South African Cultural Observatory

Executive Direction - December 2021

BY 10.12.21

As we publish this edition of the Cultural Observer, most of the West has placed South Africa in the travel red list owing to the Omicron variant of Covid-19 identified by the South African scientists. Placing us in the red list has huge economic implications for the country and economic sectors that would have benefited from inward and outward travel. Our sector is similarly negatively affected. This happens at the time when our focus was and should squarely be on economic recovery.

It is important that we do not get distracted, and that we keep our eye on the prize- economic recovery of the cultural and creative industries (CCIs). For the sector to succeed in this regard will require all stakeholders with an interest in the survival and growth of the CCIs not only to participate and contribute fully, but to work in tandem.  

From the work we have done at the South African Cultural Observatory we know that the industry and government, as an important stakeholder, must do several things for the sector to have a chance of success. This includes addressing both the Covid-19 induced demand- and supply-side failures; attending to the immediate distress whilst ensuring medium to long-term sustainability of the sector; repositioning the sector to increase its competitiveness and comparative advantages at local, national, regional, and global levels; mitigating the potential impact of similar future events; and communicating and demonstrating the economic importance of the sector to the rest of society.

The OECD Trento centre noted “that the pandemic has also put into question the density of urban living, highlighting a new role that smaller, more rural and peri- urban places could play in the recovery”. In our context, this means that recovery must go beyond the traditional established centres were the sector activities where highly concentrated.

Our latest Covid-19 Impact survey has indicated that the industry stands a chance of quick recovery if amongst the interventions we include strong support for initiatives that help businesses and cultural practitioners who can and will benefit from moving their business to online. This is not just a move, but there should be financial return in moving their businesses online. The sector should aggressively and vigorously explore new markets, and the AfCFTA (The African Continental Free Trade Agreement) offers this opportunity. The industry is in a good position to exploit this market as its products and services easily transcends physical borders. The survey also noted that the industry will significantly benefit if artists were empowered with solid business and marketing skills without neglecting their craft. Beyond the financial support, the state should seriously consider more tax incentives (including tax breaks) specifically targeted to the CCIs. This will not be sustainable if it was not accompanied by demonstrable transformation of the industry to include a significant number of the previously disadvantaged groups in SA. This would ensure that they also get tangible economic benefits that leads to financial freedom and sustainability.

As I sign-off, it is interesting that the OECD Trento Centre has noted that “as cities and regions reconsider growth models in the wake of COVID-19, cultural and creative industries can and should be put at the core of a resilient recovery”. We know that CCIs are a significant source of jobs and income and they also generate important spill-overs into the wider economy. They are a driver of innovation, a source of creative skills and act as a magnet that helps drive growth in other sectors such as tourism. There is an opportunity for culture to play an even greater role in driving economic, social and indeed environmental outcomes in the recovery. Let’s be the driver of this recovery and growth.

We have in this edition featured two reports that shed light on some of the interventions that if considered, will contribute to the recovery from Covid-19 crisis.

Till we reconnect in 2022, let’s go out and enjoy the best of our cultural products this festive period.

Until then,

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