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Creatives poised for big bang

Creatives poised for big bang
It is not even end of the year yet. But it looks like this year despite the setbacks of the COVID-19 pandemic would be the year creatives would remember as the beginning of bigger things. From being put on the top list in the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (ERTP) and now getting to use their intellectual property as security in the reviewed CEDA guidelines, the future looks bright for the once sidelined members of the community. Staff Writer MOMPATI TLHANKANE reports.

Some of the key players in the creative sector especially musicians locally are known to be struggling financially. And             yet others eventually die poor leaving their families with nothing but grief. This is a sector that has been on the sidelines for so long until former President, Ian Khama brought it from the fringes with lifeline initiatives like President’s Day Competitions. In furtherance of this gesture, now his successor President Mokgweetsi Masisi has taken the baton and now aiming for the first spot at the finishing line.

Masisi announced recently that the government would continue to explore avenues to empower Batswana creatives to facilitate their participation in the growth and diversification of the economy. He declared the creative sector once more as one of the critical, key and priority sectors that will get the lion’s share in the new CEDA guidelines.

For a sector that has in the past raised a debate whether its players could ever become multi millionaires, now the playing field has never been clearer and more level. 

The creative sector or arts and culture as it is also called has been hailed as a potential billion-Pula industry that could boost the economy of the country. With the government having officially branded and identified it as an industry that will significantly add value to economic diversification and job creation, it remains to be seen what the members will do to reap from what looks like a gold mine.

Speaking of gold, now a creative is allowed to use their intellectual property to stand a chance to get CEDA loans of up to Fifty Million Pula (P50 million) and not requiring collateral as it was the case before. An intellectual property is an intangible property that is the result of creativity, such as patents and copyrights.

Taking a few steps back to February 2020 before COVID-19 troubles intensified, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development Dr. Thapelo Matsheka gave a snippet of what would be coming in his budget speech.  In the film industry it is known as a trailer and at this current stage creatives already have their popcorns ready.

Dr. Matsheka revealed at the time that the government would focus on the promotion of private sector-led growth and job creation by investing in the creative industry.

Investing in the creative sector has always been words thrown around by politicians without concrete implementation. But now it looks like the screen is now big enough as the pictures are clearer so it means the government has finally seen the value of arts and culture.

In a country like Botswana where everyone wants their share of the public purse, one would say it was about time the creatives come to the watering hole. This has been a thirsty sector and despite being dry, it has been the cement that puts together communities and nations.

It is no surprise that Masisi is increasingly beginning to focus on cultural and creative industries as potential contributors to job creation. This is a man who said one of his top priorities would be to address the problem of unemployment, especially amongst the youth when he took over in 2018.

But a survey released by Statistics Botswana in January this year showed that the demand for jobs and unemployment has crept up to 20.7%, from 17.6% three years ago. To his credit, Masisi has even admitted that he is really struggling to create jobs for Batswana.

With the creative sector on the centre focus of investment since January, the Ministry of

Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development (MYSC) in May 2020 invited public input and comments on the draft National Arts Council Bill 2020.

MYSC then encouraged Batswana particularly artists, promoters, artists’ representatives, representatives of arts associations and all other stakeholders with interest in the development and promotion of the arts to shape this bill for the future.

The main aim of the bill was to establish the National Arts Council of Botswana to promote and develop the arts and culture sector so most of the creative industry players welcomed the long overdue development. This is a crucial body that amongst others is meant to fund both the performing and the visual arts nationally.

COVID-19 frustrations from creatives during the April lockdown increased and their voices became louder as they complained about being on the shadows. Their industry was hard hit with closure and they were left hopeless.

Even though this was a response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the government last month came up with an ERTP that put the creatives sector on the top list of priorities.

It was announced that initiatives like creation of cultural hubs around Botswana and increasing Btv’s local content would be an icing on the cake. When the hurdles of COVID-19 are no longer in sight, the arts and culture industry is possibly set to benefit from activities such as event management and creation of cultural villages or hubs where the youth could showcase their talent.

Given the severe youth unemployment in Botswana even before COVID-19, the new thinking on the part of government towards the creatives shows that an industry that was often associated with school dropouts and non-intellectuals is particularly important for job creation. 

Now, it is hoped that there would be a huge contribution of cultural and creative industries to economic growth that could generate millions of Pula in revenue a year, and create thousands of jobs nationwide.

Soon Botswana’s wealth could be summed through their accumulation of art, tradition and culture alone in view of the latest developments in the creative industry. The government through several initiatives has shown that the creative sector like other forms of capital needs to be invested in. However, it remains to be seen whether Batswana will utilise this opportunity or let it depreciate and devalue over time.

On another realm, First National Bank Botswana’s private sponsorship and support of the arts amidst COVID-19 struggles has also been particularly important for creatives through the Bodiragatsi Jwame programme, which has seen millions of pula poured into the sector.

Most classy arts and creative sectors in the world have a reputation for designing, building and successfully managing world-leading cultural institutions, but Botswana has been lagging behind for so long.

It is still tough for events managers because some of the private venues are too expensive. Few arts facilities are owned by the governmental and now with a funding in place, may be creatives will use the chance to get funding for their own entertainment facilities.

Who knows, perhaps someone would get funded to come up with Botswana’s own Madison Square Garden and thus put an end to hosting shows in community halls. Botswana should have long achieved considerable success and by now it should have been a truly creative cultural hub.

As the sun rises to shine on the creative sector, the time of admiration neighbouring countries could soon be a thing of the past. While some may take some pushing to get to the drinking hole, things have never looked this splashy for creatives.


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