South Africa

'If you have no savings you are screwed': South African Artists Call For Coronavirus Relief

A dimly lit theatre during the South African Hip Hop Awards in 2018.
Image by Sabelo Mkhabela.

South African artists call for government to intervene during the country's lockdown.

South African artists take to social media to criticize the government's lack of plans during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

On Monday morning, a few ministers—including the minister of the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa—asked South Africans on Twitter to partake in a #LockdowngymChallenge.

A number of South African artists expressed their disappointment in the government. For instance, responding to Mthethwa's tweet, revered poet and TV personality Lebo Mashile retorted and asked the minister and the rest of the government why they hadn't frozen monthly financial commitments such as bonds and rent for artists.

She added, "Our entire sector has collapsed. It is month end. There are no gigs. We need a cohesive plan and vision from you for the arts. Not this."

Government relief

A few billions have been donated by some of the country's wealthiest citizens to bail out other sectors in the country. Last week, Mthethwa announced that his ministry had reprioritized its budget allocation for the first quarter to avail R150 million to provide relief to the arts sector's practitioners.

"Priority will be given to artists and practitioners, who were already booked by some of the cancelled and postponed events funded by the department, as well as to the legends of the industry," said the minister during a press conference held in Pretoria on Wednesday last week.

Which means a majority of artists won't be helped by the meagre amount. Artists have expressed that a majority of them only start getting gigs towards the end of the first quarter. Jazz composer and singer Thandi Ntuli told New Frame last week, "For most musicians, their last gig will have been in December. My last was in January, luckily. Basically, if you have no savings, you are screwed."

Musicians have reached a dead end. Siya Mthembu, a member of The Ancestors told the same website last week, "People say you can sell merchandise. Who do you sell it to, if there are no gigs? We are in a major fix, everyone is freaking out. Older artists are going to lose houses, lose their cars."

Virtual concerts

Most musicians have opted to virtual concerts, a trend that was started by the likes of Chris Martin and John Legend. The lockdown has forced artist and companies to be innovative. For instance, the recently released and critically acclaimed film MOFFIE had just gone on circuit when the pandemic hit South Africa.

Yesterday, the team announced that the movie would be screening online. Viewers will buy a ticket online and stream the movie on the official website.

Popular South African house producer and deejay told OkayAfrica last week he would use his downtime to create. "Gigs have been cancelled but it's given me more time to work on my music, my other business and work on ways to brainstorm with my teams—to be present. I have more time in the studio and I'm going to release more music very soon because of that," he said.

Hopefully, the government will come up with more ways to help artists and that people get into the hobby of supporting artists directly online.