Minister Nathi Mthethwa in yet another controversial R30 million scandal, South Africans breather fire!

Minister Nathi Mthethwa during the commemoration of Chris Hani at Elspark, Boksburg. Photo: SANDILE NDLOVU

POLITICAL parties and culture activists have criticised Sport, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa for his growing “appetite” to spend money on projects that the public don’t view as urgent service delivery key issues.

The outcry follows reports that Mthethwa’s department was set to announce a R30 million National Philharmonic Orchestra programme that was approved in 2018.

“From the outset, we wish to state that we recognise the central significance of arts, culture and heritage in the cultural, social and intellectual life of the country.

“However, in light of the recent poor decisions being made by the department – among others, the much-criticised R22m monumental flag project – as well as the department’s highly publicised struggles to support artists during the Covid-19 pandemic, one must ask if the establishment of this new orchestra is feasible, and affordable?” said IFP chief whip in the National Assembly, Nerand Singh.

He questioned the wisdom of spending so much money on a new orchestra while there were groups already representing the genre. “Would these funds not be better spent on outreach projects or support the country’s existing philharmonic orchestras, where infrastructure is already in place?”

DA deputy spokesperson on sport, arts and culture Veronica van Dyk said the project amounted to wasteful expenditure. “The DA utterly rejects the minister’s newest hare-brained scheme to establish a National Philharmonic Orchestra to the tune of R30m for the first year alone. It seems the minister has learned nothing from his R22m flagpole and Afrikaanse Taalmuseum en Monument debacles,” said Van Dyk.

She added that the project was both “unnecessary and unaffordable”.

“We also agree with the CEO of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Louis Heyneman, that the project will be an ‘unnecessary duplication’ as there are already training programmes to develop young musicians.

“The DA also has several concerns regarding the formation of the National Philharmonic Orchestra, not least of which is whether the correct processes and procedures were followed,” she said.

Independent political analyst and cultural activist Gakwi Mashego said Mthethwa suffered from an appetite to spend money.

“My view is really that Minister Nathi Mthethwa seems determined to bite off a chunk of the arts funding money, even if it means coming up with novelty projects like flags and orchestras. South Africa has a rich musical tradition that is instrumental.

“We can mention a few examples, including the likes of Dr Phillip Tabane, the rhythmic scathamiya genre and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and of course choral music as represented by Imilonji Kantu and Soweto Gospel Choir. These can be supported without it being in expensive orchestra format,” said Mashego, adding that the money could be better used for grassroots arts.

“What the minister should be spending the money on is training youth on the manufacture and production of traditional and non-traditional musical instruments such as mbira, flute, guitars, conga drums, cowhide drums, bongo, penny whistle, harp, among others.

“He can even help finance the next DJ Black Coffee by buying licences of expensive beatmaking software and plug-ins and make it freely available to aspirant producers, downloadable from the department website and the National Youth Development Agency.

“He should invest in musical education rather than re-introductions of a genre with elitist European roots,” said Mashego.

Departmental spokesperson Masechaba Khumalo did not respond to text messages sent to her phone for comment.

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