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Creatives hope for good times under Masisi

MOMPATI TLHANKANE
As the BDP takes over it should show commitment to strengthen Botswana's arts and cultural sector. PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES
Last week when Batswana voted decisively for Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) led by Mokgweetsi Masisi, they elected a government that promised a major reinvestment in the arts and culture sector.

As Masisi is sworn in today as the President of Botswana for the next five years, he will then assemble his cabinet and a number of key players who will take Botswana forward.

Batswana have put their hopes in the elected government after winning the elections and it is time for Masisi’s administration to make good on his party’s election pledges.

So, as the BDP takes over it should show commitment to strengthen Botswana’s arts and cultural sector, support practitioners to develop pioneering and quality products that can attract more audiences.

Former President Ian Khama did his part during his ten-year tenure and went on to establish President’s Day Competitions for the creatives amongst others. With Masisi now at the helm, the industry can only hope for the arts to be in high fever once again.

For a long time Batswana have uniquely proved that they have spectacular talent but it remains poorly developed as a result of low resources amongst others. There is no money for the dynamic arts community and mostly they are just punching above their weight.

This anomaly is caused by many factors in the creative industry and for so long players in the arts industry have tried to reach out to the government for help.

The arts fall under the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development (MYSC). So as the new minister takes over the ministry, so many challenges await him. 

To start with the most sought after aspect what the new minister should look at is the establishment of the long overdue Arts Council.

Before he was moved to another ministry and eventually lost the elections, the former MYSC Minister Thapelo Olopeng wanted to establish an arts council to regulate the arts sector.

This is a crucial body that amongst others is meant to fund both the performing and the visual arts nationally. So many game players have been crying about the delay in establishing the council that will resolve many irregularities and conflicts in the arts sector.

Once the council is formed, the government should increase its budget and simplify the process of applying for funding so that others can benefit from the new system. Once the government does this, it will speak the same language with the creatives.

Therefore, Masisi should appoint a minister who has got a clue about the arts not someone who would later make decisions that are based on ignorance.

As a leading figure in the industry, the incoming minister should not worry about spending money on the arts but rather concentrate on investing in the sector. 

Meanwhile, many people who have gone before MYSC for funding have often regarded it as a political dead end. One local musician, Kast in the past accused the then minister Olopeng of being a political bully as a result of funding issues.

Some people have even questioned the role of government in art and the value Batswana placed on art. Diversifying the arts was never part of the larger focus for the previous government.

For instance, arts have not been part of the larger conversation and some view the arts as an economy-driving factor. 

Other critics have labelled the government mabina go tsholwa because it expresses its massive pride in the international praises achieved by Batswana artists but fails to contribute to their development and nurturing.

Besides the council, the main concern for the creatives has been lack of proper infrastructures. Therefore government should be concerned about developing the industry, as presently there are no arenas for entertainers.

Music

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festivals are still held at sports grounds and stadia, musicians still record in their bedrooms and theatric performances are still held in school theatres.

Further, it is still hard for events promoters to secure gigs because some of the private venues are too expensive for them.

The overarching issue is that most facilities cannot afford to cover the costs of hosting artists and artists themselves cannot afford to rent some of these venues even for some few hours. Few arts facilities are owned by the governmental and there is little or no funding for facilities.

Artists have in the past painted a complicated picture of a local music industry that is far from perfect. There is huge a lack of performing arts spaces and it reflects the government as an entity that doe not actually care about the livelihood of artists.

Going forward for the incoming minister, this issue has to be resolved and it doesn’t just require an outright solution involving lots of monetary.

The minister has to come up with fresh approach to finding private partnerships and charitable funding sources. One of the best solutions is to work with developers to incorporate performing arts facilities into the designs of future projects.

There is a lot of free public space around the country and the government just has to find suitable ways to utilise to benefits arts meaningfully.

Moreover some of the problems are that the creatives have also complained about the issuing of permits for entertainment hours. Masisi has since altered some of the hours since taking over from Khama last year.

But the main concern for promoters especially in Gaborone has been the struggle to get a permit allowing them to host lala vuka events (that spill into another day).

As a reflection of the problem, last year organisers of The Hamptons Jazz Festival had a clash with Gaborone City Council (GCC) over a permit issue.

It was not clear who between GCC and MYSC have the authority to issue permits on loud music beyond midnight.

The incoming minister should look into this because music festivals can grow into a major moneymaker in this competitive industry where every other weekend promoters are looking to pull crowds to their venues.

These events have the potential to grow into mainstream businesses that can reap profits and attract corporate sponsorships. Batswana audiences want access to rich and vibrant arts experiences such as festivals.

Moreover some local artists have pointed a finger at Copyright Society of Botswana (COSBOTS) for alleged mismanagement of royalty funds collected from radio stations and events. The government has to sort out this issue once and for all. Although a new board was ushered in to replace the alleged previous corrupt one last year, there are still complaints of unpaid royalties.

The organisation mandated to protect artists from exploitation used the royalty funds to cover administration costs without any consultation with the rightful owners of the funds.

Last year COSBOTS knocked on Duma FM doors demanding its owed royalties amounting to P620, 000 due to artists. To this date, COSBOTS has not paid content owners their overdue royalties and users such as Department of Broadcasting Services have not paid COSBOTS too.

There are more problems the incoming minister faces and some have even existed before Masisi government took office and the creative industry hopes for change in that regard.

The government should be aware that the arts hold the potential to mop up large pools of unemployed youth as some form of job creation.



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