South African Cultural Observatory

Youth is not wasted on Young Creatives: The Creative Economy is where South Africa’s Youth will be national carriers in a Post-Covid-19 world

BY Papama Mnqandi 29.06.20

Young Creatives in South Africa have heaps of challenges stacked up against them. Their reality is like that of many youth and people whose livelihoods depend on informal labour practises and gig work. Nothing makes this more evident than the effects of Covid-19 on life as we know it. However it is through their infinite potential, innovative capabilities and resilience that the country is endowed with the means to solve the complex problems in the ever-uncertain present and towards a Fourth Industrial future. The month of June, while eclipsed by the pandemic, is that time of the year again when young people will be called to mirror their own self-image against the curated historical record of that gallant generation of 1976.

 Are young people, on their own, capable of framing the concepts and categories by which to interpret their own reality? Are they able to be more rigorous in their own enquiry and self-criticism, testing themselves by engaging with critical debates and broader social milieu that contextualise their being in the world? Should not, the Young Creatives then, be leading the nation in this collective deployment of the imagination? Is it fair of us to expect this of them when we know that Covid-19 reveals how much they starve? The revelation remains in the crucible of the struggle of being a Creative, Innovator or Artist!

It was Ernst Fischer who said that, “In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay. And unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it.” It was also Amilcar Cabral who said: “Always remember that the people are not fighting for ideas, nor for what is in men’s minds. The people fight and accept the sacrifices demanded by the struggle in order to gain material advantages, to live better and in peace, to benefit from progress, and for the better future of their children. National liberation, the struggle against colonialism, the construction of peace, progress and independence are hollow words devoid of any significance unless they can be translated into a real improvement of living conditions.”

It is obvious that our society is ever confronted with the schisms from our inherited past and the youth are today the worst bearers of this burden. So one can understand why some Young Creatives see themselves as ‘Comrades’ engaged in ongoing struggle. But we must also acknowledge that the South African Economy is an open and Foreign Direct Investment dependent system. So while living out the conscious call of a revolutionary like Cabral, we also navigate a context that calls for the agency reflected in the musings of Fischer and remain hard-pressed by a capitalist mode of production that is rooted in a quest for a kind of African Modernity. At our disposal is an imaginative capacity that ought to be harnessed to unlock our entrepreneurial zeal, utilising our intangible cultural offerings and intellectual wealth creating potential.

At a recent lecture, former Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile said: “ultimately, with young people leading from the front, our country must emerge from this pandemic more united, more humane and more caring.” This is in line with the mantra that the Arts, Culture and Heritage inventory in our country is charged with, promoting social cohesion and nation building. How do Young Creatives help us evade superficial engagement with the youth question today then in order to use the Covid-19 moment to co-create a cross-generational exchange to craft a compelling vision of the South Africa we all deserve?

It is Ben Okri who said: “The best things are in the invisible realm. It has taken us much suffering, much repetition of our suffering, much stupidity, many mistakes, great patience, and phenomenal love to arrive at this condition. However changes are coming. You are the herald of changes.”

The task awaiting young people today is that of becoming imagineers and leaders who can take our citizenry to this place of beauty and wonder where we can regain control of the nation building agenda and the quest to being most-fully and mindfully human. The Covid-19 moment is our chance of recoil our spiritual and humanely reserves. South Africa’s Fourth Industrial Strategy must factor in the Creative Economy and the scores of youth who stand to benefit from its unlocking. The various Covid-19 relief funds must look beyond the present and fund innovative ideas that will shape the future. This sector must be party to a strategy of resuscitating the tourism sector and young people’s livelihoods must be a top priority in shaping that agenda post-covid-19.

A turnaround strategy of the order of magnitude of the Operation Phakisa that we saw in the Oceans Economy must be embarked upon and must be understood for the value it will bring in stimulating economic growth and adding to the pro-youth endeavours that the President had committed to. Young Creatives are already showing us what is possible through our film sector, the coming Virtual National Arts Festival and other digital installations. The 4th White Paper on Arts Culture and Heritage can only serve to enhance that. The emerging funding instruments such as the DAC/NEF Venture fund and the various agencies of the DSAC have a lot to offer as precursor in attracting further investments. Even as I write, Bloomberg’s Robert Brand is reporting that with a junk rating forgotten, investors are piling back into South Africa with the Rand bouncing back.

With those essential literacies of aesthetic: education, sensibilities and sensitivity, our Young Creatives will turn the challenges of the present moment into inspiration for grounbreaking and imaginative expressions, designs and creations while performing acts of real life in order to untangle the rest of our youth from the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality. They will demonstrate that the precarity envisaged in the future of work is something that their lived experience has built resilience for. Not only should they explore the wonder of the digital world but their productions must serve to restore to the public sphere audiences who have retreated to places of refuge in fear of the pandemic. Their new artistic projects must show a world that is changing through gatherings of maximum audiences of fifty who are attending shows while sitting a meter apart, wearing masks and with hands sanitized. These will be the new experiments from which we will learn new lessons to reshape public engagement and governance in a Post-Covid world. Above all else, these are our national carriers who in the present moment connect us to a brighter tomorrow.

Papama Mnqandi is an Arts Innovator, writer, thinker and scholar. He is an activist in the Creative Economy, Youth Development and in Education. He spends most of his days in the Architectural Profession using place-making as a vehicle for unlocking SA’s Creative Economy, Social Entrepreneurship, Spatial and socio-economic justice. He Chairs the Provincial Chapter of the BMF Young Professionals in the Eastern Cape. He writes in his personal capacity.

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