Department Strategic Plan &Budget, Human Sciences Research Council, National Research Foundation, Human Language Technology Unit

Arts and Culture

08 March 2005
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

8 March 2005


Mr S Tsenoli (ANC)


National Research Foundation work relating to Arts and Culture
Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Future Collaboration between DAC and DST
Human Language Technology presentation
Human Language Technology briefing
Human Sciences Research Council briefing
Department of Arts and Culture Medium Term Expenditure Plan 2005/2006
Department presentation (document awaited)

The Committee discussed the work of the Centre for the Book in combating illiteracy and promoting a culture of reading. They also discussed the overlap between the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST), including the DST’s use of Human Language Technology, its Indigenous Knowledge Systems Unit and the work of the Human Sciences Research Council. The purpose was to improve oversight on matters of common interest. The Department of Arts and Culture then presented its Strategic Plan for 2005/2006, including the major projects of its three branches. Members were concerned with the development of Freedom Park, Robben Island, and the promotion of the film and cinema industry.

The Chairperson said the DAC and DST were working to improve their collaboration in areas of common interest. The National Library and the Centre for the Book were of special interest to the Committee as Members had recently toured the facilities. The Centre for the Book had been invited to visit Parliament and inform Members about its work.

Centre for the Book briefing
Ms E Anderson, Head of the Centre for the Book, said the Centre was a resource and network for writers and readers. A major outreach project of the Centre had been providing children with picture books in indigenous languages. The Centre had worked toward creating a culture of reading where people of all backgrounds would grow up with a similar foundation of books to read. This was important for South Africa to move forward socially, politically, and economically at a faster pace.

Ms S Magona, a widely-published author and Centre board member, said it was important to instil the love of reading in children at a young age before their minds were captured by other negative influences. She suggested that pregnant mothers in maternity wards should receive books to encourage reading from the start and that people should give books as gifts to children. Politicians, as role models, had the responsibility to set a positive example and should speak publicly about their love of books. She demonstrated how books went through a 'book chain' and how there was both supply and demand in the life of a book. The supply side of the book chain showed there were no black illustrators and few thriving local publishers. The demand side showed that libraries and parents could profoundly increase the supply by encouraging a culture of reading.

Ms Anderson said there were few black writers and even fewer black writers in indigenous languages because of a lack of widespread demand for these sorts of books. Eighty percent of books published in South Africa were textbooks and twenty percent were general reading, but in developed countries these figures were the opposite. Because of the country's past, textbooks had been the primary industry instead of the general reading sorts of books that could promote long-term commitment to reading. Small, non-commercial publishers that focused on South African issues were unprotected and found it difficult to survive. Libraries could save the country from poverty since disadvantaged people could access libraries and educate themselves long before they were able to afford to buy a book. The Centre requested increased funding.

Mr L Zita (ANC) was not convinced that the country did not have a culture of readers, since many factory workers read popular, light newspapers. The Centre needed to encourage more literary topics within these sorts of widely-read publications. He said his own visit to the Centre made him conclude that it was largely white-oriented and did not connect enough with people in provinces.

Mr H Maluleka (ANC) said that people reading popular publications was not proof that a culture of reading existed and that the literature should have been at a much higher level.

Mr M Maseko, Department of Education, said the Department's recent systemic evaluation of the country's education system showed that people were reading and writing at levels below fifty percent. There was no consolidated effort to promote reading for the sake of reading but also to encourage the publishing industry to flourish economically. People needed to read materials that sharpened their reading skills instead of reading gossip and simply what was of interest to them.

Ms D Kohler-Barnard (DA) suggested mobile libraries to reach areas not conveniently served by a library.

Rev Ms M Chabaku, Chairperson of the Committee on Sports, Arts and Culture, said both indigenous and English languages should be included in books to stress that South Africans were united as one nation. People needed to challenge the media to encourage books. Comics, if properly done, had potential to reach young readers.

Mr M Sonto (ANC) said that while people were reading, they were not reading the right subjects. The cellular phone text-messaging style of writing was becoming too popular among children and this was improperly carried over into the context of a classroom and formal grammar.

Mr A Hawumbatha, Chair of the Committee on Arts and Culture and Tourism, said the focus should not encourage one style of writing or language over the other but should just encourage all books. Libraries needed to focus on electronic media, including books on DVDs, so information would be easily transported to peoples' homes. The library culture should not be maintained as it was, but should instead synergise with the available technology.

Ms Anderson responded that the Centre lacked government funding and only had funds for seven members. The Centre wanted to expand to address the educational backlog in rural areas. The Centre worked 99 percent in townships and disadvantaged areas in a grassroots approach and so was not a white-oriented organisation.

The Chairperson said the discussion on books would continue at a later time. Following a break, he introduced the topic of collaboration between the DAC and DST and how the overlap between their areas of focus could be better managed.

Human Language Technology: DST briefing

Dr A Paterson, Deputy Director General for Science and Technology, presented the Department's goals for increasing Human Language Technology (HLT), which had assisted the transmission of multiple languages through technology. HLT was seen as essential to South Africa to address the diversity of languages. Developments had been made in Speech Recognition Systems that electronically recognised local languages and performed a computational linguistic analysis of Xhosa.

Indigenous Knowledge Systems Unit: DST briefing
Mr M Mosimege, Department of Science and Technology, presented the Department's developments in Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS). The Department promoted and affirmed the contributions of indigenous knowledge to the country's cultural values and economy especially with the increased globalisation. IKS had worked to transform the 400 publicly-funded museums in the country to include indigenous people in the research, interpretation, and display of cultural material. It had also collaborated with other institutions and had funded projects that used indigenous knowledge in the reduction of poverty, the manufacture of herbal medicines, and the discovery of innovations in indigenous technologies.

Mr Zita questioned the Department's emphasis on essential African cultural values since in the modern world they may not have been very different from European values. If those values were different, it was not clear which should be most emphasised.

Mr M Sonto asked how the IKS found the proper fit in pursuing its objectives since it had a role in many different Departments.

Mr Paterson responded that the clash of cultural values was one of the central questions of globalisation and that the balance between the traditional and the modern was ongoing. He said that the IKS, although it overlapped with other Departments, was firmly situated in the DST.

Mr Mosimege said that IKS was in DST and that by cutting across other programmes it was not isolated to one area and so was then able to co-ordinate the efforts efficiently.

Mr A Masondo, retired General and IKSA board member, said that traditional healers should have been recognised as providers of a vital public service. Modern science had the ability to control diseases but could not usually cure them, unlike many traditional healers. All global knowledge was at some point indigenous knowledge and it had developed and spread because research was done on it. An area of overlap between the Departments was intellectual property, such as when a traditional healer made a potion that cured a disease and a Western scientist extracted the element inside it that worked. It was then unclear if the traditional healer or the scientist should have received credit for the discovery. Indigenous knowledge had stagnated and had not been encouraged to grow. Young people should research the methodology of indigenous knowledge to continue its development.

National Research Foundation briefing
Dr R Skeef, Associate Director for New Business Development, said the NRF promoted and supported research through funding and human resource development. The NRF overlapped with the DST and DAC in the areas of HLT and IKS, on which it spent R10 million last year. Under the IKS grant programme, the NRF approved 37 of 62 applications totalling an award value of R7 962. The NRF recognised the need for a HLT centre that would manage the digital speech data for all official languages and implement HLT training.

Human Sciences Research Council briefing
Ms R Maharaj, Executive Director in the Chief Executive’s Office of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), presented the HSRC's efforts on IKS, disability, gender, and social cohesion and identity. IKS was a priority because it could reduce poverty in rural areas by focusing on indigenous resources and innovations. Disability was addressed in a photographic exhibit and a presentation to the SABC on portraying the disabled in the media. The HSRC promoted education on gender, especially through its Fatherhood Project that encouraged the participation of men in the child-raising process.

Mr X Mangcu, Executive Director of Research Development in the Unit of Social Cohesion and Identity for the HSRC, said the HSRC had focused on the relationship between culture and the process of nation building. The HSRC had hosted a world lecture series that invited distinguished scholars to discuss the key concepts of ethnic identity and race in a setting that promoted networking and research.

The Chairperson encouraged further exploration on how the Departments were working together. In doing so, the Departments would enhance their acts on the ground with people because the efforts would be co-ordinated.

Department of Arts and Culture briefing
The Director General, Prof I Mosala, briefed the Committee on the Medium Term Expenditure Framework for 2005/2006. The goals of the Department were to develop and promote arts and culture and to mainstream its role in society as part of the developmental framework of the country. The strategy included promoting social cohesion, enhancing linguistic diversity and improving economic opportunities in arts and culture in South Africa and abroad. There were three branches within the Department. The first was Art, Culture, Language and Society and this branch was working on issues of terminology, gender, youth and disability in arts and culture. The second was Cultural Development and International Co-operation and this was concerned with promoting cultural industry, investment in arts and culture, film and video and international relations. The third branch dealt with Heritage, Archives and Libraries and was allocated 48% of the budget. Their main concerns were Robben Island, Freedom Park and the World Heritage Sites. Tentative budget figures were presented, but have not yet been released.

The Chairperson said that the Committee had had a joint meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Sport and Recreation to receive a presentation on a new Hall of Fame project. The Committee recommended interaction between the Departments in terms of celebrating living heritage as there were also plans to bring some items back to South Africa from the London Science Museum. This type of project would allow the Departments to integrate initiatives and maximise potential benefits. The Municipal Finance Management Act had the unintended consequence of preventing municipalities from using their money for the maintenance or construction of facilities that citizens require, such as libraries. Because this was an issue that cut across departments, they must work together to find a solution so that municipalities were not prevented from taking initiatives outside of their mandate.

Mr Zita asked for more information on investment in the second economy, the mass participation strategy and community arts centres. He asked what the plan was to promote cinema in townships and villages and what HSRC wanted done to improve quality of life in terms of arts and culture. In Nigeria and India, the film industry was thriving and it may be possible for South Africa to learn from these countries. Mr Zita also asked what was being done to improve access to, and quality of, world and art cinema in South Africa.

The Chairperson said that he had already spoken to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Communication and with the SABC to arrange discussions with them.

Ms Kohler-Barnard said that the Foundation of Film and Video had requested help, particularly in conducting research on the feasibility of creating a national film school and she asked if there had been any assistance given. Robben Island was receiving R36 million, but had been having serious management issues, so Ms Kohler-Barnard asked what had been happening to improve this before more funds were given. She asked for a report on the international crime on Robben Island, an update on a resolution with the National Arts Council and whether there was a deadline for Freedom Park to spend the money they had been allocated.

Prof Mosala said that the Department had interacted with, and provided some funding for, the Hall of Fame project. They had also suggested interaction, especially concerning the Freedom Park project, as many of the things that were being done by the Hall of Fame project were also envisaged for Freedom Park. The issues faced with funding for the municipalities have been discussed for the last two years and apart from amending the Constitution, no other solutions have been put forward, so progress will be slow.

The Chairperson said that in some areas the municipalities had set up and stocked the libraries, but had to stop under the Municipal Finance Management Act, which put libraries under the provincial mandate. This was combined with the problem that libraries were not always seen as a priority. The Intergovernmental Relations Act must deal with this issue.

Prof Mosala said that the initiatives in the second economy were included as an aspect of poverty alleviation. The Department had received poverty alleviation allocations over three years, and had institutionalised the programme independently within the Department despite the funding ending. In this way, allocations continued, so they were developing specific strategies to combat poverty through the ‘investing in culture’ programme. This included investing in the second economy and more specific information could be provided to the Committee if requested. The strategies being developed to promote cultural industry were also aimed at contributing to the second economy in terms of employment creation. The Department must work with the National Film and Video Foundation to promote film in the townships and villages and would have to address the question of quality of life in terms of arts and culture strategy in the nodes. Agreements existed with India around film and video in the form of exchanges. The SABC was problematic, particularly on the issue of languages and cultural content, but the Department was not in charge of it. There should be interaction between the SABC and the Departments of Arts and Culture and Communication, but at the moment they were not working together. The National Film and Video Foundation was responsible for training in film and the Department should do more to assist them.

The Chairperson asked what had happened with discussions to create a National Film and Video School.

Prof Mosala said that he would speak to the Department of Communications to find out what had happened with that matter. There had been intervention in Robben Island to find a CEO, even though it was difficult at times for the Department to intervene. They hoped to find a CEO by the end of March and would not be able to continue to fund Robben Island unless that happened. The problems that were faced in Robben Island were the shared responsibility of the Departments of Tourism and Public Works, the National Parks and the municipality of Cape Town. Various aspects of Robben Island were under the jurisdiction of separate bodies that were not always co-ordinated. The second phase of three had started on Freedom Park and the figure of R190 million in the budget was the combined funding over several years to be spent on infrastructure, which was costly. The problem was that the timetable had not been followed and Freedom Park was asking for a rollover of funds from 2004/2005. Difficulties were faced because there was international involvement, so international architectural rules had to be followed.

The Chairperson said that Freedom Park was coming to speak to the Committee and had explained that the project had been on track until they had been asked critical questions about missing aspects that required them to go back to some areas and begin again.

Prof Mosala said that it was better that the money not be used than be badly spent.

Mr Sydney Selepe, Chief Director: Arts and Society, said that mass participation was articulated in the Arts and Culture policy and involved increasing the number of people who produce and consume arts and culture. This included increasing funding for artists and creating opportunities to consume it, such as festivals. This included the resources that were invested in local government to develop community arts centres to ensure that people were able to access arts programmes. Problems were experienced in terms of who would fund the actual programming but the Department was assisting the centres in capacity training. Music festivals were also funded to promote music and musicians and to increase the participation of music consumers.

The Chairperson said that they would request that Prof Asmal come and brief the Committee and asked that the Department respond to outstanding questions of the Committee soon after the meeting so that the Members can report elsewhere. The Committee would raise issues of fragmentation and overlap in other entities and boards to determine whether it was appropriate to have the board or if the work should be done by the government. UNESCO had declared February 21, Mother Tongue Day, and the Chairperson suggested that it be celebrated next year as a way of measuring what had been done in different departments promoting different languages. The Committee must discuss the relationship between the Department and PENSA and would like to see efforts at gender equality reflected in the modus operandi of the Department to reflect the government’s gender goals. The Committee would like to hear more about international agreements to assess if initiative was being taken to build relationships to promote South African culture and to learn from others. The Chairperson said that the Department should work with the Media Diversity Development Agency to promote multi-lingualism and asked what was already being done with newspapers printed in indigenous languages because government departments were not reporting their own news in the languages spoken in many areas.

The meeting was adjourned.



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