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Staff Reporter

Disgruntled artists in the Free State who have been staging a sit-in at PACOFS in Bloemfontein for the last 24 days over a host of maladministration and corruption allegations are now pinning their hopes on a possible meeting with parliament’s portfolio committee on sport, arts and culture set for Tuesday.

The artists, who are members of the Cultural and Creative Industries Federation of South Africa (CCIFSA), have occupied the office of PACOFS acting chief executive officer and artistic director Meshack Xaba since March 10 and have vowed not to leave the provincial arts hub until their grievances have been addressed.

About 60 artists are now living at PACOFS where they are sleeping in some of the offices and studios.

“PACOFS has been sinking for almost 20 years,” said CCIFSA Free State provincial coordinator Mbuyiselo Nqodi in an interview with The Free Stater.

“Parliament’s portfolio committee on sport, arts and culture will be conducting an oversight visit here on Tuesday.

“We have made contact with them saying we wish to make a presentation during that oversight visit.

“We want to put our issues on the table so that they get to know what’s happening.”

Asked what exactly CCIFSA would like to tell the portfolio committee, Nqodi said:

“We want to tell them that their inaction will lead to the demise of this institution.

“We want to tell them that if they don’t act so, it will be useless to have this institution in the province and our interests are clear: we want it to live, we want it to benefit our people.

“Another thing we want to tell them is that it must not be business as usual.

“For over 20 years, they have decided to look the other way when things are deteriorating here in the province, especially at PACOFS.

“So, it is high time that they force the minister to do the right thing.”

At the top of their demands, the artists want Xaba to leave because he is accused of failing to run the institution to the benefit of the artists and they also accuse him of corruption.

Nqodi said they want PACOFS to urgently implement the recommendations of an investigative report by Morar Incorporated Accounting Firm produced in 2018 which implicates some senior staff members, including Xaba and a board member.

The investigation was commissioned following long-standing allegations of corruption and maladministration at the centre.

The Morar report, among other things, recommended that PACOFS should take disciplinary action against Xaba for alleged unethical conduct.

According to Nqodi, the artistic director is accused of a host of issues in the report, including fabricating minutes of meetings.

The artists therefore want Xaba to leave because of the seriousness of the allegations against him.

“We want him to take his jacket and leave,” said an emphatic Nqodi during the interview in one of the kitchens on the fourth floor where some of the artists were preparing meals for everyone.

“We are fighting a culture of ripping the artists of their (IP) intellectual property, we are fighting a culture of undermining the artists, and we are also fighting the laziness that’s coming from the side of the artistic director.”

Nqodi said prior to the arrival of Xaba, PACOFS was producing over 80 shows per year, but this has since gone down drastically.

“His best performance is about 35 shows. That was the year that he arrived,” he said.

“Since then, PACOFS has only been able to do 12 shows a year, yet this is the biggest institution in the province with about four theatres and several studios.

“They are not utilised . . . their artistic programme is not benefiting the artists of the Free State.

“The artistic programme is only getting R2 million yet they are getting over R30 million from the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture.”

Nqodi said the challenges faced by PACOFS are not artist-made, but are a result of management failure.

He said the institution keeps on commissioning reports that are not implemented as well as spending money that is supposed to benefit the sector on legal fees.

“Basically, we are fighting bread and butter issues for the artists. We want to make sure that the institution works so that artists can depend on it,” he said, adding their protest is not aimed at disrupting daily operations at PACOFS.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic has been most devastating on artists as most of them have not been able to work in over a year.

“Our mothers who work in the kitchens have been able to go back to work and are able to put food on the table but the arts sector has largely remained closed,” he lamented.

The artists are also running workshops and other training programmes in order to optimise their time during the sit-in.

PACOFS council chairperson Advocate Thato Moeeng said at the beginning of the protest that the arts centre acknowledged the issues raised by the artists and would like to see them being resolved.

“Matters raised by the local artistic community regarding alleged corruption and maladministration have been duly acknowledged and are being investigated by the newly appointed PACOFS council.

“We are unreservedly committed to ensuring that fairness and transparency remain at the heart of all operations and that the integrity of the organisation is maintained,” said Moeeng in a statement issued on March 15.

Free State Premier Sisi Ntombela and the MEC for Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation, Limakatso Mahasa, have met with the artists but not much headway was made from the meeting.

PACOFS falls under the national Department of Sport, Arts, Culture, thereby limiting the powers of the provincial government to address issues there.

The artists have also staged a protest outside the premier’s office in a bid to pressure her to urge Sport, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa to act.

In the 2018/2019 financial year, the Auditor General gave PACOFS a disclaimer audit opinion saying it had insufficient information on the institution’s finances as the arts centre could not provide reliable invoices and other supporting documents on its operations to allow for an informed audit decision.

The AG said the financial statements submitted for auditing were not prepared in accordance with the prescribed financial reporting framework and neither were they supported by full and proper records.

THE NEXT MEAL . . . Some of the artists preparing food for the other protesters

 

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