South African Cultural Observatory

A new era emerges

BY Unathi Lutshaba 31.03.23

When I took on the role of SACO Executive Director five years ago, I never imagined what would transpire in the intervening years. COVID-19; the meteoric rise of AI; digitalization at scale; radical new trends; and many social, economic and cultural shifts.

We have lived, and are living through, one of the most dynamic, exciting, and difficult times in history. What does this mean for the sports, entertainment, and cultural and creative industries?

Well, this has been on my mind a lot, especially after the 2022 SACO Conference, which focused on what a reset could and should mean to the industries. But its greater than that. It’s about how we reconfigure a world that respects and embraces culture – of which sport forms a part – as both a tool for sustainability and inclusivity and the means through which we can build on sustainability values. In this, culture is underrated but incredibly powerful.

As we gear up to close the second term of the SACO project (2018-2023), and to include the analysis of the impact of sport into our mandate for SACO (2023-2028), it’s important to ground ourselves in the urgency of working to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

This as the sports, and cultural and creative industries, undergoes the turmoil of dealing with perma-crisis, daily tremors and uncertainty.

Amid these changes there are significant opportunities, and we must have the courage to look forward toward a new era for humanity.

Highlights and Lowlights

The past five years have undoubtedly been tough.

The sceptre of COVID-19 looms large over 2020-2023 and it is hard to see or think beyond its course-altering impacts. Still, within the pandemic and before and somewhat after it, there is space to re-imagine and new industry; and indeed a new world.

Of course, the major lowlight was COVID-19 and witnessing the decimation effect on the CCIs. We are still crawling out of the hole it created for many artists, creative workers, practitioners, and industry supply and value chains. But there have been some silver linings.

The five big highlights for me over this period were:

  1. SACO’s nimble response to COVID-19: Despite the complete disorientation in the early days of the pandemic, we managed to take our operations online and continue to deliver our research, insights, statistical analysis, monitoring and evaluation, and workshops and capacity building to the industry. We also provided the data and insights which would inform quickly emerging policies in response to the pandemic; and in the aftermath of it, we have produced research that would help us understand the pandemic’s impact on our industry and strategies to future-proof ourselves in the case of other new crises.

  2. How fortunate SACO was to be part of the first Presidential Economic Stimulus Plan (PESP) to support the creative industries: Although the PESP project was not in our initial mandate (how could it have been – no-one anticipated the pandemic?); we moved to support national government to deliver a life-changing experience and support for artists around the country. The PESP project allowed SACO to touch the individual lives of artists and build their personal capacity to become better entrepreneurs in a post-COVID context. It also introduced them to the SACO, our research and role, while providing necessary basic income to ensure their short-term survival. Watch the PESP testimonial video here to hear directly from the beneficiaries.

  3. Another insightful mapping study: In 2022, the SACO and the then Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa. launched our third mapping study, following the 2020 and 2018 mapping studies. These mapping studies enable us to track the size, scope, and impact of the CCIs; and to mark changes over time. Our statistics on the contribution of the CCIs to GDP and jobs are now extremely well known and uses across the industry, media, and in government. A 2.9% GDP contribution is a significant policy imperative and a use case for greater support and investment in the CCIs. I’m proud of the work we’ve done to show how, where and how much the industries and creative sectors contribute to our nation’s tapestry of economic and social activity.

  4. A powerful #SACOConf2022 on a creative economy reset for a sustainable and inclusive future: After four years of not having a conference, in part due to COVID-19 restrictions, the SACO and DSAC teams pulled off a world-class, international event that drew some of the top global and African minds on the creative economy. The conference was hosted at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria on the 9th and 10th November 2022 attracting 430 people, including 250 delegates in person and 180 virtual attendees. We filled 4 parallel rooms and a main plenary room, from which we live streamed the proceedings. In total we saw 98 presentation over the two days, complemented by two major global keynote addresses were delivered on each day. The first by Prof. Homi Bhabha, Harvard University; and the second Ms. Laura Callanan, Upstart Co-Lab, New York. In addition several top creative economy experts and academics attended and spoke at the conference including: Professors Andy Pratt, Stuart Cunningham, Ann Markusen, and Justin O’Connor. Top African speakers joined from Kenya-base the HEVA Fund, George Gachara and Wakiuru Njuguna; Rwanda’s Eric Karengera, and Kenya’s Daisy Chesang and Kevin Kimwelle; Youssef Soubai of Morocco, Farai Ncube from Zimbabwe; and the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Joseph-Matthieu Mundadi. We also solidified partnerships with UNCTAD, GIZ, British Council, SA Creative Industries Incubator, Danza Consulting, ASSITEJ, and The Conversation Africa. The event was presided over by the Deputy Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture, Ms. Nocawe Mafu.

  5. 100% delivery in spite of COVID-19 challenges: We’ve just concluded our reporting for the five-year period and I am proud to announce that we’ve achieved 100% of our deliverables according to our service level agreement. This was a huge feat, considering the many pandemic pivots that were required to stay on track.

Looking ahead

We must believe that the future is bright; and work to create that enlightened future. We have an opportunity to do so in the next five year term of the SACO project. We welcome the opportunity to do so under the leadership of the new Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture, Mr. Zizi Kodwa.

How do we plan to do so? Our process will focus on solidifying off the baseline of research we have developed over the past 10 years. Part of this journey is to:

  • Re-design the Research Agenda through a broadly consultative process;
  • improve the way we capture data and communicate about our research. To this end we’re looking at an entirely revised cultural information system;
  • strengthen partnerships, relations, and connections at an industry, intra and inter-government level, with the private sector, and across regions and nations.
  • Work with the industry to future-proof, prepare for incoming crises and adapt to changes and industry-wide trends;
  • Be proactive, participatory and involved
  • Actively incorporate the sport element into our work and mandate.

The future remains uncertain. Advances in AI will change everything – again. But we have learned that some of the best innovations and adaptations come when disruption is on our doorstep.

The key is to be prepared. As the “StatsSA of the cultural sector”, we are in the best position to harness our cultural information system – with sport now – to advocate for the people and impact the sectors make so we can build the sustainable and inclusive future we want.

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