Meeting with Swedish Delegation
Arts and Culture
09 September 2016
Chairperson: Ms X Tom (ANC)
The Committee met on a cultural exchange programme with the Cultural Affairs Committee from the Parliament of Sweden.
The Committee reported that since 1994 when SA became a constitutional democracy the supreme law of the land had become the Constitution such that both Parliament and the Executive were all subject to that law. The courts therefore expressed views on constitutionality of activities by Government, ordinary citizens, the private sector and even civil society, including the media. In Committee meetings; party political issues merged very seldom as the Committees had to conduct oversight over all the Departments of Government.
The Arts and Culture Committee was quite a small committee seeing that Parliament had about 40 Committees altogether where each specialised on particular sectors of society.
The Committee oversaw 27 entities under the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) as listed in the presentation
The Swedish delegation was interested in:
- How the South African Government managed the balancing act of regulating the public broadcaster and the multitudes of voices from the private media sector?
- How the cooperation was between the Arts and Culture portfolio and other committees of Parliament, especially those of Basic and Higher Education and Labour.
- Was there state financial support for media around the country for example, funding for newspaper publishers? If so, how was that done and regulated?
- Did the National Council of Provinces also have an Arts and Culture Committee or was the Committee only at National Assembly?
- Was it true or not that the Committee was proposing the amalgamation of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural Religious and Linguistic Communities, National Arts Council of South Africa, and the National Film and Video Foundation?
- What kind of cultural or social investment and ventures were undertaken that received a lot of media attention and would have been known to young people about the work done by the Committee?
What was the hardest issue or question facing the Committee in terms of its core mandate?
The Chairperson welcomed the visitors from Sweden saying it was the first Parliamentary delegation to have visited the Committee since the establishment of the fifth Parliament in 2014. The Committee maintained an attitude that everything it was doing was about the people who had voted it in Parliament. It also struggled with the perception in Government that Arts and Culture was a by the way aspect of society when in effect it was the glue that kept society together, especially looking at the work of the Department on Arts and Culture.
The delegation from Sweden was allowed to speak about any cultural specific features of their country.
The Co-Chairperson from Sweden, Ms Gunilla Carlsson (Social Democrats), Deputy Chairperson, Committee on Cultural Affairs, thanked the Committee for welcoming her delegation, and said culture, arts and sports were important and Sweden had had a long and deep tradition with South Africa and cultural exchange for quite a long time.
Ms Carlsson said the Cultural Affairs Committee of Sweden dealt with Arts, Sport, Media, Film policy and the religious communities. Her delegation had already interacted with quite a few organisations and institutions since arriving in SA.
She was interested in the media situation in SA as there had been a media crisis in Sweden recently but the situation had improved though Members of Parliament (MPs) of that country still found it challenging to manage the media sector in Sweden. The similarities between the two countries were that like the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) Sweden possessed a public television and radio service. How did the South African Government manage the balancing act of regulating the public broadcaster and the multitudes of voices from the private media sector?
Swedish Delegation on Committee Experiences & Possible Cultural Cooperation
Overview of South Africa
Mr J Mahlangu (ANC) said that since 1994 when SA became a constitutional democracy the supreme law of the land had become the Constitution, such that both Parliament and the Executive were all subject to that law. The courts therefore expressed views on constitutionality of activities by Government, ordinary citizens, the private sector and even civil society including the media.
In Committee; party political issues merged very seldom as the Committees had to conduct oversight over all the Departments of Government.
The Portfolio Committee on Arts and Culture was quite a small Committee seeing that Parliament had about 40 Committees altogether where each specialised on particular sectors of society. The Committee oversaw 27 entities under the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) as listed in the presentation.
Social cohesion was amongst the Committee’s core mandates where challenges abounded as recent events at the Pretoria Girls High School had shown that the country remained divided. Those were matters that seemed to be part of the country’s fabric and would seemingly remain for quite a while.
Similarly, though when looking at the diversity of cultures across the whole SA had been following the debate on immigration policies and how that could affect social cohesion in countries with refugees and how the European Union and other blocs were managing that situation. Certainly the country was following that to see what lessons could be learned.
On the media question, the Constitution of SA guaranteed media freedom which was why SA media was as vibrant as all things going on behind closed doors always saw the light of day.
Ms Angelika Bengtsson, (Swedish Democrats) asked how the cooperation was between the Arts and Culture portfolio with other committees of Parliament, especially those of Basic and Higher Education and Labour.
Mr Aron Emilsson, (Swedish Democrats) was interested in the regulation of sports in SA and in schools in particular. How active were the children of SA in formal and informal sports?
How had the Freedom Park Museum come about; how had the country formulated a national identity after so many years of apartheid where it still seemed that racial identities prevailed, with racial groups still having not found each other in terms of being held by a more defined cultural identity?
Was there state financial support for media around the country for example, funding for newspaper publishers? If so, how was that done and regulated?
Mr Roland Utbult (Christian Democrats) said he had heard of reconciliation when reference was made to SA globally; how could the political impact on culture be so profound as to allow a people to form a nation and to keep democracy alive?
Ms Cecilia Magnusson (Moderate Party) asked what the current cultural priorities were for the present administration of government; since the previous Government administration of Sweden where her party was in majority, had prioritised children’s accessibility to culture as the first priority. Sweden was a small and compact country compared to the vastness of SA and having visited Upington, Northern Cape, she was wondering how the Government promoted cultural accessibility when the country was so sparsely populated in areas that were isolated from others.
Did the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) also have an Arts and Culture Committee or was the Committee only at National Assembly (NA)?
Mr G Grootboom (DA) said in terms of reconciliation and the political impact of keeping democracy alive SA had calendar national focus days, one of which was Heritage Day where the diversity of SA cultures was brought together. There was the promotion of the National Flag and Anthem in trying to reconcile and unite the country where currently there was a drive to promote the Anthem of African Unity. On national focus days department Ministers addressed the nation and within provinces provincial heads of ministries did the same. There were of course different days where certain groups of SA society celebrated their cultures where other cultures would be invited for cultural exchanges to occur.
It was only recently that South Africans were coming to grips with understanding the country’s common cultural heritage because it was only post 1994 that names of towns were changed to represent the diversity of cultures and to celebrate and recognise struggle and cultural heroes.
Ms P Mogotsi (ANC) said social cohesion was an outcome of the Arts and Culture portfolio to address the imbalances of the past. The aim of the social cohesion programme was to bring peace and stability in the country because in the apartheid regime there was cultural division. The current administration’s goals were to unite the country culturally, within its diversity. The Committee had also been charged with social transformation where the Arts and Culture Committee worked with the Committees on Sports and Recreation, Social Development and the Health Committee from time to time.
The Committee had also been working in tandem with other committees on racism, languages and indigenous cultural games where it had emerged that SA was quite weak in that regard.
Ms M Tsoleli (ANC) said the SA constitution stated quite clearly that arts and culture was a concurrent function of all Government spheres, which meant it was from the NA to the NCOP and at even local government levels. At local government level one found even Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) involved in the promotion of culture.
On collaboration with other committees, the Portfolio Committee on Arts and Culture was the custodian of ensuring that the language policy of Government was implemented thoroughly across all departments and in particular according to the demographics of a specific province.
Language was a priority, of course according to the demographics in terms of cultural preservation.
Mr Mahlangu said committees also collaborated when doing oversight visits to state institutions. Certainly the Committee on Arts and Culture did not deal with sport as there were specific Committees for that in both Houses of Parliament.
Another aspect of difficulty in SA was that the country was grappling with inequality, poverty and unemployment, which was a priority amongst all Departments and sectors of Government. Also the issue of freedom of media publication made the isolated incidence of racism get the necessary attention as quickly as possible and Government had done well to manage tensions.
Sports, arts and culture were certainly the leading tools to forge social cohesion in SA as it had been evidenced through the Rugby World Cup of 1996 and the Soccer World Cup of 2010. Certainly with more events of that nature the gaps and tensions could be ameliorated so that South Africans became closer as a nation.
The Chairperson said, that in terms of what had been preserved and discarded as cultural symbols, there had been the Rhodes Must Fall call by university students where the Department of Arts and Culture had a policy in place of what was to be kept and done away with. That policy defined the processes to be followed including consultations.
Most newspapers in SA were privatised and therefore were not subsidised by Government and that even television stations that were supported only stopped with the SABC, and the rest were also privatised.
Ms Tsoleli added that in terms of preservation of symbols the DAC had introduced conversation mechanisms amongst communities so as to facilitate dialogue therein about which symbols communities would prefer located in their localities.
Ms Rossanna Dinamarca (Left Party) said since the issues at Pretoria Girls High School had included straightening of hair and disallowance for students to speak their indigenous languages, she wondered what the consequences would be for that school and its principal.
Ms Ida Karkiainen (Social Democrats) said it was reported by the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) that young people in SA were more prepared to forgive than the older generation. How was the Committee addressing that issue?
Ms Magnusson said the Swedish delegation had met the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission), National Arts Council of South Africa (NAC) and the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) and it was reported that the Committee was proposing the amalgamation of all those entities into one. She felt that was a good idea as Sweden had amalgamated its cultural entities; she was interested to know whether that was true or not.
Mr Bjorn Wiechel (Social Democrats) agreed with Mr Mahlangu that indeed the world was transforming and the idea of a mono-culture or mono-ethnic country and society was history, even if they had existed before. Certainly the world stood at the brink of creating inclusive countries, where everyone was seen and common goals including everyone were created.
His interest was adult education, especially the educating dimension of culture as it built strong characters; society aware characters that were democratically conscious citizens which alleviated unemployment. Mr Wiechel wanted to know how SA emphasised on that dimension of cultural politics, and not only in the cultural sector but in public life and civil society.
The Chairperson said that it was important to recognise that SA’s culture had been eroded and taken away from the indigenous citizens of the country. Currently the country had to unlearn certain things and to relearn afresh what its culture entailed, especially the youth. During the generation of the Chairperson’s youth, they had been fortunate to have experienced indigenous customs and culture because in the society of their youth people lived as a collective, there had been no individualism but communalism. There were such things as “ilima” where villagers combined their labour, resources, knowledge and wisdom to cultivate, collectively, village farmland to protect families against food insecurity.
That was why the Committee believed culture had to be at the centre of society, so that people could be rooted somewhere because only then could an individual withstand the vagaries and passing trends of life.
It was their joint responsibility and obligation as Members from the two Parliaments on culture to be cultural activists. If communities were culturally empowered that translated into empowered families.
Ms Tsoleli said SA came from a racial past and most of the former model C white schools were where incidences of racial tension emerged. Chapter 2 of the SA Constitution, otherwise referred to as the Bill of Rights, was clear on infringements of rights of others by other citizens of the country. Pretoria Girls High School had infringed on the rights of the African girl child, her dignity, her heritage and her identity. Therefore, the consequences for the school would be very serious. There had been other incidences of racism in such schools and fortunately the matter had been reported. In most cases the principal and the offending teachers at the schools were suspended pending investigative outcomes. With outcomes finding wrongdoing, many teachers were struck off the roll of educators in the country, such that they could never teach in the country.
Over and above that there was an ongoing dialogue amongst South Africans regarding the criminalisation of racism. That was because there was hate speech were the equality court penalised those found to have used hate speech. However, that was not deterring the evolution of hate speech to racism.
Mr Mahlangu said even the Human Rights Commission was currently attending to the matter of possibly criminalising racism. There was of course the anger amongst the youth of SA where they had been characterising unemployment, inequality and poverty as the most debilitating social phenomena in their lives.
In terms of the amalgamation of the entities of DAC; that was a process undertaken to rationalise the DAC entities where a White Paper had been tabled to review all the entities of DAC to see if those that had overlapping responsibilities could not be combined. That was an unfolding process generally.
Mr Grootboom said the biggest issue of the ‘born free’ generation, which included youth born from the late 1990s to date, was not about forgive and forget but unemployment, and funding for education.
Ms Bengtsson asked what kind of cultural or social investment and ventures undertaken had received a lot of media attention that would have been known to young people about the work done by the Committee. What had been the hardest issue or question facing the Committee in terms of its core mandate?
Mr Utbult said the meeting was quite historical as the exchange between the two culture Committees spoke to similar and somewhat different challenges in Sweden and SA; be that as it was where did the Committee see SA in the next five years?
Ms Carlsson asked if there were no provisions in SA for hate crime to date, seeing that the Committee had spoken to a dialogue about possibly criminalising racism and about hate speech which got referred to the equality court.
Mr Mahlangu said the last two questions were quite difficult in that responding directly to them would be oversimplifying very complex matters. However; the country had adopted the National Development Plan (NDP) 2030 vision where Government envisaged the country would be by that time. Therefore, SA was on a very difficult journey owing to the global economic difficulties that everyone in the world was faced with. Additionally, the skills shortage in SA compounded the challenges SA was facing as a developing country. Where SA would be in five years; the journey had started and the country was moving forward and the objective was to achieve all the outcomes of the NDP as a country at large, especially at the economic, peoples developmental and reconciliation levels.
The world was becoming smaller because of globalisation and though there were diverse cultures, there would be a time where the entire world had become one large space. Whatever would be happening in Sweden would have such an effect in SA that it would require a response and reciprocally matters would go like that. An example of that was the historical event of the President of the United States visiting Cuba after the long stand-off between the two countries. Certainly SA could learn something from Sweden in terms of that country’s provision on hate crimes.
Ms Tsoleli said SA had institutions that supported democracy called Chapter 9 Institutions. Therefore, in terms of hate speech and related incidences there were relevant institutions to test the validity of the claim of hate speech with accompanying consequences. The current White Paper on racism criminalisation now included hate speech and crimes against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, And Transgender (LGBT) community which had not been included in the current provisions.
SA had also engaged in a very rigorous process of reconciliation after 1994 which had culminated in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Surprisingly that process had not completely dealt with racism and hate speech as incidences from social media to actual acts of racism emerged year after year around the country.
Mr Mahlangu said of the 55 million plus South Africans; incidences of racism occurred randomly amongst a small grouping of people sparsely populated where the media attention immediately ensured that such incidences would get dealt with quickly.
The most difficult issue the Committee had been dealing with was language as the Committee had been struggling with regulation and implementation of policy through the DACs Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) as everybody that had worked at that board was preoccupied with interpreting the constitutional imperatives establishing the board. Interestingly there had been a group that had litigated about the fit for purpose location of the board and the DACs ministerial authority; where the High Court itself had not clearly found any grounds where else to locate the board other than where it was. The situation had been dicey but was receiving the necessary attention.
Reconciliation was an ongoing process of getting South Africans to be tolerant of the diversity of cultures in the country and the dynamics of finding common values so that the country could have a South African culture akin to how Americans defended their Americanism though divided that country maybe.
Ms Tsoleli said since media houses in SA were privatised culture was something that was not a priority as what sold was controversy because even with the SABC, arts and culture programming did not make up 1% of the content production yet SA was a culture rich society.
The Chairperson thanked all the participants of the engagement noting that if there were questions outstanding those would be responded to the day the Committee visited Sweden.
The Swedish Cultural Affairs Committee then presented the Chairperson with a parting gift and the meeting was adjourned.
Tom, Ms XS
Grootboom, Mr GA
Mahlangu, Mr JL
Makondo, Mr T
Tsoleli, Ms SP
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