The pandemic has decimated the livelihoods of those who work in the arts. Since everything was halted last year, creatives across the sector have been expecting President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s administration to intervene but nothing has happened yet in that regard to turn the situation around.
“We are committed to the development of the local arts, music, literature, performance and theatre, film, dance and crafts. Through a creative art strategy we will strive to commercialise the creative industry and include more Batswana in the lucrative wildlife and tourism filming and photography industry,” he highlighted. After Masisi’ assurance that he will put creatives on the top list in the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (ERTP), many people in the sector have been waiting for the beginning of bigger things. Despite the setbacks of the COVID-19 pandemic, last year Masisi promised that the government through ERTP would target local film, programme and documentary producers.
He said the focus was to ensure that Btv content is predominantly local such as it is the case in South Africa and Nigeria where the local film industry has grown considerably over the years.
On Tuesday, Masisi put a number to his yearlong promise by indicating that funds amounting to, P52,600,000 under the ERTP were approved for the refurbishment of the Mass Media Complex during the 2021/22 financial year.
He indicated that the Mass Media Complex will be the hub for the production of local film and television production. He said a feasibility study on the utilisation of the Media Complex by locals is ongoing and is being conducted by a citizen owned company, at a cost of approximately P878,000. The Botswana Democratic Party leader said completion of the study is expected on October 23, 2021.
Even though the study is done by a local company as Masisi revealed, the latter was under heavy criticism few months back when government through the Department of Broadcasting Services (DBS) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Steve Harvey Global (SHG) regarding facilitation of the creative industry.
The government directly engaged SHG for the provision of radio and television production services for a period of three years and the tender is worth millions of pula.
Besides increasing Btv’s local content, Masisi last year indicated that they will come up with cultural villages around Botswana between the years 2021-22.
Through the arrangement, Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) has been tasked with the creation of cultural villages or hubs in Gaborone, Kasane, Maun, Francistown and Gantsi.
In this week’s address, Masisi yet again repeated the importance of culture as an export and the need to invest in it.
While Masisi’s promises and assurances for the creative industry keep pilling, perhaps what was the icing on the cake last year was the fact that creatives will get to use their intellectual property as security in the reviewed CEDA guidelines. “CEDA was allocated three hundred million pula (P300 million) under the Economic Recovery Transformation Plan to assist companies that were affected by the pandemic.
To date, it has approved 149 working capital loans valued at P24.7 million,” Masisi said this week. Despite declaring the creative sector once more as one of the critical aspects, key and priority sectors that will get the lion’s share in the new CEDA guidelines, Masisi revealed that the loans they have approved so far are in the manufacturing, property and services sectors.
Professional creative artists are facing unemployment at alarming rates. Creatives who depend on live events for survival are out of work in the third quarter of the year. Since their cry and protests late last year, local arts and entertainment players generated a greater percentage of unemployment claims than most sector because they have never reopened.
Live events venues have closed, and most talent companies have shuttered. Social media has become a platform for performers such as musicians to weep over their unchanging situation.
The creative industry is salivating over more generous government support in other countries and some even ask themselves whether 2021 is the year to abandon their careers.
Even as Masisi piles more hopes, creatives face lasting damage because it does not look like the pandemic will abate soon. As the uncertainty and the slow rollout of the vaccine become more obvious, this is one sector in economic peril.
Recently in yet another push for the reopening of the entertainment industry, the Botswana Entertainment Promoters Association (BEPA) met Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Youth, Sports and Culture to present its safe opening strategy and lobby for support.
BEPA suggested that live events be opened at a 30% venue capacity or cap attendants at 100 indoor and 250 outdoor. With Covid-19 cases rising and variants evolving, this seems so farfetched.
And moreover given the continued need for social distancing, venues for the performing arts will be among the last public places to reopen.
More than a year since their world stopped, creatives do not know what to expect from Masisi’s government despite his constant promises.