Leading human rights and cultural players of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) gathered in Cape Town on 4 and 5 of December 2014 to assess the state of the human rights agenda as it pertains to the arts and cultural sectors in Africa. Arterial Network South Africa (ANSA) and Arterial Network’s Artwatch Africa (AWA) programme co-hosted the event, which culminated in a captivating public panel on cultural rights and censorship in Southern Africa. The talk was also the launching pad for ANSA’s “Speak your #Artout” social media campaign, which will aim to raise awareness and influence public opinion on the arts, culture and heritage sectors in South Africa throughout the upcoming months.
Peter Rorvik, Secretary General of Arterial Network, introduced the colloquium by stating that its main objectives were “to bring together key SADC players, human rights activists, cultural operators, creative practitioners and government officials from 8 Southern African countries to explore regional cooperation. We believe that all stakeholders need to be involved in this dialogue, at both governmental and civil society levels, ensuring that the principle of participatory democracy is upheld for the continent’s success. As the saying goes “there shall be no decision about me without me!”
During the colloquium, participants analyzed and discussed the state of cultural ownership and the current legal and policy environments that exist to support, or inhibit, mobility and creativity in the Southern African region. Presentations were made on the role that cultural mobility can play in building regional contact, social cohesion and cross-national markets, further stressing the need to increase and allow for the movement and flow of cultural products.
The attendees affirmed that the value of culture and of creative practitioners has to be treated as a long-term investment for society, and that National Arts Councils can play a leading role in building sustainable and conducive ecosystems for the arts in the region. Yvette Hardie of ASSITEJ echoed, “ we [the sector] need to think strategically and synergistically on how to extract the maximum value from what we do and form our networks.” Multiple inputs emphasized the need for a more robust policy environment where Africa’s cultural resources are used for poverty eradication and for sustainable development.
Amongst the proposed outcomes for future regional cooperation are the revival of the defunct SADC Cultural Desk for the successful implementation of regional arts and cultural programmes and the implementation of a wide range of capacity building processes to support the arts in the areas of policy development, leadership, administration, entrepreneurship and advocacy campaigns, coordinated by Arterial Network. The colloquium also identified the need for greater cooperation between the National Arts Councils of the region, suggesting that a regional SADC structure of National Arts Councils will serve such a purpose. This critical conversation continues this week as Arterial Network Zimbabwe hosts its first “All Stakeholder’s Conference” on December 11th and 12th 2014 in Harare. Zimbabwe is the current chair of the SADC Cultural Desk, and hands this over to Botswana in 2015.
Each participant is now compelled to report back to their respective countries on the following Regional Co-operation agreements that the Colloquium settled on:
1. SADC Cultural Desk: The colloquium strongly identified the need to resuscitate the SADC cultural desk as a significant step towards regional exchange in the fields of arts, culture and the creative industries. As Zimbabwe is the current chair of the SADC Culture Section it is proposed that Arterial Network Zimbabwe should play a leading role in the process to reinstate the Cultural Desk, and gather momentum before Botswana assumes the chair of the SADC Culture Section on 17 August.
2. Cultural exchanges: The colloquium proposes enhanced focus on cultural exchanges between SADC countries. The reinstating of the SADC Cultural Desk is expected to accelerate and enrich this process. It is envisaged that SADC cultural festivals could also be reinstated.
3. Revitalising Arterial Network National Chapters: While some Arterial Network chapters in the region are doing well, it is also recognised that others are not properly functional. In order to strengthen cooperation between countries we first need to revitalise national chapters that are lagging behind. Arterial Network will explore a range of supportive measures through which the capacity and effectiveness of national chapters can be enhanced.
4. Capacity building: This links directly with the fore-going point. An evaluation will be undertaken to assess the needs in the respective countries and how best these can be addressed. One contribution to this process will be through various forms of capacity building. Arterial Network will seek funding support to accelerate the process.
5. National Arts Council regional bodies: The colloquium identified the need for greater cooperation between the National Arts Councils of the region, suggesting that a regional SADC structure of National Arts Councils will serve such a purpose. Whilst such a process should best be driven by National Arts Councils themselves, Arterial Network will play a facilitative role where required.
On 5 of December, the public panel “No Freedom, No expression: on censorship and artistic rights in Africa”, hosted these guests: Themba Wakashe of the Film and Publications Board of South Africa, Professor Adam Haupt, Kenyan filmaker Njoki Ngumi and Molemo Moiloa, CEO of the Visual Arts Network of South Africa. They explored and elaborated on the complexities of human rights challenges within the cultural sphere in the SADC region. The audience and the panelists debated the nature of regulatory and policy environments, the limitations to freedom of expression and the responsibility of artists in engaging with their various communities and contexts.
As the Speak your #Artout campaign was launched, Valmont Layne, Secretary General of Arterial Network South Africa, affirmed: the “campaign’s intention is to affirm the rights of artists and creative practitioners in South Africa. It aims to raise the level of public discourse about these matters so that the independent voices of artists are taken in greater consideration for an improvement in the quality of our consultative processes. “
Since its inception, the Arterial Network community has grown tremendously and continues to work on advocacy issues while uniting hundreds of creative industry experts from across Africa to jointly shape the future of the sector in a networked environment.
On the 11 and 12 of December, Arterial Network Zimbabwe hosted an All Stakeholder Conference, seeking to explore ways in which the cultural industries can benefit and contribute to sustainable development. They engaged with the Ministry of Sports, Arts and Culture, the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe and various government departments to forge partnerships that foster development, job creation and the foundation of a conducive working environment for cultural practitioners.
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