown that forced us to stay home. This proved that even during the depressive period of the Covid-19 pandemic, the creative arts thanklessly uplifted the mood of people who were experiencing isolation and anxiety by being disconnected from the reality they are accustomed to.

The recent Mental Health Conference that was organised by the Department of Health in partnership with the Foundation for Professional Development addressed issues such as the role of the media in mental health issues and also dedicated a session to review the impact of film in tackling the stigma surrounding mental health.

It remains a fact - one that we conveniently downplay, that this industry contributes to the mental-wellbeing of every society. Research has shown that the creative arts, including forms such as art therapy, play a valuable role in promoting mental well-being. Engaging in creative activities allows individuals to express complex emotions, explore their feelings and thoughts, and find release.

Furthermore, the creative arts have the power to provide an escape from the realities of everyday life. Movies, in particular, have the ability to transport us to different worlds and offer a temporary relief from our own experiences. They indeed serve as a form of relaxation, entertainment and can be a source of inspiration.

That is why future conferences about mental health should look more broadly at how the industry can be supported to do more in helping to deal with our deteriorating mental health as a nation.

More notable is the fact we have disregarded: this sector is a job creation factory!

According to the South African Cultural Observatory's 2022 report on economic mapping of the Cultural and Creative Industries, the industry contributes 2.97% to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is noteworthy that this contribution is on par with the agricultural sector, which has previously rescued South Africa from economic recessions that had the potential to plunge South Africa into an economic abyss.

However, even with this massive potential, the creative industry still faces numerous challenges, including inadequate funding, piracy, lack of financial support, and limited opportunities for young and emerging artists, especially in the era of social media celebrities.

By addressing these challenges and providing support to the industry, we can enhance its contribution to South Africa's GDP and tackle the pressing issue of youth unemployment, skills shortages and receding cultural tourism.

Matshepo Seedat is a Masters Candidate in Industrial Sociology at the University of Johannesburg and a Government Communicator. She writes in her personal capacity.

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