Although internationally recognised for the annual MTN Bushfire festival, Swaziland’s national arts and cultural sector remains largely underdeveloped, and under attack by the local government. Despite various efforts to reinforce the sector, Swaziland does not have a legal, regulatory cultural policy framework to support the development of the arts, or support artists rights. In 2016, the national police were deployed to stop an Arterial Network Swaziland arts advocacy workshop held in Mbabane. In spite of these setbacks, Arterial Network Swaziland’s membership has continued to grow and its leadership has remained steadfast on their mission to address the multifaceted challenges in Swaziland for a conducive environment for the arts to thrive. This month, we spoke to Sivumelwano Nyembe (Chairperson of Arterial Network Swaziland) for an update on Arterial Network Swaziland’s latest projects.
Please tell us a bit more about yourself. How did you come to work in the arts and cultural sector?
I started acting in school and took this interest all the way to college level where I produced three plays. I even played at the national theatre. I founded and ran the Poetry and Drama Society at college, and was one of the founders of the Siphila Nje Drama Society, which is the oldest drama group in Swaziland. I continue to work in the arts sector as an author and actor.
As the Chairperson of Arterial Network Swaziland, what would you like to achieve during your mandate?
I would love to have drama introduced nationally at high school level. I believe that to build a theatre visiting public, we must start by conditioning the youth to visit the theatre. For that reason, I have started a project to get young people to develop a school drama production that will be shown at the Swaziland Theatre Club in Mbabane. The project entails training the students as actors and training the teachers in theatre craft.
In the past, advocacy workshops in Swaziland have been interrupted by the authorities. How would you describe the present attitude of Swaziland's authorities towards artists rights and freedom of creative expression? Has there been any improvement?
The situation has not changed, but we have been able to continue advocating for more tolerance. One positive development that I can touch on is the legislative and policy changes within the broadcasting sector. We expect to receive authorisation to start community radio programmes. These programmes would increase access to art and cultural products, broadcast straight to people’s homes or workplaces. Currently there are only two radio stations in Swaziland: a government station and a Christian one. The government station is commonly known to limit diversity of radio content.
Over the course of 2016, Arterial Network Swaziland hosted various training workshops relating to arts advocacy, cultural management and organisational health (SHIRIKA). What common weaknesses were identified and how do you think that the training helped participants? Are there plans for future iterations?
Training is essential in any industry. In Swaziland, it is critical since those in the arts and cultural sector lack certain basic skills because art is not part of the school curriculum and there are limited post-high school arts and culture training facilities. One of the training programmes that members took part in last year helped to inform participants about arts advocacy. In Swaziland, the state has a different view regarding arts and culture, so there is a need for greater inclusion and diversity across the broad definition of arts and culture. Due to the training, a conversation on the definition of arts and culture has commenced. What I mean to say is that, currently the state views arts and culture as only relating to national traditional ceremonies, extending only to traditional songs and dance.
The cultural management training workshop gave members the capacity to manage their group projects, and the organisational health training workshop (SHIRIKA) showed them how to make the necessary adjustments within an organisational structure to improve their health and sustainability. Although we anticipated this, the training workshops confirmed that most cultural organisations are poorly managed and have various organisational health issues.
As a trainer, where should Arterial Network be investing in skills development in the cultural and creative industries sectors?
In my opinion, Swaziland lacks the craft of art and culture to be able to come out with quality products so my priority is to increase capacity and access to knowledge. We definitely need to continue with the various Arterial Network training workshops as we were not able to include all of our members in the first round.
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